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Heritage Square: Flagstaff's Outdoor Living Room
In The Heart Of Downtown Flagstaff, Arizona
Whenever I feel like going for a walk, I often find myself headed downtown, where I usually end up at Heritage Square.
There's always something to see or do in this public gathering place, be it a free concert, a dance performance, a festival, or even just good ol' people-watching.
Heritage Square is at the center of a revitalized downtown, once nothing much to write home about but now a destination and a fun place to spend some time, even sometimes a whole afternoon or evening.
Here, I'll take you on a tour of Heritage Square and tell you about some of what goes on in Flagstaf's outdoor living room.
Heritage Square History
When I moved away from Flagstaff in 1996, there was a dirt parking lot where Heritage Square is now located. And before that dirt parking lot, there was the old Babbitt Brothers building in its place. In fact, much of downtown was very different then -- nowhere near the hub of activity it is today.
When I moved back to Flagstaff in 2003, I was amazed to see the transformation, including the new, brick-lined square on Aspen Street between Leroux and San Francisco, designed to accommodate 1,200 people for a performance or just a handful of folks hanging out on a sunny afternoon, surrounded by restaurants, shops and galleries.
Envisioned by five parties collectively known as the Heritage Square Trust and based on ideas gleaned from looking at public squares in a number of other cities, Heritage Square was completed in 1999. It is now owned by the Hopi Tribe, but the City of Flagstaff has a long-term agreement with the tribe and still operates and coordinates events on the Square.
Hopi dancers perform in the Empress Amphitheater at Heritage Square on the 4th of July.
The Empress Amphitheater
At Heritage Square
Out of Heritage Square's 18,500 square feet of public space, 11,000 square feet make up the Empress Amphitheater with wide concrete steps leading down to the stage. The steps are a popular place to sit while watching a show or eating lunch or just hanging out, chatting with friends.
In this amphitheater, singers and musicians and dancers of all types and styles perform. It's also the scene of summertime evening dance lessons, hacky-sack games, family-friendly films, and interactive and educational programs for all ages.
Live music in the Empress Amphitheater at Heritage Square
Heritage Square Events
During the spring, summer and early fall, there's often some type of entertainment going on in Heritage Square. These are some of the regular events:
- Wednesday evening Dancing on the Square, with a free dance lesson beginning at 7pm, followed by social dance
- The Heritage Square Trust Summer Concert Series, every Thursday (late May - mid Sept.) from 5pm-7pm
- Downtown Friday Nights, featuring a variety of theater, dance, music and live art demonstrations, held every Friday evening from 6 to 8 p.m. before Movies on the Square
- The Downtown Business Alliances' Movies on the Square, every Saturday at sundown (all movies rated 'G' or 'PG' unless noted)
- The Bi-Cultural Road Show, featuring four Latin performance troupes. The public can attend concerts and performing art workshops throughout the summer, ending with a live performance on Heritage Square featuring workshop participants and members of the four performance groups.
- The Educational Series, sponsored by the Museum of Northern Arizona and the Coconino Astronomy Club
And in addition to these and other scheduled events, you never know when there will be someone strumming a guitar, giving a concert, or dancing somewhere on the Square.
For a schedule of Heritage Square events, see the Heritage Square Trust website.
Movies on the Square
Dancing on the Square - A fun way to spend a Wednesday evening
Here's a short clip from one of the free dance lessons at Heritage Square. This was the Lombata. The dance lesson was followed by a couple of hours of social dancing after dark, with styles ranging from salsa to swing to waltz and more.
Flagstaff Music Festival Clip - Summit Dub Squad play at Heritage Square
Spectators sit along flower bed walls while watching a performance in the amphitheater below.
Grand Canyon Strata In Heritage Square
Two billion years of geological history
Embedded in the base of the flagpole are actual rocks from Grand Canyon, in the order they most often appear.
- Kaibab Formation
- Toroweap Formation
- Coconino Sandstone
- Hermit Shale
- Supai Group
- Redwall Limestone
- Temple Butte Formation
- Mauve Limeston
- Bright Angel Shale
- Tapeats Sandstone
- Vishnu Schist
- Vishnu Basement Rocks
One fun way to remember most of the layers is by using the first letter in each word of "Know The Canyon's History, Study Rocks Made By Time," which are the first letters of the predominant Grand Canyon rocks.
Heritage Square flagpole, representing the original Flagstaff pine flagpole erected on July 4th, 1876
Heritage Square Benches
Functional, artistic metalwork in downtown Flagstaff
There are eight custom-made benches in the square, each designed to represent a significant part of Flagstaff's economy or history. Those themes include the lumber industry as shown in this photo, the railroad, Lowell Observatory, the ranching industry and Native American heritage.
Another place to sit, eat, read, paint, chat, people-watch, etc. in Heritage Square
Heritage Square Plaques
A little education in metal
Heritage Square features a winding brick path, and along that path the history, biology, geology and anthropology of Flagstaff are depicted on a series of plaques, like the one pictured here.
This is what is written on the plaques:
The rich diversity of plants and animals of the Flagstaff area was first recognized in the summer of 1889 when Dr. C. Hart Merriam led a biological survey to the San Francisco Peaks. Merriam's "Life Zone Theory" detailed that temperature and precipitation changes from the bottom of the Grand Canyon at 2419 feet to the top of the peaks at 12, 633 feet caused "different zones of animal and vegetable life to succeed each other from base to summit." This is similar to changes seen in the fauna and flora from Mexico to Arctic Canada.
The most characteristic animal of the stately ponderosa pine forest surrounding Flagstaff is the Abert squirrel, with its ear tufts and a large, bushy tail. Going up in elevation, black bear, mule deer, and elk roam the mixed-conifer and spruce-fir forests, while mountain meadows and aspen groves add visual variety to the landscape. A narrow band of stunted, gnarled Bristlecone Pine and Engelmann Spruce (Kummholz) grows at timberline.
The only true alpine tundra in Arizona is found at the top of the peaks, occupying an area of less than two square miles. Although tundra plants are among the world's most widespread species, the threatened San Francisco Peaks Groundsel, a small sunflower, is found nowhere else in the world.
Barbara G. Phillips, PhD -- Biologist
In northern Arizona, the history of the earth is revealed on a gigantic scale. Exposures of rock at the bottom of Grand Canyon reveal two episodes of mountain building, each separated by extensive erosion. These rocks, from two billion to 570 million years old, contain few fossils, mainly primitive, one-celled organisms.
From the end of that era until 65 million years ago, this region was a low-lying plain, sometimes under the ocean, at other times a plain crossed by sluggish rivers and occasionally a desert with blowing sand. During this period, over 10,000 feet of sediment accumulated--rocks present today at Grand Canyon and on the indian reservations to the east.
From 65 million years ago to the present, the region was uplifted over two miles, and the Grand Canyon and Oak Creek Canyon were formed. Later in this period, eruptions built a volcanic field, which includes the San Francisco Peaks and Sunset Crater. The peaks were later modified by glaciation. All of northern Arizona has been only slightly disturbed by faulting and folding and is mainly underlain by horizontal beds--in stark contrast to surrounding regions. In the layers of this age around Flagstaff, remains of primitive elephants, camels, horses and even giant sloths have been found.
William J. Breed
In prehistoric times, this area was home to several tribes of indians. Of note were the Sinagua, whose life was disrupted by the eruption of Sunset Crater about A.D. 1064; the village-dwelling Anasazi, ancestors of the Hopi to the northeast; and the enigmatic Cohonina, who lived north of the San Francisco peaks until about A.D. 1150 when climatic and population movements caused them to abandon their homeland. West of the Cohonina were peoples of the Cerbat tradition who later became the Pai tribes--the Havasupai of Grand Canyon and the Hualapai. Yavapai indians occupied Oak Creek and the Verde Valley after A.D. 1300. All these people farmed corn, squash, and beans as well as hunted game animals and gathered edible wild plants. They each had their own social and political life and religious observances.
The Historic Period began in the 1500s when Spanish explorers and missionaries came to the area and altered the life ways of the native peoples. The Navajo came to the region northeast of Flagstaff shortly thereafter. About 1850, Anglo-Americans took over most of the area and warfare ensued. While the Hopi remained in their mesa-top homes, the other historic tribes were militarily defeated and ultimately forced onto the reservations, their native cultures forever changed.
Robert C. Euler, PhD -- Anthropologist
Percival Lowell -- 1855 - 1916
Harold S. Colton -- 1881 - 1970
These two distinguished scholars laid the foundation for Flagstaff's extensive and impressive scientific community of today.
Harvard-educated, Percival Lowell was the scion of a prominent Boston family. In 1894, he chose Flagstaff as the site for an astronomical observatory. Lowell Observatory is famous for its solar system research on planets, comets and asteroids. In 1930, the planet Pluto was discovered by Lowell astronomer Clyde W. Tombaugh. The Steele Visitor Center has public displays relating to the Observatory's history and ongoing research programs.
Harold S. Colton, a professor of Zoology at the University of Pennsylvania, came to Flagstaff on his honeymoon in 1912. He became interested in studying and interpreting the unique natural history and archaeology of this region. Along with his wife, Mary-Russell Ferrell Colton, he established the Museum of Northern Arizona in 1928. The Museum conducts research and public programs on the anthropology, biology, geology, and fine art of the Colorado Plateau.
Pat Cline -- Historian
A red brick track design represents the importance of the Santa Fe Railroad to the community.
The Joe Sorren Mural At Heritage Square
Title: "The Veridic Gardens of Effie Leroux"
There's quite a lot of public art around Flagstaff, but this is one of Steve's and my personal favorites, located right on Heritage Square on the curved wall of a spiral driveway that once led up to a rooftop parking lot. To the left of this photo (out of view) is a nice little, tinkling water feature.
The mural is 40' x 60' and took 9 months--from January through September, 2000--to complete.
Restaurants On Heritage Square
See that brown sign above where those people are standing? That sign is next to the entrance to one of Flagstaff's newest (and smallest) eateries, Diablo Burger, where community seating--if there's any available--is the thing. Here, they serve 100% local, antibiotic- and hormone-free beef from open-range-raised cows, made into an array of burgers, along with tasty, seasoned fries, delicious milkshakes and a small list of other meal options. I've heard many locals proclaim Diablo Burger burgers to be the best in town, and I have to agree. Bring cash, though; they don't take credit cards.
To your right of Diablo Burger is the Mix restaurant, where I have never actually eaten (yet). It's a very popular place, though, where you can dine inside or out back on the Square. Mix is known for their soups, salads, sandwiches, and sweet and savory breakfast selections.
Also located adjacent to Heritage Square is Cuvee 928 Wine Bar and Cafe, where you can order hot and cold sandwiches on panini bread and a great selection of tapas-style food along with a bottle of wine (or two) to share among friends.
And just off Heritage Square, you'll also find Monsoon, with indoor and outdoor seating, serving sushi and a variety of Asian dishes.
The Fountain at Heritage Square
This fountain appears to come right out of a rock formation, representing Old Town Spring,the nearby natural spring around which Flagstaff grew.
Heritage Square Commemorative Bricks
Have a friend or family member who just graduated or achieved some other milestone? Want to celebrate a birth or memorialize someone who's passed away? One way you can do that is by buying a brick with the name of the person engraved on it, along with a message perhaps, and having that brick placed in Heritage Square, like these....
Proceeds from these brick sales go toward landscaping and upkeep of the Square, future construction, and the entertainment and events that take place there.
For more information on buying a brick for Heritage Square, see HeritageSquareTrust.org/Interior/BuyBrick.html
- Flagstaff finds new life in Old West heritage - Los Angeles Times
About our rejuvenated downtown with Heritage Square at the center of it all.
Some Debate About Heritage Square
In May, 2009, some controversy was stirred up about increased enforcement of the existing rules of Heritage Square and the law in general, when three teenagers were arrested after a confrontation with police. The incident took place after a police officer approached a young couple he felt were being too affectionate in public and another teen stepped in to defend them. Things then got even more physical, shall we say.
While some Flagstaff residents thought the officer was right to confront the young couple and to arrest the teens, others--many of whom were teens--felt they were being targeted because of their age. This brought up a sometimes heated discussion about misbehavior in Heritage Square by people of any age.
Following this incident, the City Council enacted rules to ban skateboarding, bike riding, having un-permitted amplified sound, using glass containers, posting flyers, camping, writing on the square with chalk, and "loitering" in the public space. The resolution also required that a sign be installed listing restrictions, which are in addition to stepped up enforcement of preexisting laws about panhandling, smoking and drinking alcohol in the Square. According to the Arizona Daily Sun, "Offenders will be asked to stop what they are doing or leave the area. If the person refuses, they will be charged with trespassing, a misdemeanor."
Here Are Some Articles And Editorials On The Heritage Square Hoopla - See the reader comments following each story
These stories and editorials are listed here in chronological order, beginning with the initial news report on the incident that started it all.
- Three Arrests In Fracas
"A confrontation Tuesday involving police and young people who congregate downtown at Heritage Square resulted in three arrests." (Read more....)
- Editorial: Heritage Square Crackdown Due
"Jennifer Gentsch and her friends say they go to downtown's Heritage Square to hang out, not cause trouble. So when the Flagstaff City Council proposed an ordinance this week to prohibit smoking, drinking, writing on the pavement, and riding skateboa
- No Harm, No Foul
"Julius Henagan believes he was standing up for one his friends during last week's confrontation between Flagstaff police and young people in Heritage Square." (Read more....)
- Editorial: Private misuse of public square intolerable
"The public square down through history has seen a lot of uses. It has been a marketplace. A meeting space. A place for speeches, rallies and civic ceremonies. It has hosted music, drama, dance and movies. And when nothing organized is going on, it h
- Guilty Pleas in Heritage Square Fracas
"Three people arrested during a disturbance at Heritage Square last month have all pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges." (Read more....)
What Do You Think About The Heritage Square Rules?
Basically, many teenagers and a fair number of adults feel that rules like no skateboarding, no bike-riding, no unauthorized amplified sound and no writing on the ground with chalk unfairly target teens and, therefore, are enacted to drive the kids away from Heritage Square, while others feel it's all about proper behavior in a public place, regardless of age and that the rules are meant to help preserve an enjoyable and family-friendly environment for all citizens.
So what's your opinion?
Do these kinds of rules unfairly target teenagers?
Visit the Heritage Square Website
© 2009 Deb Kingsbury