North Phoenix Development News Update

Jun 12, 2022

Back in 2008 when I started this website, I wanted to write about news targeted to the hyper-local Deer Valley and Norterra region of North Phoenix. The problem was, it was the depths of the Great Recession and all new construction and building came to an abrupt halt.

Now more than a decade later, things have completely turned around. Despite the global pandemic, the stock market is reaching new highs every week. Housing values have jumped tremendously in a short period of time as demand outstrips supply. The 2020 Census revealed that Phoenix is the fastest growing city in the United States from 2010 to 2020, with an 11.9% increase in people, and the only U.S. city to see double-digit growth.

The North Phoenix submarket is reflecting these trends as well. New construction in the Deer Valley and Norterra neighborhoods is booming! Here is a development summary of what has been built in the past 2-ish years and what is currently going in.

Amazon Warehouse

A new Amazon warehouse has been constructed on Pinnacle Peak Road, between 3rd Ave and 7th Ave. Located just north of Deer Valley Road, the building is approximately 145,000 square feet of fulfillment space.

Union Park at Norterra

Union Park at Norterra is a massive 400-acre residential development in Northwest Phoenix. Ground was broken in 2018 with the project scheduled to be completed in multiple phases. The project is a joint venture between Sunbelt Holdings and USAA Real Estate. When completed, the mixed-use community will include single-family homes from three builders, multi-family residential, and a retail district, all centered around a recreation center. The community is also home to Union Park Elementary School, which serves PreK-8 students, and opened in fall 2020. At full build out, the community will feature 1,100 homes.

New homes under construction at Union Park at Norterra in North Phoenix.

New Multifamily Residential

  • Avilla Deer Valley - 23rd Ave and Pinnacle Peak Road
  • Springs at Deer Valley - 23rd Ave and Alameda Road
  • The Retreat at Alameda - NWC 19th Ave and W Alameda Road
  • Town Deer Valley - SWC 19th Ave and W Alameda Road
  • Elux at Deer Valley - SEC 19th Ave and Happy Valley Road
  • FirstStreet at Happy Valley - 17th Ave and Happy Valley Road

New Hotels

  • Holiday Inn & Suites Express - N 23rd Ave and W Whispering Wind Dr.
  • Best Western Plus Executive Residency - N 21st Ave and W Whispering Wind Dr.
  • WoodSpring Suites - N 23rd Ave and W Alameda Road

Best Western Plus / Executive Residency is one of three new hotels recently opened in the Norterra area.

New Commercial Businesses

  • Dollar Self Storage - 23rd Ave and Whispering Wind Dr.
  • Discount Tire - 23rd Ave and Happy Valley Road
  • Cobblestone Auto Spa - 18th Ave and Happy Valley Road
  • Greulich's Automotive Repair - 17th Ave and Happy Valley Road
  • AutoZone - 17th Ave and Happy Valley Road
  • Brakes Plus - 18th Ave and Happy Valley Road
  • SmartStop Self Storage - 17th Ave and Happy Valley Road
  • Caliber Collision - 23rd Ave and N Farmers Way
  • Mesquite Fresh Street Mexican Food - 17th Ave and Happy Valley Road

New Grocery Stores

  • Fry's Food Stores - I-17 and Jomax Road (across from Fire Station 55)

TSMC Supplier Sites

Other big chunks of land in the area are being snapped up for development of supplier sites for the Taiwan Semiconductor Factory (TSMC) which is under construction at Interstate 17 and the Loop 303 Freeway.

A conceptual rendering of what the TSMC factory in North Phoenix may look like.


Largest House in Arizona

Apr 23, 2022

A home is more than just a place to live, it can also be a symbol of wealth, success, and prestige. Arizona is home to many luxury homes with multimillion-dollar price tags. Have you ever wondered: what is the largest home in Arizona?

There are many superlatives that can be used to describe a home: most expensive home sold, most luxurious home. For this article I am talking purely about size: what is the largest square footage private residence in Arizona?

To answer this question, we must distinguish between completed homes and under construction homes.

1. Walker McCune Mansion

Paradise Valley, Arizona is a wealthy enclave located within the Phoenix metro area. Although small in size at 15.4 square miles (39.8 km2.), it is very affluent with a median home price of $2.5 million. But even among these luxury properties, the McCune Mansion stands out from the rest.

The largest private home in Arizona is the 52,000 square foot Walker McCune Mansion, located at 6112 N Paradise View Drive in Paradise Valley. At 52,000 square feet, the McCune Mansion is the largest completed single-family home in Arizona.

The McCune Mansion in Paradise Valley has 52,000 square feet of living space on 3 levels.

Walker McCune was the grandson of the founder of Standard Oil Company, and the beneficiary of a significant trust fund. Between 1960 and 1965, McCune spent about $5.4 million (equivalent to $49.2 million in 2022) building the palatial home on Sugarloaf Mountain. However, he went through a bitter divorce with his wife and never lived in the home. He died in 1971 at the age of 68.

The house was purchased in 1986 by businessman and investor Gordon Hall. Hall spent $1 million renovating the home, but spent his time between this property and another home in Mesa. Hall was arrested by Federal agents in 1997 for fraud and racketeering charges. In 2015, he was sentenced to 23 years in prison for running a tax scam and a ponzi scheme.

The house changed hands once again in 1992 when it was purchased by Geordie Hormel, heir to the Hormel Foods company. Geordie lived in the 3-bedroom guest house and allowed his friends and family to stay in the main house. Geordie was soft spoken, humble, and an accomplished musician who founded The Village Recording Studio in Los Angeles and composed music for many popular television shows in the 1950s and 1960s. He lived in the home until his death in 2006 at the age of 77.

The home is still owned by the family. It has been listed for sale in 2006, 2010, 2013, 2015, and 2016 with the last listing being removed in 2018 after failing to find the right buyer. The house has every amenity imaginable including 14 bedrooms, 30 bathrooms, 5 kitchens, 3 levels of living space, and a 10-car garage. It remains to be seen if the home will be listed again someday in the future.


2. Silverleaf Mansion

Before the Great Recession and the subprime mortgage lending crisis of 2007, the real estate market was a giant bubble about to burst. One example of this mania is the Silverleaf Mansion, which began construction in 2006.

Artist rendering of the 100,000 sq. ft. Hope Mansion at Silverleaf in North Scottsdale. The home was sold unfinished to Michael Matzek in 2014.

A technology entrepreneur named Jason Hope announced plans to build a mega mansion totaling 100,000 square feet. Hope founded a mobile technology company called Jawa.

In December 2010, Hope threw a massive Christmas party at a completed part of the house. Approximately 400 guests were invited to the event, which included a performance from rapper Ludacris and guests from several TV shows including Snooki from Jersey Shore and "Breaking Bad" star Aaron Paul. The party cost a reported $500,000 according to the website Gawker.

Construction was halted in 2011 after Hope's company Jawa faced a lawsuit over a text-messaging scheme that was alleged to have cost cellphone users millions of dollars. Although Hope settled the suits in 2012, construction did not resume.

The partially-built home was sold in 2014 to Idaho developer Michael Matzek, who announced plans to complete the home. Since that time, I have not been able to find any reports or accounts of the home being completed.

3. Cave Creek Mansion "Blue Sky Preserve"

Cave Creek, Arizona is a small town with a population of around 5,000 people. It is located on the north east edge of the greater Phoenix area. In 2016, the website Sonoran News ran a story about a construction project in Cave Creek with the name "Blue Sky Preserve."

The project is on a large 230-acre parcel of land, leading to speculation that it would be developed as a resort or perhaps a subdivision of new homes.

This Cave Creek mansion will be the largest private residence in Arizona at 60,000 sq. ft. upon its completion. Photo by: 12 News.

In 2020, the Arizona Republic ran a story about the project, calling it the "Cave Creek Massive Mystery Compound." A reporter discovered that the project is actually a 60,000 square foot private residence, which has been under construction for more than a year.

The owner of Blue Sky Preserve is unknown, but aerial photos from 12 News show a lavish main house with 4 artificial lakes on the property.

When complete, this house on Grapevine Road in Cave Creek will capture the title of Largest House in Arizona.

Arizona Skateparks

Jun 16, 2021

While this site is focused on Phoenix history and news, I thought that readers of this blog might enjoy a special feature about my recently-launched side project.

One hobby that I have always been drawn to is skateboarding. Arizona is home to a large number of free, public skateboard parks for riders to practice their skills.

The Jack Malmgren Skatepark in Sedona is one of more than 80 free skateparks in Arizona.

For more than 10 years, I have wanted to build a directory website that lists all of the skateparks in Arizona. While there are other skatepark directory sites, they are outdated and incomplete when it comes to hours, information, photos, and naming. Many of them rely on user-submitted information which is not consistent or checked for accuracy.

Over the years, there have been at least four prior occasions where I started and then stopped work on this project. In early 2021, I felt a burst of inspiration and enthusiasm for the skatepark website project. This time I pushed through and got the website up to a minimum viable product (MVP) version.

Currently there are 85 skateparks and BMX parks in Arizona that I have identified. While I do not yet have photos of each location, I wanted to get the website launched and then work on adding photos of the missing locations in a second phase.

This was a project that combined my different skill sets of website development, Arizona geography, and photography. It was really fun to work on and I am very proud of the new site!

If you or someone you know are looking for information on where to skate in Arizona, please visit for a comprehensive directory listing of Arizona Skateparks!

Phoenix's Never-Built Underground Bus Terminal

Feb 10, 2021

If you are one of the more than 200,000 drivers that travel along Interstate 10 in Phoenix on an average day, you may have noticed an area covered by a chain link fence between the Eastbound and Westbound lanes of the Deck Park Tunnel. What is that area, and why is it there? That's what I am going to explore in this post.

What is that mysterious, fenced-off area between the eastbound and westbound tunnels?
Photo: North Phoenix Blog

A New Transcontinental Highway

With the stroke of a pen, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956, authorizing the creation of thousands of miles of Interstate Highways in America. Eisenhower believed that a national network of high-quality roads was essential to national defense, allowing troops and equipment to be moved quickly and efficiently.

The project called for a new transcontinental route that would later become Interstate 10. During the next three decades, Interstate 10 would grow to connect Santa Monica, California to Jacksonville, Florida, spanning nine states and 2,460 miles (3,959 km) from end to end.

A 392-mile segment of the route would traverse across Arizona, beginning at the Colorado River crossing at the California border and continuing westward to Phoenix, veering southeast to Tucson, and then east towards New Mexico.

The Arizona Highway Department laid out the route for Interstate from 1956 to 1958. By 1960, a 31-mile stretch of highway connected California to US Route 60 in Arizona. Drivers had to pass through Wickenburg and then Sun City to get to Phoenix. A bypass route opened in June 1973 took an almost straight shot from the border to the edges of the Phoenix metro area.

Map showing routes from California to Phoenix in 1960 and 1973.
By: North Phoenix Blog

With Interstate 10 now connecting the California border to the edge of Phoenix, the next step was figuring out a way to carve a new freeway route through central Phoenix.

An Unpopular Proposal

Trying to build a new Interstate Highway through the center of an existing city was an extremely difficult task. The first plan was proposed in the 1960s, and it was a wild one. In this design, the freeway would be elevated above ground with wide, arcing “helicoil” ramps designed to minimize disruption of city streets and the utility grid.

The idea was to keep traffic off of downtown city streets by elevating it twenty five feet above ground level. For fourteen blocks in Central Phoenix, between Seventh Avenue and Seventh Street, the span would arch more than a hundred feet above surface streets and sidewalks. The ribbon of concrete would soar ten stories above Central Avenue, with two access/egress helicoils made of spiraling ramps, similar to those in Los Angeles.

Below are two screenshots of the 1966 elevated freeway proposal, taken from the Arizona Department of Transportation Blog

Proposed "helicoil" freeway ramps for Interstate 10 in Phoenix.
Image: AZ Dept. of Transportation

Proposed design for elevated freeway in Phoenix, 1960s.
Image: AZ Dept. of Transportation

Not surprisingly, this design was rejected by voters in 1973, sending state highway planners back to the drawing board.

A New Plan for Interstate 10

The new plan for Interstate 10 took into account archaeological sites and historic buildings along the route. Most of the route would be built below grade and surrounded by soundproof walls, with six blocks of freeway running underground through a long tunnel. The surface would be covered with new public parkland.

While it was not the cheapest solution, this plan was praised for its innovative approach to preserving the character of historic and commercial established neighborhoods. This plan was much more appealing to voters, who approved the project in 1979.


Proposal for the Papago Freeway Tunnel from July 1990.
Image: The Final Mile, ADOT, 1990

The illustration above includes an Urban Fountain Plaza and a Tree Bosque, which I do not believe were ever built. However, the rest of the plan including the Japanese Friendship Garden, Central Avenue bridge, Performing Arts Center, Open Lawn areas, and the Kenilworth School were retained or built as of this posting in 2021.

The project incorporated many other elements with the local citizens in mind, including soundproof walls, pedestrian bridges, and color and decoration of the concrete walls. Workers removed more than 800 palm trees, maintaining them at a nursery during construction and returning them to the same neighborhoods after construction had been completed.


Construction Begins

Construction of the twenty-mile corridor of Interstate 10 through Central Phoenix began in 1983. Archaeologists discovered the remains of two ancient Hohokam villages on both the east and west sides of Phoenix. One site was called La Ciudad (The City) and included a square mile of canals, ramadas, burial sites, and ball courts. The second site, Los Colinas (The Hills) contained artifacts, pottery, and evidence of early agriculture.

Archaeologists work to excavate La Ciudad, an ancient Hohokam settlement discovered in Phoenix in the 1980s during the construction of the Interstate 10 freeway. Photo by: Jeff Kida.

Once the archaeological sites had been excavated and catalogued, construction began on the final stretch of Interstate 10 from the Moreland district to 20th St. This was the last segment of Interstate 10 to be completed along its entire transcontinental route.

Papago Freeway Tunnel

Engineers and designers rose to the challenge by designing a six-block, 2,887-foot section of the freeway below grade with a public park on top. The below-grade section, officially called the Papago Freeway Tunnel and more popularly known as the Deck Park Tunnel, is technically not a tunnel, but rather 19 bridges lined side by side, that support 13 acres of the 30-acre Margaret T. Hance park atop the bridge decks. The structural portion of the tunnel cost more than $55 million and the electrical and mechanical components cost an additional $20 million.

Construction of the Papago Freeway Tunnel in Phoenix in the 1980s.

The New Freeway Opens

The 20-mile portion of I-10 through Phoenix cost more than $500 million, with an additional $150 million in right of way costs. Federal aid, administered through the Federal Highway Administration, accounted for 95 percent of the construction costs. The project employed thousands through the 1980s and was the most expensive freeway segment on the Interstate System when it opened in 1990.

The official completion date of Interstate 10 is recognized as August 10, 1990. On that date, a Grand Opening ceremony was held where Arizona Governor Rose Mofford cut the ribbon. The East Papago segment opened to vehicular traffic on August 23, 1990.

Papago Intermodal Transfer Station

A central section of the Papago Freeway Tunnel was intended to serve as an underground bus terminal. This 1989 illustration from the Arizona Republic newspaper explains that "Two bus lanes on the freeway will be served by a terminal. Riders will be able to take an elevator or escalator up to the deck and catch a bus on Central [Avenue]."

An illustration showing the location of the bus terminal in the central corridor between the eastbound and westbound tunnels of Interstate 10 in Phoenix. Source: Arizona Republic, Nov. 11, 1989

The Papago Freeway Tunnel opened in 1990 and has been serving drivers for more than 30 years, but the bus terminal was never completed. So why wasn't it ever finished?

According to the Phoenix New Times: "Unfortunately, despite spending more than $9 million to build the bones of the structure, the city was never able to secure the $20 million-plus in federal funds it would have taken to complete the project."

The Tunnel's Legacy

The never-built underground bus terminal was voted "Best Abandoned Transit Project" by the Phoenix New Times in 2011. Their article provides some rare photos of the inside of the space between the tunnels.

Photo by: Phoenix New Times, 2011

Entering the never-built bus terminal space
Photo by: Phoenix New Times, 2011

Ceiling detail
Photo by: Phoenix New Times, 2011

Looking down the length of the corridor
Photo by: Phoenix New Times, 2011

Now you know the answer as to what is behind those mysterious chain-link gates! It's an empty space, intended for an underground bus station that was never completed.

Further Reading

The Arizona Department of Transportation has a blog where they have written extensively about the history of Interstate 10 in Arizona, including the Deck Park Tunnel. Please visit the link below to visit their site, where you can read more about the tunnel's history, facts and figures, see construction photos, and much more.

Hobo Joe's Third Act

Jan 10, 2021

Driving along the main street in Buckeye, Arizona, you will see a modern post office and city hall nestled among numerous pre-war era commercial buildings. Behind a small restaurant called Cafe 25:35 stands a most unusual sight: a 22 foot tall fiberglass statue of a vagabond named Hobo Joe. The story of who he is and why he is here is far more interesting than I ever could have imagined. This is the story of Hobo Joe, told in three acts.

ACT ONE: The Rise and Fall of Herbert L. Applegate

The story of Hobo Joe begins with Herbert Louis Applegate, born on March 26, 1926 in Louisville, Kentucky. After graduating from Shaw High School in Cleveland, Herb took restaurant - management courses from several universities and during World War II served in the Navy.

Mr. Applegate helped found several pancake houses in Detroit and once owned a restaurant in Dearborn, Michigan. In 1963 at the age of 37, he and his wife May moved to Phoenix, intending to retire from the restaurant business.

The Start of Hobo Joe's

Though he had relocated to Phoenix, it wasn't long before Applegate found himself back in the restaurant business. In 1965, he founded Hobo Joe's Coffee Shops with two business partners, Joseph F. Martori and Robert W. Goldwater, brother of Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater. Applegate owned 50% of the restaurant with Martori and Goldwater each having 25% ownership.

Herb wanted Hobo Joe's to be a family-friendly coffee shop that served hot meals at affordable prices. The concept was similar to Bob's Big Boy, a Southern California-based chain of coffee shops which expanded to the Phoenix area in the mid-1950s. To that end, Applegate designed a fictional character to be the namesake for the new restaurant. Applegate told the Arizona Republic: "I could see Hobo Joe clearly in my mind, yet I couldn't get him down on paper."

A clipping from the Arizona Republic on Sunday, September 12, 1965 with Herb Applegate talking about the Hobo Joe's Coffee Shops. Source:


Creating Hobo Joe

Applegate asked his friend, Venice, California artist and sculptor James "Jim" Casey to bring the character to life. Casey had once worked for the Walt Disney Company and was a talented artist. He owned a company called Image Makers with a small studio in Venice and a larger studio in Culver City.

The backstory is that "Hobo Joe is a very successful business man who tossed his worries to the wind, became a world traveler, philosopher, and a connoisseur of good food. He loves people, especially children, so he decided to inspire a restaurant that will be a treat for the entire family."

This description of Hobo Joe as a "World Traveler, Philosopher, and Connoisseur of Good Food" was used in the company's marketing, including on postcards, matchbooks, and other items.

Hobo Joe's Menu. Source: unknown.

Though he wears baggy pants with a rope belt and worn-out shoes, Hobo Joe is quite sophisticated. He has a copy of the Wall Street Journal and a glove in his pocket, and a Phi Beta Kappa keychain tied to his belt. His other pocket contains 3 crescent rolls, a banana, harmonica, handkerchief and empty candy wrappers.

Vintage postcards showing the fictional character of Hobo Joe.
Source: eBay

According to Kevin Casey, son of Jim Casey, his father created the original Hobo Joe statues at his studio in 1967 at the Culver City studio, because the Venice studio was too small. The original was sculpted out of clay, and then a set of molds were produced. The fiberglass statues were approximately 5 feet, 7 inches feet tall. One of these statues was placed at each of the Hobo Joe restaurants. 

In 2012, Casey uploaded a photo to showing a photo of the artist and his creations outside of the studio in a 1971 photograph. The statues were painted by Kevin's girlfriend Elaine Polley.

Jim Casey and Elaine Polley stand with Hobo Joe statues at Casey's studio in Culver City in 1971.
Photo by: Kevin Casey, from

In addition to the smaller statues, there was also a larger, 22-foot tall Hobo Joe statue. Three people close to Herb Applegate all agree that Jim Casey only built one of the giant Hobo Joes. They are: May Applegate (Herb's wife), David Stevens (interior and exterior designer for Hobo Joe's restaurants), and Jim Casey's niece Patricia Opincar (who is writing Casey's biography, and in her research she has found no proof that more than one big statue was built by Casey, who she said kept good records).

According to a 2014 article in the Arizona Republic, the original 22-foot tall Hobo Joe statue was completed by Casey in 1967. It only stood for about two months before it was damaged by a fire. The damaged statue was removed, and no one knows what happened to it from there.

Hobo Joe's Locations

Herb Applegate's concept for Hobo Joe's Coffee Shops proved to be a successful one. The chain had grown to "about eight" locations in Arizona by 1970, according to the website The website says that Hobo Joe's had a special promotion for children where "if you were a kid and you ate everything on your plate, you could pick a toy from a giant pirate treasure chest."

Hobo Joe's Coffe Shop in Phoenix, 1960s.
Source: Arizona Republic

Hobo Joe's had its headquarters and commissary at 1060 W. Alameda Drive, Tempe, AZ 85281 according to an old postcard. I could not find a complete list of locations for Hobo Joe's, but I do have evidence to suggest four of the locations were:

1. Scottsdale Rd and 1st Ave, Old Town Scottsdale

2. 1601 E. Camelback Road, Phoenix

3. Los Arcos Mall, Scottsdale Road and McDowell, Scottsdale

4. Hotel Adams*, 1st St and Adams St, Downtown Phoenix

Hobo Joe's Coffee Shops book of matches showing 2 locations (inside cover): Old Town Scottsdale and Camelback & 16th St. Source: eBay



Hobo Joe's Coffee Shop at 16th St and Camelback Rd in Phoenix, 1970s.
Photo by: Alice Cole Dryer on the Hobo Joe Facebook page.

*Footnote: The original Hotel Adams was a four-story, 200-room hotel built in 1896 and destroyed by fire in 1910. The New Hotel Adams was rebuilt as a five-story concrete hotel on the same site, opened in 1912 and stood until it was destroyed by implosion in 1973. The 17-story, 538-room Wyndham hotel opened on the site in 1975. Its name later changed to Crowne Plaza Phoenix-Downtown, then in 2003 it became the Wyndham Phoenix. The property was renamed again to Renaissance Phoenix Downtown in 2011, following its acquisition by Marriott.


A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing

By August 1970, Herb Applegate was the picture of success. He drew a salary of $50,000 per year (equivalent to $335,346 in 2020). One newspaper report described him as "Handsome and charming, he drove a new Cadillac and liked to flash a wad of $100 bills that bulged in the pockets of his $500 suits."

Despite the outward appearance, Applegate, now 44, was not the picture-perfect businessman he appeared to be. Though a married man, Applegate maintained affairs with multiple women and was embezzling massive amounts of money from the company to finance his lavish lifestyle.

The company's financial records were a mess, and a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) named Tom Wilson later told reporters he had found evidence of criminal fraud in Hobo Joe's books. Herb's business partners Goldwater and Martori were also suspicious, and had gone so far as to hire a private detective to see if he was stealing. The detective, Steve Fortinos, said he had uncovered obvious signs of embezzlement.

Herb Applegate
Herb Applegate.
Photo by: Arizona Republic.


Death and Cover Up in Las Vegas

One of Herb's mistresses was former Playboy bunny Sandy Peterson, 30, who lived with her sister at a "party house" that Applegate owned in Mesa. He was spending as much as $4,000 per week on his mistresses including Miss Peterson and another woman, Diana C. Willis, of Las Vegas. 

Sandra Peterson was the main Applegate mistress, the one who actually lived in the Mesa house. "She had all sorts of friends, lady friends, who were always entertaining over there," said Ernest Byke, a contractor who has worked for Applegate on various construction projects.

Byke also knew Dianna Willis. "She was his Las Vegas mistress; Sandy was his Phoenix mistress," he said. "That guy sure liked his women."

Applegate had given Willis a company car, a 1968 Mercury Cougar, and a gasoline credit card and a telephone credit card. But he kept a set of car keys for himself.

Applegate dated Miss Willis for approximately two years before she ended their affair in October 1968. Following the breakup with Applegate, Dianna began dating Billy Ray Underwood, 28, who worked as a swimming pool attendant at Caesar's Palace.

After the breakup, Herb Applegate hired Bill Kimball, 27, a private eye and Frank Casciola, manager of the Hobo Joe's Coffee Shop at 16th St. and Camelback in Phoenix, to go to Las Vegas to retrieve the car and some of Willis' clothing. Willis was out of town at the time, staying at a hotel in Acapulco which was owned by Applegate's friend, Jack Morton.

Kimball and Casciola forced entry into Willis' boyfriend's Las Vegas apartment on January 12, 1969, at approximately 5:30 A.M, and acting in self-defense, Underwood fired one shot from a .32 caliber revolver, fatally striking Kimball in the face. Casciola fled the scene.

When questioned by detectives, Applegate claimed that he had hired the men on behalf of Jack Morton, the hotel owner in Acapulco, Mexico. Morton denied everything. Though he was questioned by police, Applegate was never charged in the incident. Bill Kimball's brother, Lt. Stan Kimball, an Arizona DPS officer, alleges that Applegate was able to conceal his involvement through a massive cover-up.

A former contractor for Applegate, David Stevens told the press that Applegate used to carry around newspaper clippings of Kimball's death in Las Vegas and that he used to brag about how his name was never publicly connected. "But I'll tell you, Applegate didn't have the juice to keep his name out of the newspapers. That power could only have come through Bob Goldwater or old man Martori."

Herb's Fabulous Mansion

Throughout 1968 and 1969, Hobo Joe's was constructing a commissary building in Tempe which would serve as a storage facility for the chain of coffee shops. It was supposed to cost $200,000 but ended up costing $800,000. The reason for this was that Applegate embezzled money from the project to build himself a mansion on Camelback Mountain. The house had a fabulous backyard with a lighted waterfall among other lavish amenities.

Hobo Joe's employees supplied some of the labor for the mansion during construction. During this time, Applegate wrote checks totaling $51,674.28, drawn on his personal Hobo Joe's account, to pay for materials.

A man named Ernest Byke built Applegate's plush Camelback Mountain home, which was worth about $350,000 (approximately $2.3 million in 2020, adjusted for inflation). Byke was later hired on with Applegate as Hobo Joe's main contractor. He also said he was the man who finished work on the Hobo Joe's commissary.

Former site of Hobo Joe's Commissary in Tempe.
Photo: Google Street View

The Party House

In 1971, Applegate purchased a duplex at 24 East Sixth Ave in Mesa from one of Sandra Peterson's relatives. The home was purchased with more than $25,000 that Applegate had diverted from Hobo Joe's.

Herb hired interior decorator David Stevens to fix up the place, which would become his "party house." Stevens later recounted: "My instructions in remodeling the Mesa place were to make it look like a million dollars for $10,000," he said. "And it was really something, like a vision from a fantasy nightmare, all in hot pink. There was even a secret passageway connecting the two units. It was in case somebody knocked on Sandy's apartment. That way Herb could slip out through the back apartment."

Ed Pileto, an electrical contractor in Mesa who had done some minor work for Applegate during the construction of the Hobo Joe's commissary, recalled being hired by Applegate to install an air conditioner and a small electric fireplace in the "Love Nest."

Hobo Joe's contractor, Ernest Byke of Scottsdale, later recounted to reporters what he knew about the women and the constant partying Applegate and his friends carried on at the Mesa house. "You wouldn't believe the stories I used to hear them all tell," he chuckled. "I guess I missed out. I was too straight." 

Byke told reporters "Well, I knew they had a place there," he said. "The guys talked about it in the office after the parties. It had mirrors on the ceilings of the bedrooms and secret passageways in the closets in case of a raid."

A former acquaintance of Sandra Peterson also told reporters about the Mesa party house. The woman's name was Georgia Yanke, and, for a couple of years in the late sixties, she had worked as a bunny at the Phoenix Playboy Club. That's where she had met Sandy. "I was only out there to the Mesa place once, with a couple of other bunnies. I don't even remember where it was, except it was hard to find. It was a gaudy place. I remember purple furniture and blue carpeting and walls. There was a huge mirror built into the living room wall. And there was a sort of hidden passageway. I remember one of the girls that lived there demonstrated it. She just disappeared into space, it seemed like. I mean the whole wall just opened up."

Herb Applegate's former "Love Nest" in Mesa.
Source: Google Street View, 2018


Applegate Exits Hobo Joe's

From 1965 to 1969, Herb had been living the high life of partying, entertaining mistresses, and building his fabulous house, most of which was financed with money he stole from Hobo Joe's Coffee Shops. That all changed in 1970, when he suffered a heart attack at age 44. Following his recovery, Mr. Applegate decided to lighten his business load by selling the Hobo Joe's chain.

In April 1971, Colony Food, Inc., a company unconnected with the former principals, bought the Hobo Joe's assets. Colony Kitchens merged their existing restaurant chain with Hobo Joe's. The 44 co-branded locations operated in seven western states, according to an article in the Los Angeles Times.

A book of matches advertising Colony Kitchen on the front and Hobo Joe's on the back.
Source: eBay

Herb's New Venture

Despite his questionable financial history, Applegate was able to persuade his former partners to go in with him on a new restaurant venture. Less than a year after they got out of Hobo Joe's, Applegate and Martori formed a new rival restaurant chain, Humpty Dumpty Coffee Shops in 1972. The Goldwater-Martori real estate and investment company, Goldmar Inc, guaranteed a bank loan of nearly $1 million for the new venture.

Hoping that lightning would strike twice, Applegate made sure to include a theme with Humpty Dumpty Coffee Shops. The Mother Goose themed restaurant had a statue outside of an egg wearing a chef's hat sitting on a brick wall.

An Abrupt End

Applegate never got to see his new venture take off like with Hobo Joe's. Herb Applegate died suddenly of heart failure on August 24, 1974. He was 48 years old. According to a 2019 article in the Arizona Republic: "Humpty Dumpty's would last until the late '80s. The Joyride Taco House on Central Avenue used to be a Humpty Dumpty's."

Newspaper Reporter Murdered While Investigating Mafia

Two years after Herb Applegate's death, a reporter named Don Bolles, age 47, was working for the Arizona Republic newspaper. He was investigating a story about corruption and land fraud in Arizona, including top state politicians and possibly the Chicago mafia.

Bolles had arranged to meet an informant at 11:15 a.m. at the Hotel Clarendon on June 2, 1976. At the hotel, Bolles received a call at the front desk that the meeting had been canceled. Bolles walked to the parking lot on Fourth Avenue and opened the door to his 1976 Datsun 710 sedan, started the engine, and drove a few feet when six sticks of dynamite that had been placed in the undercarriage of his car exploded via remote control. Bolles died as a result of his injuries eleven days later.

The murder of Don Bolles drew national attention and investigation. The man with whom Bolles was scheduled to meet, John Harvey Adamson was convicted of planting the bomb in 1977. Adamson spent 20 years and 2 months in Federal prison for the crime, and was released in 1996. He entered the Witness Protection Program and died at an undisclosed location in 2002, at age 58.

Investigators examine the car of Don Bolles, investigative reporter for The Arizona Republic, who died on June 13, 1976, of injuries received in a car bomb attack on June 2, 1976. Photo: Arizona Republic.

Investigating Corruption at Hobo Joe's

In response to Bolles' death, the Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) board decided to continue Bolles' work in exposing corruption and organized crime in Arizona. Led by Newsday journalist Robert W. Greene, the Arizona Project team consisted of 38 journalists from 28 newspapers and television stations. They produced a 23-part series in 1977 exposing widespread corruption in the state.

As part of their investigation into corruption, the Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) turned their attention to Herb Applegate and the shady financials of Hobo Joe's. The results of their 6-month investigation were published in a March 1977 article which was nationally circulated.

The story ran in the Wilmington Morning Star on March 19, 1977 with the headline "Arizona Probe: Where does the money end up?" It ran in The Hour on March 19, 1977 with the headline "Hobo Jo's' A Pipeline For Mafia Cash." The Boston Globe ran the story on March 18, 1977 as "The powers behind a troubled business."

A 1977 article by Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) exposed the massive financial fraud that took place at Hobo Joe's Coffee Shops between 1965 and 1971.

Hobo Joe's Mafia Ties

What the IRE discovered was that over a 21-month period, more than $1.5 million was diverted from Hobo Joe's by Applegate. Furthermore, they uncovered links between Herb Applegate as an associate of Peter (Horseface) Licavoli Sr., a Mafia underboss who had controlled criminal operations in Detroit and Toledo, Ohio during the Prohibition era. Licavoli had been arrested, tried, or suspected of murder seven times, and released seven times. He moved to Arizona in 1944 where he lived near Tucson on a 72 acre ranch with its own airstrip and art gallery.

Licavoli was a major Cosa Nostra figure who was convicted in a related case involving stolen paintings. He was paid at least $2,500 monthly by Hobo Joe's. To cover the payments, he supplied the firm with some paintings that one source described as "cheap reproductions." According to the New York Times, he was arrested in 1976 and accused of attempting to sell to a Federal undercover agent a 500-year-old painting that had been stolen in Cincinnati. Licavoli and Applegate also worked together on a number of transactions involving suspiciously large purchases of potatoes and shrimp for the restaurants from vendors, with checks flying between them. Licavoli passed away in 1984 at the age of 81.


The amount of trouble in Applegate's world of adultery, corruption, embezzlement, criminal cover-up, and Mafia ties is astonishing in its scope and size. And to think that all of this corruption was being funded by a chain of family-friendly coffee shops!

ACT TWO: Would the Real Hobo Joe Please Stand Up?

Back to the statues for a minute.

In Act One, I said that only one of the large 22 foot tall Hobo Joe statues was created. This is a subject of dispute. Kevin Casey mentioned in his 2012 post on that "I believe only two or three of these 27-foot-tall versions were ever erected."

Who was Marvin Ransdell?

Marvin Ransdell (1928-1988) was the owner of a fiberglass pool manufacturing company called Polypools. Allegedly, Randsell was hired to produce fiberglass booths and tables for the Hobo Joe Coffee Shop chain, and was also contracted to build several of the five-foot statues as well as another of the giant Joe statues.

However, Applegate's wife May Applegate and David Stevens, the interior designer of Hobo Joe's restaurants, have both told the Arizona Republic that Ransdell was not the table and booth supplier for the restaurants.

Marvin Ransdell's daughter Brenda emailed the editor of the website on September 14, 2007. She says that her father built the big statue for Applegate and was never paid for his work, and thus he held onto it.

"Thought you might like to know, or not. My sister and I googled my father's name, Marvin Ransdell, and ran into pictures of Hobo Joe. My dad owned the fiberglass company that cast the boothes and statues for the restaurant. Casey was indeed the artist that worked in his manufacturing plant. He was not an employee. There was another statue the size of the one dedicated to my father but it burned down many years ago. Applegate and gang never paid my father for most of his work. That is why he retained possession of the giant Hobo Joe. It sat behind his manufacturing plant for years. When he died, his life long friend Ray Gillum asked if he could have the statue. Ray put it on his property. That raised quite a bit of trouble with the Buckeye City government but Ray won. Just wanted to set the record straight. Casey was a fine artist but my dad actually cast the statue so Casey and my dad worked together very closely."

Remember that Investigative Reporters article from 1977 that I mentioned earlier? The one that exposed Applegate's $1.5 million theft and mafia ties, and was published three years after Applegate's death? Well, it contains the following note which I found interesting:

"Thousands of dollars were spent for a planned Hobo Joe's in Las Vegas, which was never built. At least three 'opening' parties were held in Las Vegas for the nonexistent branch, and $155,900 was inexplicably transferred from the corporation's general account to the Las Vegas account."
-The Bryan Times, Saturday, March 19, 1977

This evidence supports one possible explanation that this second giant statue was built by Ransdell for a planned Las Vegas location, which never opened. Whether he had the original molds from Jim Casey or produced a replica statue of Hobo Joe on his own is unknown.

Hobo Joe's New Owner
However he came about it, Marvin Ransdell was in possession of a 23-foot tall Hobo Joe statue in his backyard as of 1984. Ransdell was friends with local businessman Ramon Gillum, who owned "Gillum's Meat & Locker Co." slaughterhouse in Buckeye (now West Valley Processing). Some sources say that Ransdell sold the statue to his friend Gillum, others say it was gifted to him in his will when he passed away in 1988.

In 1989, Gillum installed the statue outside of his business, located at the southwest corner of Monroe Ave and S. Apache Road in Buckeye, Arizona. A plaque at the base of the statue read "Hobo Joe: Built by and stands in memory of Marvin Ransdell (1928-1988) by his good friend Ramon Gillum, July 1989." This led many to incorrectly assume that Ransdell was the creator of Hobo Joe, which was not the case, as Hobo Joe was created by Herb Applegate and Jim Casey.

The statue remained there for the next 27 years, slowly deteriorating in the desert sun. Over time, the giant hobo statue had become an offbeat attraction for lovers of kitsch and Americana, though some Buckeye residents considered the statue an eyesore.

The Hobo Joe statue showing considerable wear after 27 years outside of Gillum's meat processing plant in Buckeye, AZ. Photo by: North Phoenix Blog, March 27, 2015.

This plaque at Hobo Joe's former location was a source of controversy about the statue and its creator. Photo by: North Phoenix Blog, March 27, 2015

ACT THREE: Hobo Joe Lives Again

After 27 years, the giant Hobo Joe statue was removed from its location outside of the meat processing plant in 2016. A group of local activists and historic preservation advocates called Buckeye Main Street Coalition began raising funds to restore the Hobo Joe statue.

A GoFundMe campaign raised $1,150 to help with the statue's restoration cost in September 2016. Additional funds were raised by selling Hobo Joe T-shirts and even Christmas tree ornaments!

The two-year restoration saw numerous repairs to the fiberglass structure, sandblasting, and a new coat of paint. Photos of the statue's restoration and installation are documented on the Hobo Joe Facebook page.

Finally in early 2020, the statue was mounted to a new concrete pedestal behind Cafe 25:35. The fully restored Hobo Joe is on display for all to see. The sophisticated vagabond has been a roadside icon in Buckeye for more than 30 years, and I hope that despite his troubled past, Hobo Joe's third act will be his best one yet.

The restored Hobo Joe statue at its new location on the southwest corner of 5th St and Monroe St in Buckeye, AZ. Photo by: North Phoenix Blog.

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