SCOTTSDALE, Az.—The Coach House is the oldest tavern in Scottsdale.
It is as old as the Go-Go White Sox.
The easy going road house is celebrating its 56th anniversary in April. The Coach House is tucked away at 7011 E. Indian School Rd. on the outskirts of the trendy Old Town district filled with art galleries, high end cafes and the new Hula’s Modern Tiki restaurant.
[Old Town is also the home of the Rusty Spur, a cowboy joint that opened around 1951, making it the oldest “saloon” in Scottsdale–just covering all bases.]
When you get out of the desert sun and sit in a quiet corner of the indoor bar at the Coach House, light is shed on the benevolent soul of late owner and founder Bob Brower.
A faded black and white picture of members of the Boston Red Sox hang on a wooden wall. Pictured are Felix Mantilla, Dennis Bennett and Lenny Green, taking a break from spring training. Everyone but Mantilla is smiling.
Mantilla was Puerto Rican shortstop and roommate of Hank Aaron when they played for the 1953 Jacksonville Braves, one of the first two integrated teams in the southern United States. Green was a left handed hitting African-American outfielder from Detroit, Mi. The late Bennett was a white starting pitcher who played for the ill-fated 1964 Phillies.
The photo was taken in 1965.
Integration was not common around Scottsdale.
In 1959 the Red Sox became the first team to train in Scottsdale and just the fourth major league team to hold spring training in Arizona. The Cubs moved to Mesa in 1952, the New York Giants came to Phoenix in 1958. As early as 1945 Bill Veeck brought his Cleveland Indians to Tucson because he thought there was more racial tolerance in Arizona than in Florida.
By 1966 the Red Sox would relocate Spring Training to Florida.
“Baseball was a proving ground for civil rights in general,” Cactus League historian-journalist Charles Vascellaro said last week. “When black ballplayers joined white players it didn’t take long to win these guys over and to be treated as equals among their peers. That is what you see in looking at the Coach House picture. The (now-shuttered) Buckhorn Baths in Mesa (a favorite of Ernie Banks and Billy Williams) was also a fully integrated establishment at the time.
“In Florida, a lot of spring training facilities were segregated. The year (1957) Hank Aaron won the MVP award with the Milwaukee Braves he was not allowed to stay with the team in (Bradenton) Florida.”
Bob and Mary Brower were from Cleveland, Ohio where they ran the Silver Inn bar on the east side of the city. The Browers befriended former Cleveland Indian Roger Maris. The home run king broke in with the Tribe in 1957 before he was traded to Kansas City.
“My parents and Roger Maris had the same amount of kids (four boys and two girls),” their daughter Irene recalled last month after a Giants spring training game. “That’s how the kinship started. My dad was an Indians fan, but he loved all baseball. He had one radio downstairs and one radio upstairs and he would run up and down the stairs to hear the different scores. My Dad had such a relaxed atmosphere at the bar it reminded spring training players of home.”
Irene manages and operates the Coach House, which holds a cozy 175 people inside and out. Her father died in 1991, her mother Mary passed away in 2005.
The Coach House is open from 6 a.m. until 2 a..m, 365 days a year.
Irene is unsure how the Coach House got its name, but a couple of old timers told me the tavern is on the site of a former stagecoach house.
Bob Brower had asthma which is why the family relocated to Arizona.
“I was born in Ohio in 1957, but my parents traveled across the United States when I was one year old,” Irene said. “Growing up, my Dad would open, my Mom would bartend in the afternoon. All six kids cleaned on Sundays and helped with special events. I remember sweeping –outside on the sidewalk. I asked my Dad, ‘Why do you want me to sweep the sidewalk?’ He said, ‘People notice activity, anything to lead people here.’ There were a lot of dirt lots around here back then. A few businesses.
“When the Red Sox were here, they didn’t make a lot of money. My dad took them home, fed them lunch and took them under his wings. They would come to our house and play ball with my older brothers. (Cubs-White Sox-A’s announcer) Harry Caray came here. Ernie Banks. His kids went to Loloma (grammar) School.”
Between 1967 and 1969 the Cubs stayed at the now-renovated Hotel Valley Ho, an Art Deco treasure that is within walking distance of the Coach House. Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood got married at the Ho.
No word if they adjourned to the Coach House.
Modern day ball players do not come to the Coach House. “(Giants pitcher) Matt Cain comes in once in a while,” Irene said. “But today with social media everybody tries to slip under the radar.”
A fire slipped through the grand old Coach House in 1982. “It went more from a white building to the western facade you see today,” Irene said. “We still have the same Coach House tavern sign. The inside of the bar is exactly the same footprint. We extended the patio in the 1980s. People love being outside.”
In 1998 the City of Scottsdale named the Coach House an official landmark and in 2001 the city honored the Coach House as one of the city’s founding businesses. Irene explained, “In the 1990s the City of Scottsdale wanted to widen the road. They took businesses that had been here for years and gave them a few bucks to go away. We were destined to be gone, but hundreds of patrons of the Coach House went to city hall and said, ‘Not the Coach House.’ We won a huge battle and we became a landmark for Scottsdale.”
The Coach House is one of the most affordable watering holes in Scottsdale. There’s always $2 PBRs and $3 draught beer. A free barbecue is held every Sunday afternoon on the outdoor patio. The Coach House is also known for the thousands of Christmas lights, garland and 50 candy canes that adorn the bar starting in late November. The tavern is always rated as a top 10 destination in Arizona for holiday decorations. Irene figured the bar spends $1,500 a month to keep the lights illuminated.
Bob Brower was born on Christmas Eve. “Every inch of the inside is filled with a light, ornament or decoration,” his daughter said. “It literally is like being inside a Christmas tree. My dad was the original networker. Everybody came into this place. He knew city council people, government workers, business owners. If someone came in and needed work, he’d say, ‘I know so and so, he was just in here.’ At Our Lady of Perpetual Help church if someone new came to town, the pastor would send them our way. It wasn’t just a bar. It was really a home to a lot of people.” Bob Brower and former St. Louis Cardinals catcher and television announcer Joe Garagiola, Sr. were ushers together at Our Lady of Perpetual Help.
So was the Coach House an inevitable path for Irene?
“I graduated from the University of San Diego with a degree in sociology,” she answered. “About eight years ago my brother (Jim) called and said he needed some help. And I’ve been here since.
“I feel it is destiny. My dad and I were very close. He wanted me to have my education and a few other things, but it is an honor to be part of something that my mom and dad started.”
Our dad liked old movie palaces, stately passenger trains and the rewards of devotion.
He liked happy endings.
Our dad Alfred Hoekstra, Jr. died April 8 at JourneyCare Hospice in Barrington, Il. He was 94 years old. He was fortunate enough to see most of the 20th Century.
One of my last memories of dad came a week ago when we were moving hospital equipment in and out of his bedroom. A sepia toned wedding picture of dad and mom had fallen behind a mountain of gauzes, blankets and bottles of water. Dad saw something was missing.
He looked up from his pillow and suddenly asked what happened to the photograph.
Mom and Dad were married 65 years.
He always kept his eye on Mom.
They spent their final months together wheelchairs locked side by side watching the Turner Classic Movie channel. Mom has been in home hospice since August and dad understood every moment was precious. They were as tight as a bouquet of fresh flowers.
Our dad has a gentle soul. He raised beds of roses, he showed me how to open doors for women, he conducted himself with dignity and humility.
You hear stories of passages but now I have seen one. We got a call late Wednesday afternoon that dad had taken a turn for the worse. Our caregiver got mom in the car and we made the drive from Naperville to Barrington to see dad.
We settled in the room that was softly playing New Age music like Kim Robertson’s “Alayi.” Mom leaned over in her wheel chair, took dad’s hand and gave it a gentle kiss. We left them alone. Mom left the suite to return home.
Within the hour dad had transitioned.
He was waiting for her before he boarded his train.
I am proud of our dad. He was a Chicagoan to the core. Dad was born in Logan Square. His father Alfred, Sr. came to Chicago from the Netherlands where he opened a dairy delivery company. Dad spent his youth taking the trolley down Milwaukee Avenue to spend entire days in the vaudeville houses and movie theaters of the Loop. He loved to talk about the 1934 Century of Progress World’s Fair in Chicago and somehow the calypso ballad “Yellow Bird” emerged as one of his favorite songs.
In 1939 he found work as a messenger boy in the Union Stock Yards that led to his 40 plus years as a purchasing agent at Swift & Company. My favorite story/life lesson from my father was his recollection of the foreboding goat on the livestock ramps that led sheep to slaughter. This strategy avoided deploying men with whips and other potentially gruesome tactics. Union leaders nicknamed the goat “Judas.”
My dad’s advice: “Don’t be like the sheep.“
His career was interrupted by a call from Uncle Sam. Dad was in the U.S. Army 106th Infantry Division from March 1943-January 1946.. The division was nicknamed “the hungry and the sick.”
Dad was awarded four battle stars on his service ribbon including the Battle of the Bulge. On Dec. 11, 1945 the division suffered 8,063 casualties—416 were killed, 1,246 were wounded and 7,000 were missing. Since dad knew how to type, he was in an office unit nicknamed “Typewriter Commandos” and was in an office during the battle. He credited the typewriter for saving his life.
Still, the war is what got him in the end.
In recent years dad dodged bullets of diabetes, Parkinson’s Disease and heart surgery. But Dad told the oncologist he started smoking when he was given free packs of cigs while in the Army. He quit smoking cold turkey by the time he was 50, but his cause of death is listed as lung cancer.
Swift & Co. transferred dad around the country; from Chicago to New Jersey to Columbus, Ohio and finally back to Chicago in 1967 where we became one of the “early suburban settlers” of Naperville. During a 1966 visit to Chicago to look for a new home dad took me to my first major league baseball game—White Sox-Yankees at Old Comiskey Park. His roots in the stock yards likely made him a Sox fan. I was captured by the 1969 Cubs and dad seemed to enjoy subtle pleasure in tweaking me about the White Sox 2005 world championship. I believe my love of newspapers comes from dad bringing home four Chicago daily newspapers after his commutes on the old Burlington-Northern railroad.
Until a few months ago, dad was full of discovery. My mom told us she wanted to see Bob Dylan before she died, so in August, 1989 we drove to the Illinois State Fair to see Dylan in concert. Dad had some trouble with the heat, but once we returned home his critique was, “He’s good, but he’s no Debbie Reynolds.”
At age 94 he was on his computer daily, either looking up online bargains for his beloved grandson Jude or Googling about his latest ailment. We teased dad about the mysterious things we might find under his secondary account of “Naper Man.”
At one time Dad was a Republican and I recall getting into heated debates with him about the mysterious things of President Nixon. Dad abruptly left his conservative ways during the Reagan administration and never looked back.
I inherited my pack rat nature from my dad. I brought some of his old correspondence to the hospice. I forgot he had subscribed to Michael Moore’s Mailing List and I found a 2002 article he sent to my brother and myself. He wrote, “Boys, this is touching.”
Moore composed an essay about the sudden death of his mother. He had planned to show his mom a copy of his new movie. He wrote: “As the end credits would roll, she would get to see what she has seen at the end of all my work; her name along with my dad’s in that list of credits, and it’s the only real credit that ever mattered—because without them I would not have the life they gave me, the way they raised me…it is all a privilege I will never cease being thankful for.”
I’m thankful I saved that e mail as I write this in the early morning hours after my dad’s passing. I feel my dad. I will see him in the promise of the beacon of a train or the romance of a dark theater balcony. He shed light on all that is decent and happy.
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