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What is Tortilla Flats now?

Tortilla Flats was originally a neighborhood located in the heart of Downtown Phoenix. It was a vibrant community with a rich history, but has gone through many changes over the years. Here is a look at what Tortilla Flats is today.

History of Tortilla Flats

Tortilla Flats dates back to the late 1800s when Phoenix was still a small agricultural town. It was one of Phoenix’s first neighborhoods and was considered part of the “East End” of downtown near the railroad tracks. The area was named Tortilla Flats due to the many Mexican families who lived there and made tortillas.

By the early 1900s, Tortilla Flats had developed into a rough neighborhood with many saloons and brothels. But it was also a tight-knit community centered around family and cultural traditions. Generations of Mexican-American families lived in Tortilla Flats and local businesses thrived.

After World War II, like many urban neighborhoods across the U.S., Tortilla Flats began to decline. As affluent residents moved to newer suburbs, poverty and crime increased in Tortilla Flats. The construction of Interstate 10 in the 1960s forced many residents to relocate and divided the community.

By the 1970s and 1980s, Tortilla Flats had lost most of its residents and businesses. Many buildings were vacant or demolished. Despite its rich history, the neighborhood had fallen into severe disrepair and neglect.

Tortilla Flats Today

Over the past few decades, there have been various efforts to revitalize Tortilla Flats. Parts of the neighborhood today look quite different from the dilapidated community it once was.

In the 1990s, the city of Phoenix began efforts to revitalize the area with improved infrastructure, updated building codes, and incentives for redevelopment. Several historic buildings were renovated and adapted for new uses. This spurred further private investment in the area.

The opening of Chase Field in 1998 and other downtown sports venues brought more traffic and visitors to Tortilla Flats. New restaurants, bars, and shops opened up around the stadium to cater to fans.

Additionally, the expansion of Arizona State University’s downtown Phoenix campus in the area brought an influx of students and education-related development. The University Services Building was completed in 2005 as one of ASU’s first downtown facilities.

Significant residential development has also occurred in Tortilla Flats in recent years with various urban housing projects. These include low-income housing, luxury condominiums, student apartments, and adaptive reuse of historic buildings into lofts.

Some of the key developments in Tortilla Flats today include:

Development Description
Chase Field Home of the Arizona Diamondbacks baseball team, opened in 1998
ASU University Services Building Houses classrooms, offices, and support services for ASU downtown campus, opened in 2005
Lincoln Family Downtown YMCA State-of-the-art fitness and community center, opened in 2015
The Stewart Luxury condominiums in a renovated 1929 building, opened in 2004
Portland on the Park Apartment homes adjacent to Hance Park, opened in 2020

While Tortilla Flats has seen many positive changes, some challenges still remain. Parts of the neighborhood still suffer from high rates of crime, poverty, and vacant buildings. Affordable housing for longtime residents is also an ongoing concern with new luxury development pricing many out.

Preserving the Mexican-American history and cultural heritage of Tortilla Flats has been another issue. Some critics say the recent developments have erased much of the neighborhood’s identity. However, there are efforts to incorporate public art, murals, festivals, and other initiatives that celebrate Tortilla Flats’ roots.

Significant Historical Structures

Despite the extensive redevelopment over the past few decades, Tortilla Flats still holds some significant historic buildings that reflect its past. These structures provide a glimpse into what Tortilla Flats was like at the height of its vibrancy in the early 20th century.

Sanchez Building

Built in 1900, the Sanchez Building is one of the oldest remaining structures in Tortilla Flats. It was constructed by Mexican businessman Placido Sanchez and originally housed his mercantile store downstairs with hotel rooms upstairs. The building underwent renovation in the 2000s and now contains restaurants and shops.

O.K. Movie Exchange

This small brick building dates back to 1919 when it opened as a saloon and card room. During prohibition in the 1920s, it became a soda fountain and restaurant. It later operated as a movie theater called the O.K. Movie Exchange in the 1930s and 1940s before closing in the 1950s. The building is currently vacant but there are plans to renovate it.

C.A. Lett’s Garage

Constructed in 1918, this historic two-story brick garage building once housed a car dealership and auto repair shop run by Charles A. Lett. It is one of the few remaining examples of early 20th century commercial garages in Phoenix. The building is currently undergoing adaptive reuse renovation.

Old St. Anthony School Building

This Classical Revival style building was constructed in 1921 as a schoolhouse operated by St. Anthony’s Catholic Church to serve Tortilla Flats families. It remained an elementary school until 1969 when a new school was built. The original school building is now part of the Phoenix Center for the Arts.

Economic Changes

Along with physical and demographic changes, Tortilla Flats has also undergone economic shifts since its earlier days. Some key economic differences include:

Historically Today
Mainly small, locally owned businesses More corporate franchises and chains
Heavy industrial uses like warehouses, factories, auto shops Shift towards retail, restaurants, offices
Served railroad industry Focused around sports, entertainment, tourism
Affordable rents attracted small business owners Rising rents price out some small businesses
Most residents had blue collar jobs More white collar professionals live in area

These economic shifts mirror the transition away from Tortilla Flats as a working-class neighborhood to a revitalized downtown district focused on entertainment and upscale housing.

Reflections on Changes

For long-time residents who remember Tortilla Flats in its heyday, the changes over the decades have been dramatic and often bittersweet. While the neighborhood deteriorated for years, the rapid pace of revitalization also erased much of its character and culture.

On the positive side, the rehabilitation of historic buildings and improved safety are welcomed changes. New opportunities exist with the growth of downtown Phoenix. But nostalgia remains for the strong community bonds and family establishments that once defined Tortilla Flats.

The neighborhood today is a mosaic of old and new. Empty lots and run-down buildings now sit next to modern apartments and bustling stadium crowds. Remnants of the past juxtapose contemporary development.

While Tortilla Flats will likely never recapture its former identity, preserving its heritage remains important. Respecting the neighborhood’s roots while advancing into the future is key for a balanced revitalization.

The families who called Tortilla Flats home over generations helped shape Phoenix into the city it is today. Their enduring influence deserves to be recognized, even as Tortilla Flats continues to evolve. What remains constant is the spirit of community that once thrived here.


In summary, Tortilla Flats has undergone a major transformation from its origins as a modest Phoenix neighborhood. The area has struggled with decline but is now experiencing revitalization through construction projects, ASU’s expansion, and reuse of historic buildings. However, redevelopment has also brought gentrification that threatens Tortilla Flats’ cultural identity. Preserving historic sites and Latino heritage while embracing needed renewal remains an ongoing challenge.

The rich history of Tortilla Flats is never far beneath the surface, even as it reinvents itself. With thoughtful development and community engagement, Tortilla Flats can hopefully regain some of its former vibrancy in new forms for future generations.