(This is Part 5 of a series written by team member Chris Seggerman. Read Part 1. Read Part 2. Read Part 3. Read Part 4.)
What was in a vacant lot, in the time before it became vacant? Was there ever anything there? Photographs freeze time, helping researchers to see what a house or landscape looked like in the past. Google Earth shows current aerial views, but for historical aerial photos across the decades, consult the Maricopa County Flood Control District website.
By default, the site shows the most recent available year. Clicking on “Change Aerial” on the right side of the screen opens up a small menu to the left of the screen, with choices of “View a Single Year Aerial”, “Compare 2 Years of Aerials” and “View Oblique Aerial”.
Comparing two years divides the screen with a slider, showing decades of change with a drag of the mouse. The “View Oblique Aerial” option is only for 1930 and shows the map with associated oblique photos and instructions on how to view them. Resolution varies yearly, and some years had very limited coverage. Zooming out completely shows total coverage for each year.
Portland St, Phoenix 1930
Researchers will likely want to zoom in on a particular mile or half-mile, then note changes for each photo set. For instance, the area in the Simm’s Addition subdivision, part of which now contains Hance Park, shows change each decade. 1930 shows a row of houses south of Culver, with larger, wooded lots north of Westmoreland. By 1959 some of the lots have emptied, with nearly no houses by 1979.
Portland St, Phoenix 1979
The 1986 image shows something like a large quarry, but what was Westmoreland Park is still there. 1991 shows the beginning of the current park, but large blank patches and signs of construction remain. The green lines of what would become I-10 are overlaid throughout, and these photos show how, over the decades, land was cleared along its path.
Portland St, Phoenix 1986
Portland St, Phoenix 2013
For historians studying development in Phoenix, quick access to these photos proves an invaluable resource. They can witness neighborhoods expand and contract, or just find out if a house had a pool—or was simply a vacant lot.