David Fitzsimmons: Like Tucson's own phoenix, a wonderful downtown rises anew

2013-01-26T00:00:00Z 2014-07-02T10:56:18Z David Fitzsimmons: Like Tucson's own phoenix, a wonderful downtown rises anewDavid Fitzsimmons Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

I counted the black berets in the audience at the Fox and stroked my soul patch. Opera glasses and silver ponytails, reeking of casitas and hybrids, had come fearlessly into the city, into downtown, to preen, to be seen and to listen.

Chick Corea's black piano glistened. Gary Burton's vibraphone inspired a cartoonist's vision, a row of mammoth tusks for Barney Rubble to beat with pterodactyl drumsticks while Fred, Wilma and Betty snapped their fingers and stared into the fire, wondering if they were in Greenwich Village, Bedrock or Tucson.

Like a saloon girl's scarlet skirt, a sexy red curtain arched over the stage. Lighted from below, the folds of the deep blue drop at the back of the stage resembled illuminated Greek columns. We were in an art deco shrine flanked by emerald city walls. Bless my buttons, why didn't you say so, come on in.

A magnificent cathedral devoted to the saints of sound and stage, consecrated when the world was black and white and dreams were over the rainbow, the Fox Theatre is downtown's majestic cousin of San Xavier del Bac.

The jazz duet took the stage. With cleaver strokes vibraphonist Burton spanked out a sweet chiming roller coaster of sighs as Corea's piano keys took flight. The audience nodded to the beat.

Feel the imminence of downtown's rebirth with the Fox, and her sister, the Rialto, twin wombs spawning a groovy little Rome on the banks of the Santa Cruz. Thank you, Romulus and Remus. Thank you, Doug Biggers and Herb Stratford.

The show ended. I gave a standing "O" to Corea, Burton and the Fox, to downtown and all of the capitalists wrenching hope and profit from her streets. Out into the night we walked, past the streetcar tracks lying in the dirt like giant dinosaur bones, past the bouncers in shades writing down the names of hipsters dying to get past the velvet rope line into the thumping clubs, and past the cranes and skeletons of apartments yet to come, silhouetted against the neon-dimmed stars. Like a steel sidewinder the streetcar rails slither through downtown, carrying the yellow brick road promise of students, shoppers, theater-goers and downtowners to follow, spending, walking, spending, partying and spending some more. And then the grown-ups in their high-end lofts will follow, the trendy food markets will follow, and the light rail river will deliver the city dwellers up and down the banks of a fat Mardi Gras night life in a Western city that will not sleep.

In tomorrow's downtown, like a Roswell alien, you'll blink in awe of the strange new land, sit at the cafe window and watch the crowds.

I pity the fools afraid to come, anchored in suburbia like potted plants. Meanwhile, Portland weird and desert gritty, downtown lurches forward, cafe by cafe, eccentric by eccentric, condo by condo. For 10,000 years mother Tucson has lain coiled at the base of "A" Mountain, her tendrils of stucco and brick snaking out across the valley, spawning bleak gravel yards, characterless avenues, ranch home clones and strip malls and now, at last, the energy is ebbing back into the center. I'll take it. Give me the original city grown out of the presidio's dust; give me the unique Southwestern character; give me the rainbow-colored, salsa-soaked grit of downtown.

We marveled at the prosaic beauty of the redone Chicago Store storefront. Stripped of the plywood and murals that stank of '70s surrender, its stunning face-lift is an emblematic act of faith in the future, a celebration of the age when fedoras were tipped and parasols twirled. Spying the newly naked vintage windows on the second story, I saw Edward Hopper and wondered where the nighthawks would be dining.

The heart of downtown beats steady and strong, like a Tohono O'odham drum, luring investors to the powwow. The patient is off the table and swinging, and Dr. Rothschild will inherit the glory that Dr. Walkup nursed and cheered.

We nighthawks stood in the Hub, imagining ourselves in a teeming enclave in Austin or Seattle and as I stroked my pompous imperial, I raised my martini and sarcastically toasted the carping critics of redevelopment. To Oz.

Email David Fitzsimmons at tooner@azstarnet.com and follow him on Facebook.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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