When I first saw this postcard, I thought the beach was a predecessor to Big Surf. Not Big Sur, but Phoenix’ actual surfing beach.

Disambiguation – in 1969 Phil Dexter built a giant wave machine and park so that people could surf in the desert. It was awesome. When I saw this postcard, I thought this was an early version of that park – Big Surf.

It is not. In fact, it is a post card of Tempe Beach, a large swimming pool and park, near Tempe Town Lake.

During the 1930’s the park was segregated. When World War II Hispanic Veterans returned, they demanded that the pool be desegregated and it was. This could be an entire post, given that Arizona belonged to Mexico for quite some time. There is more to this story.

The pool is at the banks of the Salt River, which fed the Valley of the Sun for millennia, from the Hohokam to the present day. Think of man’s transformative work on this river; from pre-historic mankind fishing and foraging, to the Hohokam and their canals, to settlers and their new dams and irrigation, followed by Tempe Beach, to Tempe Town Lake. If the river could talk…and now, appreciating once again the full ecosystem of the river itself.

Desert water, the presence of water in the desert is different than water anywhere else. Because water in the desert is often fleeting, completely necessary for life and is the only natural cure for unrelenting heat, it is the most valuable commodity in this climate. Hot, sun soaked skin contacting and sliding into cool, smooth, blue water is heaven. I can imagine the days before most houses in Phoenix had swimming pools in their backyards, the days before air conditioning, and the hot summers. The community pool would be the gathering place. Baseball, picnics, horseshoes and other sports were played and documented profusely in local papers.

Researching this card led me to another version of Tempe Beach, which was and still is confounding me. Newspapers of the time and place have long lists of people “coming to their cabins” or “opening their cabins” at Tempe Beach. I saw one connection to Mormon Lake, which is in Northern Arizona and have wondered if Mormon Lake had a Tempe Beach, which I cannot validate. I wondered if the subdivision near Tempe Beach Park was called Tempe Beach, but alas, cannot figure that out either. Nonetheless, somewhere in Arizona is a place called Tempe Beach, where families and their guests opened cabins for the season. If any readers know what this mythical place is, I’d love to know. I see families playing checkers and hearts and horseshoes somewhere in Arizona. Night would have been looking at the dark skies, limitless stars and perhaps a meteor shower or two. Instead of tuna fish and peanut butter, I think they would have tamales and tortillas, queso, beans and peppers. Perhaps flan for dessert, with hot, dark, chocolate infused coffee. Somewhere near water.

Tempe, the name – I’ve always wondered what the historical reference was. I never looked or never paid attention, so, finally, I’ve researched it. Like many place names in the western world, this travels to Arizona from Greece, via England. In 1879, Lord Darrell Duppa, who wasn’t actually a Lord, was a partner with Jack Swilling, acknowledged as one of the founders of Phoenix. And this is the start of another story, for another time. Lord Duppa, was English, with an accent and education to match. I can imagine Jack Swilling, NOT a lord in any way, hanging out in bars in Arizona, talking, gambling and doing deals. Lord Duppa, educated in the Classics, suggested Tempe, named after the Greek Vale of Tempe. He saw the buttes, the Salt River meandering through the Valley and said poets name these places Tempe and so it was.

This is another of my movie ideas, Jack Swilling, Lord Duppa, starting entirely new cities in the Wild West of Arizona. Think of the actors who could play each – the educated Brit and the Arizona prospector, settler, gunman. If only Clark Gable had known, perhaps he would have played one or the other.

Onto other researches where, perhaps I will run into Tempe Beach and its cabins, if not here, then elsewhere in Arizona.

Happy Travels!  Sherry

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Sherry Dewane is very much an Angeleno, living in Los Angeles, but her roots are firmly planted in rural Wisconsin. Years living in Montana and travels throughout the American West shape her worldview. Sherry’s imagination, love of the outdoors, Midwest work ethic and love of reading were nurtured on an iconic lake in the woods, where she enjoyed her early childhood. She spent the first 11 years of her life on English Lake, in rural Wisconsin, exploring woods, fields and the lake, endlessly walking, swimming, ice skating, water-skiing and enjoying the seasons, reading and writing.


  • Joan

    Sherry, I love Tempe beach description ! So real.
    I have a friend colleague who lives now and has since childhood in the Papago area . She often talks about the beach she went to as a child. That’s it!!

    • Sherry Dewane

      Hi Joan – that’s really cool!! Ask her if she’s ever heard about the cabins. I want to find out what those were.

      Happy Winter!! Sherry

  • Diana

    Fascinating bit about the cabins!! I can only imagine the wild west then!!

  • Diana

    Somehow, I missed some of these blogs!

  • Alexis

    They weren’t really cabins as I recall but were one room cabanas for use during the time a family spent at the pool area. Almost like the cabanas that you can rent for the day at any of the area resorts (Biltmore, etc.). At least that’s my memory and I’m 65 now (2019) and was born in Phoenix although my mom was at ASU (Teacher’s College) as a student at that time.

    • Sherry Dewane

      Hi Alexis – thanks so much for responding. That is fascinating. I LOVE that when people started using them, it was an entry in the social pages! Thank you for sharing! I had no idea!

      Thank you for reading!

      Best, Sherry


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