The Commerce Blends Its Story of Place with Lively Food and Spirits

Northern AZ’s Mountain Living Magazine, January 2017

Written by Gail G. Collins

In the late 70s, songwriter and entertainer, Peter Allen focused on life’s ageless aspects crooning, “Everything old is new again.”  This timely reference point also marks Flagstaff’s decision to preserve its downtown heritage.

First, some perspective. Several years after its namesake July 4th flag planting on the nation’s centennial in 1876, Flagstaff was established as a railway and a lumbering center. The original structures, built from the forests’ ready materials, burned down repeatedly, and many were replaced by brick and native sandstone structures. In 1926, iconic Route 66 ventured west, carrying tourists to the Grand Canyon via Flagstaff, where they stayed overnight at The Hotel Weatherford with its witch’s cap cupola or Hotel Monte Vista, as did film stars.

With modern trends, some buildings, like Babbitt’s Department Store, endured a space-aged, aluminum face lift. Many businesses exited downtown by the 70s, and the city concentrated on regeneration. By 1990, a formal preservation program began, and the aluminum siding came down, revealing carved, red stone on Babbitt’s with others following suit.

Restoration and repurposing has continued, including innovative eateries, such as Proper and Tourist Home Urban Market propping up the south side with The McMillan, north of the tracks. But not everything can be saved, even if built of stone. The Commercial Hotel was devastated by fire in 1975, and The Commerce, a new craft cocktail bar, stands on the former site. Art within the bar commemorates the event.

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