On the night in 1968 after President Lyndon Johnson signed the bill authorizing construction of the Central Arizona Project., my mother took me on a long drive. We went through the citrus groves, the empty farmlands between the towns, the enchanting oasis that was Phoenix. Like many who had dedicated a good part of their lives to win the CAP, she had deep misgivings. She wanted me to see the place, burn it in my brain, and remember. "It will be gone," she said. She didn't live to see her prediction come true. But the ferocious transformation of Phoenix from my beloved old city to the nearly unrecognizable concrete desert of today largely happened during the last two decades of the twentieth century. The big changes began in the 1980s.
In 1980, Phoenix's population was nearly 790,000, up 36 percent from 1970. The city would grow slower in the 1980s — up 25 percent. But Maricopa County grew almost 41 percent. Yesterday's small communities began to become today's mega-suburbs as sprawl took off as never before. For example, Glendale, which had grown by 168 percent in the 1970s, added another 52 percent in the eighties. It would hold nearly 148,000 people by 1990. Arrowhead Ranch, the citrus groves owned by the Goldwater and Martori families, was being developed into subdivisions, one of the largest new "master planned communities" in the state. Phoenix remained the power center of the state and county through the decade, but its hold began to slip.
In 1980, Phoenix still enjoyed a robust base of major headquarters. By most measures it was never stronger and almost all were located in the Central Corridor. Among them were the three big banks, Valley National, First National, and the Arizona Bank; Greyhound; Arizona Public Service; American Fence; Central Newspapers; Western Savings, and Del Webb Co. Karl Eller's Combined Communications had been purchased by Gannett in 1978 but Eller remained active, taking control of Circle K in 1983 and making it the nation's second-largest convenience store chain.
APS formed a holding company, Pinnacle West Capital, that was not regulated like the utility by the Corporation Commission. Among its ventures was the S&L Merabank. Taking advantage of airline deregulation, America West Airlines was formed by local investors in 1983 — it would go on to merge with USAirways and take over American Airlines. And Phelps-Dodge, which for a century controlled much of Arizona's destiny as the world's leading copper company, moved its headquarters from New York City to a new tower in Midtown Phoenix.