Piestewa Freeway Pots

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Phoenix, Arizona

State Highway 51 (originally known as the Squaw Peak Parkway, later renamed the Piestewa Freeway) just northeast of downtown Phoenix was the location of one of the most bizarre public artworks ever implemented. In the early 1990's, 35 colorful, giant-sized concrete and steel pots, bowls and cups were installed along the tall noise-abatement walls that separate the freeway from the adjoining neighborhoods. This art installation, formally called Wall Cycle to Ocotillo but more commonly known as the Squaw Peak Pots, was immediately controversial -- for several good reasons!

The project was ridiculed as an example of how public art money is frequently wasted on "art" that satisfies no one. Someone even added a golden toilet and a garbage can to the top of the walls, making clear their opinion of the project! But in 2002 the "artwork" itself largely disappeared from public view -- during a freeway renovation, the walls were raised a few feet and most of the pots on the walls were removed. But occasionally I would still spot one or two of them from the freeway, and I had heard rumors that the pots on the neighborhood side of the walls remained in place.

My Quest For The Remains Of The "Piestewa Freeway Pots"

As a service to the loyal readers of my Bizarre Backroads web pages, I decided to see how many of the remaining pots I could find and photograph. Since the original art project had stretched along five miles of freeway, I decided that the best way to seek out the remaining pots would be by bicycling along the bike paths and streets on the neighborhood side of the walls. I can't guarantee I found them all, but I found a lot more than I expected! All in all, I photographed nineteen separate installations (some comprising more than one piece). They're shown below, in order from north to south. Six are still partially visible from the freeway, the wall height-extensions having been built around them. But the majority are visible only from the neighborhood side of the sound walls. As you can see, each one is a unique, whimsical design, some large enough to have exterior or interior benches. Unfortunately, many of the pots have been vandalized with graffiti and litter. Some of the larger vessels originally had solar-powered lights, misters and water sounds, but these are no longer operational. And while I enjoyed looking at the remaining pots, due to their out-of-sight locations few others will have the same experience.

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Acoustic Jar. On bank of Arizona Canal, west side of 51.


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Acoustic Jar. On bank of Arizona Canal, east side of 51.


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Teapot Gazebo. On bike path, 18th St. at Tuckey Ln., west side of 51.


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Small Planter Bowl. On bike path, 18th St. at Sierra Vista Dr., west side of 51.


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Giant Planter Bowl. On bike path, 18th St. at Maryland Ave., east side of 51.


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Giant Octopus Vessel and Fishbowl. 18th St. at Claremont St., east side of 51.

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Water Clock Vessel. 18th St. at Montebello Ave., east side of 51.
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This pot from freeway side.


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Water Clock Vessel. 18th St. at Medlock Dr., east side of 51.
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This pot from freeway side.

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African Gazebo Vessel. 17th Pl. at Montecito Ave., west side of 51.

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Glenrosa Guardian Vessel. 18th St. at Glenrosa Ave., east side of 51.
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This pot from freeway side.

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Hummingbird Vessel and Garden. 18th St. at Fairmount Ave., east side of 51.


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Moroccan Gazebo Vessel. 18th St. at Mitchell Dr., east side of 51.


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Giant Car Container Vessel. On Osborn Rd., east side of 51.


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Acoustic Jar. On bank of Grand Canal, west side of 51.


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Acoustic Jar. On bank of Grand Canal, west side of 51.


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Giant Sunflower Vessel. On Virginia Ave., east side of 51.

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Glass Pitcher
 
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Aspirin Bottle, Pitcher, Coffee Cup
At base of pedestrian bridge, 20th St. at Oak St., west side of 51.
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Skeleton Face Vessel
 

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Glass Pitcher from freeway side.

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Palm Guardian Vessel. 20th Pl. at Palm Ln., east side of 51.
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This pot from freeway side.

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Brill Guardian Vessel. 20th St. at Brill St., west side of 51.
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This pot from freeway side.

Directions: Along Piestewa Freeway (State Highway 51), between Glendale Avenue and McDowell Road. Access via neighborhood streets and bike paths.

Last visited: February 2008.

Standard disclaimer: Sites are described for entertainment purposes only, as they were at the time of my last visit. I can not vouch for the current condition of the site or its accessibility.


Revised: March 19, 2008
Copyright © 2008 Joe Orman
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