People call Phoenix and its satellite cities an area without a past, shucked of history, a collection of pass-through transients. The closing of Montis La Casa Vieja on Monday splinters another link to the past … and the deed will be complete when most of it gets bulldozed to make room for a high-rise development in the landlocked city of Tempe.
I could easily turn this into a rant about developers, greed and a myopic worldview. I’ll resist the temptation – mostly. Developers say they’ll fold the “historic Hayden House” into the new construction. I’m not sure exactly what that means: Keep in mind that the building has gone through about as much adding-on and renovation as a 15th Century Irish pub, to the point where original elements are fused into newer bits that seem inextricably linked. Who knows what will really survive when demolition begins?
But enough of that. Plenty of better-informed people have more to say about it than I do. Let’s instead take a look at Nov. 17, the final night Monti’s served to the public.
My friend Nicole, who likes history and hauntings (and wrote a cool blog post about Arizona hauntings), organized a group dinner among some friends. She’d never had a look inside Monti’s, and the legend of its haunted halls enticed her. We managed to get a seat in the Fountain Room, which is said to be the most-haunted of all the rooms (considering the building sprawls over no less than 11,000 square feet, that offers a lot of ground).
I was there less for the supernatural, and more for the memories. I spent more than a few evenings at Monti’s with friends: We’d have a pre-game steak or prime rib before heading down to Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum to see the Phoenix Roadrunners. In recent years, my good friend Todd and I would gather there to eat prime rib and talk about whatever was on our minds (guitars and music, often enough).
But it was really interesting to just roam the building. It has that enveloping creepiness that only an old, haphazardly renovated building can possess. One particular hallway, in particular, seemed to drink in ambient sound, muffling every whisper or footfall. I overheard one patron claim that one of the back banquet rooms was the scene of meetings of the Arizona branch of the Illuminati (I tried very hard to not roll my eyes … I may have succeeded somewhat).
One of the more interesting moments: Nicole spied a weathered brass plaque on the fountain in the Fountain Room. It bore the old wishbone logo and mission of Make-A-Wish from its earliest days as a “last wish” organization for terminally ill children (it has since moved on to serve kids with life-threatening medical conditions, the difference now being that many of the kids can survive their illnesses).
For all the fun I had, though, it was just sad. The servers seemed torn about it all. And every person wandering Monti’s with a digital camera clearly wished it wouldn’t come to this.