The Mystery of Phoenix Northgate

Aug 24, 2014

You might think that North Phoenix, with its suburban tract housing and its shopping centers and strip malls, might not be a very interesting place. But within the confines of suburbia lies a mystery that remains unsolved to this day.

I'm talking about a place called Phoenix Northgate - a massive chunk of vacant land located near 19th Avenue and Bell Road, directly across the street from Turf Paradise.

This huge section of land has been empty for my entire life, save for the mysterious markers that adorn the entrances. The large signs are made of black tiles polished to a mirror finish, with gold lettering that bears the words "Phoenix Northgate."

Driving around the empty streets, signs of the area's past are almost invisible today. Several years ago, a large sculpture and an elaborate fountain could be found at an intersection. Today, the sculpture is gone and the fountain has been all but dismantled.

I've searched the Internet for information about this place and have come up with nothing. What WAS Phoenix Northgate?
I have a few theories about the area. I suspect that it might have been planned as an office/light industrial park with office buildings. Maybe somewhere along the line, the original developer went bankrupt and construction never got started.

Perhaps instead of an office park, Phoenix Northgate was going to be a neighborhood of ritzy homes?

Theories abound, but answers are coming up short. I have no idea what Phoenix Northgate was supposed to be or when it was built. The sidewalks in the area have the date of construction as 1988.

Do you know anything about Phoenix Northgate? Please post a comment and share your information if you do!

Update April 2016: I dug through my archives and found some photos I had taken of the artwork that was on display in Phoenix Northgate. Both of these works were in disrepair when I photographed them in 2005. I did not cause any vandalism to these pieces, but I thought they were cool/interesting enough at the time to want to remember. 11 years later and they are both completely gone; I'm glad I took these photos when I did.

Eagles Flight sculpture by Harold Pastorius. Seen in Feb. 2005, now demolished.

The Fountain by Harold Pastorius. Now completely gone.

I wish I could have seen a photo or rendering what the fountain would have looked like when it was completed. I bet it was an impressive sight!

Update 2: May 2016: I have received some photos of the structures when they were completed. Big thanks to Kay for these wonderful images!
Eagles Flight sculpture by Harold Pastorius. 1988.
Eagles Nest fountain by Harold Pastorius. 1988.


Smaller Places said...

It was going to be commercial/industrial.

The parcel was bundled together for development but was, in 1988, owned in bits by the State of Arizona, an individual named Stegall, and Jonel Properties (which was owned by Stegalls). There are restrictions that prevent the property from being unbundled, though at least one group tried in the mid-1990s. I'd have to do more with the paper trail to figure out what happened, but it sounds like either the bundling or some kind of changing-state-plan-for-land-use issue is what's preventing development now.

Jonel Properties went belly-up some time between 1999 and 2002.

My guess was that there had probably been a Phoenix Northgate business entity at some point, so I went to the Maricopa County Records site to search on that -- and I was in luck!

Thank you for providing the mystery -- that was fun.

Anonymous said...

I grew up in the neighborhood watch to be built and watch it collapse. It was my understanding that Fife Symington had something to do with the property. Which is why it went belly up because of his indictment.

Unknown said...

SO the various parcels are all owned by the State, private individuals and/or banks today? Would be nice to see something developed there. Maybe the tohono o'odham tribe would like to build a north phoenix casino?

Sam said...

I've wondered about this spot a thousand times over - every time I drive past it. It is one of 2-3 locations I considered for a dream of mine for a non-municipality recreation area that symbiotically work with surrounding businesses and residential areas.

Unknown said...

In 1987 Harold Pastorius, my late husband, was contacted to design 2 monumental sculptures for Phoenix Northgate. Phoenix Northgate was a 283 acre business complex that Jonell properties was developing. Western Savings had a 99 year lease on the property from the Land Trust. All entitlements and permissions were secured from the City of Phoenix.

Eagles Flight was a massive (3 tons) stainless steel sculpture with an overall size of 16 feet tall x 28 feet wide by 20 feet deep. There were 3 elements, each one could be interpreted as wings. In the words of the sculptor, "Eagle’s Flight is an interpretation of flight that is meant to convey motion and lightness. These effects would best be achieved by viewing the sculpture from in front of the lowest and widest element, looking up through the other 2 elements. The “wing“ positions and the and the slight rise that they sit on, add to the illusion of an eagle swooping low as if about to land. This very structured design is intended to work with and in balance against the formal garden setting of row upon row of slender palm trees. Strength of line and mass are characteristic of my style and relate to the surrounding landscape architecture of this site.”

The" Fountain” was made of stainless steel and silicon bronze and was approximately 25 feet high x 20 feet deep by 15 feet wide and weighed 5 1/2 tons. Once again the artist commented “that fountain was designed to provide the sound of a waterfall that would carry over the entire park area. The falling water would be mirrored in the stainless steel by day and dramatically lighted by night. Due to the height and the volume of falling water, there would be negative ions in the air, just like a natural waterfall. The water, the sound it generates, surrounded by green grass and palm trees, would provide a near perfect setting for a picnic lunch for those working in the area. The fountain’s 3 elements are arranged to provide striking viewing angles from all sides. Even without water, the “Fountain” would stand as a strong contemporary sculpture on its own."

I remember driving to Phoenix in July of 1988 for Harold to do the installation of his art work. It was a hot summer day and he was inside the fountain doing some last minute welding before putting on the massive doors to conceal the fountain equipment. the heat was so intense that he couldn’t keep hydrated and I had to keep leaving to find more gator aide and water for him. The final result was one of such beauty I have photos of the finished art work if I only knew how to post them on a blog!!
When the sculptures were unveiled in1988 all of the landscaping and streets were in and the land was being leased. It was a magnificent development. Hal passed away in 1995, but many of his sculptures stand today (mostly inn California) to attest to his amazing creative ability. Unfortunately this is not the case with Phoenix Northgate.

I happened to be heading back to California after storing my boat in Mexico during the summer of 2003 and wanted to show my partner the Northgate project. What a shock to discover that the project was abandoned, the trees had all died, and graffiti covered the magnificent sculptures. The doors to some of the fountains had been ripped off and the plumbing had all been stolen, skateboarders had tagged Eagles Flight and they had been skating on the wings and broken some of the weld’s. I was able to contact the Art In Public Places person in Phoenix and was told that they had no responsibility in trying to protect the sculptures. What a shame for a city to loose the opportunity to have really great art provided by a developer who must have fallen on hard times.

Trevor said...

Hi Kay,
Thanks for the wonderful information about your late husband's sculptures. I dug through my archives and found 2 photos I had taken of them when they were in disrepair. I thought they were interesting enough to photograph in 2005. They sure looked to have been impressive when they were completed! I really appreciate you sharing your personal knowledge of this interesting place with me and my readers. Thank you!!

Unknown said...

Trevor, i have some amazing photos of The Fountain with water running out. It was spectacular!! Also I have photos of Eagles Flight before any graffiti. How can i post them or send them to you to post? I own a Bed and Breakfast in New Zealand called A Culinary Experience. If you googled it you could find my email address and then I could send you the photos. Alternatively, we are creating a website for Harold Pastorius which should be live in late May. cheers.


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