Stanley Williamson led a colorful life, but he’s best remembered for naming Tucson’s Miracle Mile and for developing much of it.
Williamson was born to Peter and Harriet (Hopson) Williamson in Brooklyn, New York on May 18, 1887. When he was 2 his family moved to Rahway, New Jersey, which is where he and his sister Adele grew up.
His first job was at a bank in New York, and then he worked as an accountant for an engineering firm.
Williamson soon developed asthma and was forced to move west. His first stop was San Antonio, Texas, where he and partner Spencer Briggs bought a ranch north of town. For a time they ran a successful business, but a desire for adventure took hold. They sold the ranch and, along with another companion, headed into Mexico.
They set out on horses with the intent of joining an American contingent fighting in the Mexican Revolution. During their time south of the border, they encountered bandits who stole their horses, which were later found. They experienced “times when the bean pot was empty and ... suffered acutely, from lack of water.” They also came across Yaqui Indians who were fighting the Mexican government, which was engaged in a campaign to take their lands and wipe out the tribe.
It’s unknown whether Williamson and his companions actually fought in the Mexican Revolution. They returned to the U.S. after a short time in Mexico, ran out of money in Hope, New Mexico, and found work building a bridge in the area. Later they lived with the Zuni Indians near Gallup, New Mexico, and then spent about three months with the Apaches and Navajos of Northern Arizona.
Eventually they headed to Phoenix and arrived in time to see the 1912 inauguration of George W.P. Hunt, Arizona’s first governor.
In 1914, Williamson wed Laura Swiggett of Phoenix and they had two children, Warren and Jane.
When Pancho Villa started his raids along the border in 1916, Williamson, who was captain of Company C, 1st Arizona Infantry, was called to duty and stayed with his men on the border until the fall of 1917. After spending some time in France during World War I, he returned to the Phoenix in 1919 and moved back to New Jersey in 1922.
In 1927, he came to Tucson and found work at a bank and then at a realty firm. During the 1930s and 1940s, he developed or helped develop subdivisions in midtown Tucson, including the Palomar Addition and the San Clemente Addition, named after the coastal town of San Clemente, California
In 1936, Williamson envisioned a commercial center on the mostly undeveloped Oracle Road, between West Drachman Street and the Casa Grande Highway (now West Miracle Mile). It would be outside of the downtown retail center and similar to the famed Miracle Mile in Los Angeles.
The Los Angeles version was the idea of A. W. Ross, a real estate agent in downtown Los Angeles’ retail district. He guessed correctly that, as downtown got more congested and cars became more common, people would become less dependent on public transportation and more willing to do their shopping by car.
In the early 1920s, he bought land along the south side of Wilshire Boulevard and created a retail district that grew to include some of the poshest department stores of the day. He originally called this strip the Wilshire Boulevard Center, but in 1928 the name was changed to Miracle Mile.
The Miracle Mile went through a period of decline as regional malls took the place of shopping districts, but it has been revived with new attractions like the Peterson Automotive Museum and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Note: Some sources claim that the name for Tucson’s Miracle Mile came from a June 1937 Arizona Highways magazine.
Actually, this part of Oracle Road was supposed to be renamed Parkway Road or Parkway Boulevard after improvements were made to it, but Williamson came up with the name “Miracle Mile” to describe a business center and first used the name in print in a Sept. 11, 1936, ad in the Arizona Daily Star. On Jan. 6, 1937, the Tucson Citizen first used the name “Miracle Mile” to denote the street rather than the business center.
From 1937 to 1960, the street was commonly called Miracle Mile, but officially the businesses had Oracle Road addresses. That changed on Nov. 21, 1960, when the Tucson City Council passed an ordinance changing the name of “West Drachman, from Stone to Oracle Rd.; Oracle Rd., from Drachman to Casa Grande Hwy; and Casa Grande Hwy., from Oracle Rd. to the (I-10) overpass,” to the name Miracle Mile Strip.
Two years later, the City Council had a change of heart and, on May 7, 1962, changed the part of Miracle Mile Strip formerly known as Drachman Street back to its original name. The former Casa Grande Highway, then part of the Miracle Mile Strip, became West Miracle Mile, leaving only present-day Oracle Road with the name “Miracle Mile Strip.”
Miracle Mile Strip remained the official name until Feb. 2, 1987, when the City Council renamed the north-south part of the strip back to Oracle Road. West Miracle Mile is the only one of the original three streets to still bear the name.