Central, PHX: Bethany Home Road To Northern Avenue
It’s the road that separates the streets from the avenues. And it runs through some of Phoenix’s most well-known neighborhoods. We’ve been traveling up Central Avenue from South Mountain to North Mountain in our series “Central, PHX.”
We begin exploring the area between Bethany Home and Northern by standing on the Bridle Path just north of Bethany Home. The wide, unpaved path still gets plenty of use by walkers and joggers, but not so much by riders anymore. It wasn’t always that way, though.
"Yeah, I used to ride on the Bridle Path and the canals. I don’t do that anymore," said Paige Peterson, who has lived in the North Central neighborhood for most of her life.
"You used to go on a Sunday and there’d be very few cars," she said. "And now, there’s always traffic and people are honking or yelling."
Peterson describes herself as a farm girl at heart. On the inside, her house is pretty modern looking. But the outside is a whole different story. There’s the chicken coop and a barn she says dates to the 30s or 40s. And then the horses.
She has two and Peterson said she spends as much time with them as she can.
"On my days off, I spend half the day out in the barn and that to me is a perfect day," she said. "I mean, to avoid traffic and people and consumerism and goods is just my ideal. But then, yeah, within 200 feet you have the busy bustling city."
This section of Central is almost exclusively residential. It’s just a few miles from the high rises, shops and restaurants of the most urban part of the city, but it doesn’t always feel that way. In fact, considering this is right in the middle of the sixth biggest city in the country, it kind of seems like a small town.
"You drive down this part of Central and you get the sense that you could be on Elm St. in Anytown, Iowa," said Erick Johnson, who has lived in North Central for almost 50 years.
He tells me that other than when he was in college, he hasn’t lived more than a mile from where he lives right now. Sitting on his back patio, he said he’s made it a point to get to know pretty much all his neighbors and that a lot of them have lived there for a very long time.
"We had a neighbor across the street that sold their home," Johnson said. "They had lived there for 35 years. And when they sold their home, they were very particular about who they sold it to, because they wanted to make sure it would be someone that would keep it in the same condition that they’d left it."
The area is a contrast to desert landscaped parts of the Valley. It is full of well-watered citrus trees, lawns and other plants. Many of the houses have front porches.
Johnson, a member of the North Central Phoenix Homeowners’ Association, and his neighbors say kids often play outside and people stop and say "hi" to each other. But that’s been changing.
Bobby Lieb with HomeSmart Realty specializes in selling homes in North Central. He also lives there.
"If you want to live in an old house, we’ve got plenty of those; if you want to live in a historic house, we’ve got plenty of those," he said. "So, we have choices, which we didn’t have a few years ago. I think that’s why people are moving to this area, because people who don’t like the old ranch homes want to see new homes, so we’re getting new blood, younger people coming into the neighborhood, which I think is good for all of us."
Lieb’s been a realtor for more than 25 years. He met me at one of his listings, a sprawling 14,000-square-foot home right on Central with 11 bedrooms and bathrooms. The home also once belonged to Cindy McCain.
Lieb said prices in the area are better now than they’ve been, but not as good as they were in 2006 and 2007. Lieb said he’s seeing people who grew up in the neighborhood moving back in to raise their kids.
"But you’re also seeing homes that are really old that are being torn down," he said. "You’re seeing the homes that are sitting on acres that are being subdivided. I know some of the purists that live here in the area don’t like seeing changes, but it’s inevitable. And what it’s doing, it’s helping our prices move up the ladder because they are bringing new homes, nicer homes, more expensive homes."
Lieb said this is no different than what has happened in places like Paradise Valley and Arcadia. And he said a seller is likely to get more money from a developer than from someone looking to buy a 50-year-old house.
But a few of those plans have been met with some resistance. Resident Erick Johnson recounted a situation not long ago when a developer wanted to build some homes that would have backed up to Central. Johnson said the HOA was cool with that as long as the houses didn’t obstruct anyone’s views, but the developer didn’t think that would work, so the deal went away.
"All we’re trying to do is prevent Central from becoming a street that doesn’t have the views that it used to have," Johnson said.
One of the newer sights in the neighborhood is the Uptown Farmers Market. It’s been open on Saturdays for about six months, less than that for the Wednesday version.
"If you know anything about North Central, the whole Central corridor is just a family," said Bo Mostow, the market manager for Uptown Farmers Market.
The market is in part of the parking lot at North Phoenix Baptist Church on the corner of Central and Bethany Home. Mostow, who lives about a block away, said she feels like she’s throwing a party every week.
"I try to figure out what musician and what foods we can highlight and what fun things we can put out for the kids," she said. "And everyone comes and gathers for four hours and then everyone leaves, just like a party."
Paige Peterson’s farm-like backyard feels a lot farther away than the one-plus miles it is from the market, which is part of the appeal. But it’s also important to her to have city amenities nearby like the arts and restaurants.
Because this area has been the way it is for so long, changes big and small are noticed. Peterson, for example, said it’s tough to lose so many of the horse properties that were around when she was growing up.
"And that is very saddening to me, to see a beautiful old property and a house with lots of character just being torn down to put up something of no character," she said.
Our drive up Central Avenue wraps up Friday when we explore the section between Northern and North Mountain. If you’ve missed any of the pieces in our series “Central, PHX” or want to hear more, see photos from our road trip or check out interactive maps, it’s all at kjzzcentral.tumblr.com.