For several years, the Flagstaff Convention and Visitors Bureau used the slogan, “They don’t make towns like this anymore!” In fact, Downtown Flagstaff was remade in the 1990s; reborn in a major facelift when business leaders organized to transform what was becoming a gritty, badly aging infrastructure, combined with storefront facades mixed from various decades, into the beautiful, walkable downtown area we now see and enjoy.
For a number of years, a rough gravel parking lot remained where a portion of the Babbitt Brothers General Merchandise store and other retailers had been demolished. Part of the old Babbitt Brothers building remains, where Babbitt’s Backcountry Outfitters, Winter Sun Trading Company, and Late for the Train coffeehouse remain, facing San Francisco Street. The studios of several prominent photographers occupy spaces of the former Babbitt Brothers building, facing Heritage Square.
Flagstaff’s Heritage Square was created on the leveled portion as the “town square,” and the centerpiece of a revitalized Flagstaff, with all new streets, sidewalks, benches, signs and trees. For a time, downtown streets and sidewalks were torn out from storefront to storefront, to allow for the work to be done.
The Square features a winding brick path detailing the history, biology, geology and anthropology of Flagstaff on a series of plaques, and a red brick railroad track design signifying the importance of the railroad to Flagstaff. Even the design of each bench in the Square represents a significant part of Flagstaff — the railroad, Lowell Observatory, the ranching and lumber industries and the Native American heritage.
Heritage Square hosts a series of events aimed at fostering a sense of community, including music, movies, art and fun in the open-air amphitheater. Movies on the Square is a popular summer event each Saturday evening, sponsored by the Downtown Business Alliance. Live entertainment precedes a family movie at dusk in an amphitheater filled to overflowing with lawn chairs and blankets. Live music, festival and educational events are sponsored throughout the summer by Flag Live! and area organizations – local school bands, the Flagstaff Community Band, the Museum of Northern Arizona, dance groups, the Coconino Astronomy Club, the City of Flagstaff Parks and Recreation Division, and others.
Heritage Square grew out of the vision of five people: Dick and Jean Wilson, Jim Babbitt, Steve Vanlandingham and Francis McAllister. Residents and visitors to Flagstaff will be grateful for many years to come.