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What was life like in metro Phoenix in the 1990s? Take a peek back in time

Phoenix has exhibited consistent and unwavering expansion since the mid-20th century, but it was during the 1990s that the Valley significantly intensified its focus on growth.

In a country already undergoing robust population growth and economic advancement, Phoenix emerged as one of the swiftest-growing metropolises. Its population surged by over 40 percent to nearly 3 million people, constituting more than half of the metro area’s current population.

Nevertheless, the decade preceding the new millennium wasn’t solely characterized by prosperity and growth. The 1990s arrived amidst the enduring aftermath of an economic downturn that had commenced in the preceding months. This financial crisis was further compounded by the collapse of savings and loan institutions, a scandal that incurred approximately $132 billion in taxpayer costs and led to the downfall of some of Phoenix’s largest entities, such as Western Savings.

Residents also felt the toll of the crisis, with unemployment rates in the state rising from 5.3 percent in May 1990 to a peak of 7.8 percent in March 1992.

Despite this, the Valley did not stop growing. Suburban development exploded, becoming the driving force of the region’s economy. At its peak in 1999, the metro area was releasing about 4,300 single-family houses to the market every month.

Under the series title “An Acre an Hour,” The Arizona Republic chronicled the rapid construction of similar tile-roofed residences, along with the substantial depletion of farmland and desert areas.

Phoenix as a city did not lag behind. By the end of the decade, its population surpassed the 1 million milestone, and its geographical footprint expanded by over 50 square miles. In an effort to keep pace with the burgeoning suburbs, Phoenix extended its reach beyond Bell Road in the north and all the way to Scottsdale Road in the east.

Here’s a glimpse into a decade that challenged metro Phoenix’s resilience, ushered in some of the Valley’s most iconic infrastructure, and witnessed record-breaking weather events

All-time high: 122 degrees

At 2:47 p.m. on Tuesday, June 26, 1990, Phoenix hit a record-breaking 122 degrees. The temperature still stands as the all-time high recorded in Phoenix.

The heat temporarily grounded flights at Sky Harbor International Airport and was a suspected factor in three deaths.

The record high was followed by monsoon flooding that washed out major crossings in Tempe and Phoenix on Aug. 14 and 15 of that same year.

Voters favor MLK Day

Arizona voters passed Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a state holiday, but not without first undergoing a long and bitter struggle.

The fight started in 1986 when Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt declared a statewide King holiday. In 1987, Gov. Evan Mecham rescinded Babbitt’s decision. The issue went to the voters, who failed to pass either of two ballot measures in 1990 that would have created the holiday.

The failures prompted the NFL to yank Arizona’s 1993 Super Bowl and move it to California.

Facing other national boycotts and economic losses, the Valley’s civil-rights supporters and business leaders banded to create Victory Together, a coalition that registered 75,000 new voters and ultimately lead to success at the 1992 polls.

The Phoenix Lights appear

Thousands of people, including Gov. Fife Symington, reported seeing strange formations of lights over central Arizona.

The incident dubbed the “Phoenix Lights” divided observers into two factions: those who embraced the Air National Guard’s explanation attributing the lights to A-10 flares released during nighttime exercises at the Barry M. Goldwater Range, and those who insisted that the V-shaped lights originated from extraterrestrial sources.

Ballpark, team makes debut

Bank One Ballpark, now known as Cashe Field, opened in downtown Phoenix the same year the Arizona Diamondbacks began their inaugural season as an expansion team.

The stadium, lovingly nicknamed “BOB” by locals, was the first MLB stadium in the United States with a retractable roof.

More key spots in the Valley saw significant milestones during this decade, including the construction of Tempe Town Lake’s original dam and the inauguration of the Arizona Center in downtown Phoenix.

Casinos for tribes

Six years after the U.S. Supreme Court allowed casino gambling on Native American reservations, the first Indian Gaming Compacts were signed in Arizona.

By the end of the decade, every tribe would win the right to casino gambling.