Phoenix Phabulous Experience storytelling event shares tales of Phoenix’s history

(Molly Bilker/DD)
At Wednesday’s Phoenix Phabulous Storytelling Salon event at the A.E. England Building, local authors and historians spoke about three historical time periods key to the development of Phoenix. (Molly Bilker/DD)

Local authors and historians spoke about three historical time periods that were instrumental to the growth of modern-day Phoenix as local artists simultaneously painted related murals at the A.E. England Building Wednesday night for the Phoenix Phabulous Storytelling Salon.

The event was hosted by Phoenix Phabulous Experience, an organization that encourages community building and the celebration of Phoenix’s history through events, projects and community discussions. The group showcases art, culture, bioscience, technology and storytelling.

The speakers shared stories about three topics: the early people of Phoenix, the shift from agriculture to industry after World War II, and the evolution of the city through high-rise development from the 1960s to the mid-1980s.

Throughout the night, three local artists painted relating murals focused on either the past, present or future.

During the string of stories, Grady Gammage Jr., founder of Gammage and Burnham law firm in Phoenix, noted one central theme among the tales.

“Phoenix has always wanted to be a big city,” he said. “We have always aspired to be something other than what we were.”

Shelly Dudley, a former historical consultant with SRP, spoke about the early creation of the Salt River and its impact on Phoenix. She said the Hohokam tribe was the first to build canals in A.D. 100 and were in Arizona until about 1400. They built more than 400 canals and irrigated between 65,000-250,000 acres using sticks and buckets as their tools, she said.

“The work the Hohokam completed not only acted as a catalyst for an idea, but also the physical environment for future generations,” she said.

Jana Bommersbach, another speaker, discussed Dwight and Maie Heard’s legacy of the Heard Museum, as well as former Gov. Barry Goldwater’s contributions to Arizona and historian Frank Barrios’ work documenting the history and significance of Mexican-American Arizonans.

The group of speakers also included Larry Lazarus, who practices zoning and government regulation, and Joy Mee, former assistant planning director for the city of Phoenix. They both discussed urban development in Phoenix and its impact on residents, employees and economic growth in Phoenix.

The artists tried to tie the discussions into their murals.

One of the artists, Justin Queal, painted a mural representing high-rise buildings of the future. Queal said he has experience painting in front of an audience. For his first foray into the art scene 18 years ago, he painted live at a club in Tempe. His work can be seen at buildings in the downtown Phoenix area, including Squid Ink Sushi Bar on Jefferson Street and Central Avenue.

“You have to bring (art) out in a way that the community’s excited about,” Queal said. “You have to connect with what’s going on with the local people, what’s the identity and vision of the entrepreneur.”

Contact the reporter at