Scottsdale hosts a special party in October to ‘Celebrate ‘68’

Scottsdale City Hall, 3939 N. Drinkwater Blvd., was built in 1968. Designed by Bennie M. Gonzales Associates, Inc., the building is part of a city government complex that includes a library. Contemporary interpretation of local forms and materials was a very fresh approach. Sculpted double thick walls, deeply recessed windows and whiteness reflecting the summer heat is appropriate for the desert. (Photo courtesy of Scottsdale Public Library)

The year 1968 wasn’t only a watershed moment for the United States, it also launched the evolution of modern Scottsdale.

That’s the year Scottsdale’s City Hall and Civic Center Library opened on a brambly landscape that would grow to become the Civic Center Mall.

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of these iconic landmarks, Scottsdale is throwing a party — a modern day take on the original community celebration held when the buildings opened in 1968.

“Scottsdale Celebrate ‘68” will unfold in Old Town over the course of several days in October.

Here’s the lineup of activities:

  • “Turning point” — how the events of 1968 shaped Scottsdale and its residents will be explored during a free panel discussion at the Civic Center Library at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 4.
  • Street dedication — Join us for a brief ceremony at 10:30 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 11, renaming First Avenue between Drinkwater Boulevard and 75th Street as “Bennie Gonzales Way.” Mr. Gonzales was the architect of the original Civic Center Mall and buildings. A Bennie Gonzales exhibit opens Thursday, Oct. 11, at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art. Museum hours are noon to 9 p.m. and admission is free on Thursdays.
  • “Celebrate ‘68!” — This free program salutes the 50th anniversary of Scottsdale’s Civic Center complex and architect Bennie Gonzales. Enjoy a photo-rich presentation by historian Joan Fudala and architect Doug Sydnor from 6 to 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 11, at the Civic Center Library.
  • Demonstrate! Artists Celebrating Scottsdale — A special Gold Palette ArtWalk in Old Town Scottsdale takes place from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 11.
  • “Celebrate ‘68 in Old Town” — features a variety of entertainment, tours, classic cars and hands-on activities from 5 to 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 13. We’ll recapture the vibe of the 1960s and celebrate the vision and character of Scottsdale’s award-winning Civic Center campus.

Just like the ribbon-cutting in 1968, the Oct. 13 event includes an open house at City Hall and the Civic Center Library, entertainment along Main Street and a party at the Hotel Valley Ho.

But no speeches – the party planners in 1968 wanted no part of long-winded oratory, and this year’s celebration will take the same approach.

Other details are pending but count on fun activities and a unique, “behind the scenes” look at the buildings and projects that established Scottsdale as a leader in innovation, public art and quality of life.

The cover of Scottsdale Steps Forward Spring 1973, Vol. IX, No. 2 shows Architect Bennie M. Gonzales studying the 1965 Civic Center model. (photo courtesy of Scottsdale Public Library)

About Scottsdale City Hall

The citizens who helped plan the City Hall complex wanted buildings to be dignified, distinctive and reflective of the Southwest and spirit of Scottsdale. Arizona architect Bennie Gonzales’ design for the buildings and surrounding open space beat out 35 other proposals.

The open chamber of City Hall, patterned after the Hopi Indians’ ceremonial Kiva, was a symbolic nod to Native American culture and accessible government.

The 1968 flyer inviting Scottsdale residents to celebrate the opening of City Hall and the Civic Center. (photo courtesy of Scottsdale Public Library)

Seven pieces of public art were a part of the project — including the stunning faceted glass skylights that bathe City Hall with muted natural sunlight. The inch-thick glass panes were designed by noted artist Glidden Parker and installed by Scottsdale’s Glassart Studios.

The imposing metal wind chime that hangs from the ceiling of City Hall was also part of that original artwork. It was designed by Scottsdale architect and urban visionary Paolo Soleri. Mr. Soleri passed away in 2013 at age 93, but his legacy lives on in his nearby studio and the iconic Old Town Waterfront bridge that he designed and bears his name.

Other public art pieces that were part of the City Hall project reside outside on the Civic Center Mall, ranked annually among the most beautiful and popular public spaces in Arizona. They include “Woman Spearing Fish” and “Don Quixote,” located in the pond in front of City Hall and “Mother and Child,” located in the Mayer Memorial Garden north of the building.

Art has taken on other forms through the years at City Hall. Its spacious “Kiva” space hosted concerts, plays and children programs before the opening of the library and the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts.

City Hall has even hosted a little of the Old West. In the 1970s, the Hashknife Pony Express riders delivered mail directly to the Mayor at City Hall – horses clomping down the same hallways used today for more tame and traditional community business.

The entire 14-acre Civic Center complex cost $2.54 million in 1968. The mall has been expanded and renovated several times since, as has City Hall and the library. The spirit and the vision of those residents who first conceived the project, however, live on.

Editor’s Note: Mike Phillips is city of Scottsdale’s public affairs manager.

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