Did You Know: Ahwatukee's Foothills Area Originially An International Harvester Proving Ground

Published: Friday, August 28, 2015 - 12:05pm
Updated: Friday, August 28, 2015 - 2:32pm

(Photo courtesy of Marty Gibson)
The area in present-day Ahwatukee known as Phoenix Proving Grounds.

Some of the roads in one Phoenix community were created way before it was a community.  It was a private company that helped "pave" the area to what it is today.

The Foothills is a neighborhood in Ahwatukee.  It was developed in the 1980 and '90s and it’s surrounded by hills and desert. Did you know the Foothills area was originally a testing ground for International Harvester, a heavy equipment and vehicle manufacturer?

“They had an operation of 4,000 acres. And they used it through the '50s, '60s, '70s and early '80s as a tank proving grounds, informally known as Phoenix Proving Grounds, formerly known as International Harvester’s Phoenix Proving Grounds," said Marty Gibson of Ahwatukee.

He’s researched and written a book about the community’s history.

“Harvester had all kinds of equipment, heavy equipment, 18-wheeler trucks, that kind of thing. Light trucks, heavy trucks,” said Gibson.

Foothills Golf Club House in the tranquil Foothills near 24th Street and Chandler Boulevard  was originally International Harvester’s administration and sales building. The surrounding area, including the golf course, was part of the testing grounds.

Gibson said General Motors was the first to use this land during World War II. GM tested parts they supplied to the U.S. Army for their tanks. It was considered an ideal site — far away from residential communities, with a perfect dry, dusty, hot and gritty climate. 

“Conditions mimic almost ideally the conditions over in South Africa where the U.S. forces were fighting during WWII.  After the war, International Harvester saw as an ideal location to test and put their heavy equipment in trucks to the test because you had some severe slopes," said Gibson.

International Harvester first leased the land and then purchased it in the late 1960s. The estimated 6.5 mile property went from what we know today as 24th Street to about 17th Avenue, and from the South Mountain foothills to about Pecos Road to the south. It had several testing tracks including a 7.5 mile paved test track and a 4 mile high-speed track.  

“When it came time to develop this in the mid-1980s the main roads of the Foothills, Chandler Boulevard was extended down in here. Desert Foothills Parkway, they follow exactly the paths of those test tracks," Gibson said.

Near the administration building, now the Foothills Golf Club House, there was an elevated landing strip.

“Harvester constructed (it) to have some of their executives from the Midwest and some of the clients they wanted to wine and dine, fly in," said Gibson. "All the dirt in that was used to construct every hill, every gulley, every angulation on the Foothills Golf Course, which now sits, where that strip was.”

International Harvester sold the land in the early 1980s. Within several years, two communities were created — Foothills and Foothills Club West.

Explore Area Formerly Know As Phoenix Proving Grounds

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