I originally wrote this blog post on our department’s new blog, but I cannot guarantee its safety there, since my boss is actually on the Scottsdale Historic Preservation Commission, who will vote if the proposed changes can be done without affecting the historical integrity of the building. Ironically, I’m not allowed to talk to him about my work on this property during this time because of a conflict of interest.
The Pink Pony, Scottsdale’s oldest restaurant and major player in the history of the Cactus League, announced its permanent closure yesterday. The restaurant has struggled to stay afloat for at least the past decade. A yet to be announced tenant will be moving in and is seeking permission to make changes to the historic property. As a researcher and writer for the Salt River Stories project, this has brought me to a screeching halt with my work on this property. As I proceed with caution, I realize that this is a perfect “teaching moment” in my fledgling public history career.
Though I’m not a restaurateur, it is not difficult to understand that the most flavorful item on the Pink Pony’s menu was a large, heaping dish of nostalgia. Every time the restaurant was bought or sold, the new owners always repeated the same thing: they wanted to recapture the essence of the restaurant as it was in its glory days. Nostalgia was the restaurant’s greatest asset and personal memories made the Pink Pony a repeat destination for many of its patrons, perhaps even more so than the food. But therein lays the hard fact that we historians encounter regularly: nostalgia cannot be a sustainable method of renewing interest.
That’s where we as professional historians step in. We’re the ones who must ask the hard questions: is this historically significant? With the restaurant gone, what should people know about this space? What are the lessons to be learned, and therefore the stories to be told? In this instance, would the public best be served if I spoke to the importance of their role in historical preservation, or should we accept that after decades of struggling to survive, it’s time the Pink Pony was put out to pasture?
When users encounter the Pink Pony story on the app months from now, some residents and baseball enthusiasts may remember it fondly, and feel anger or sadness about its closure. Younger generations may see it as a relic of the past that served overpriced, average food and was perpetually on the decline. Unfamiliar tourists will not have any recollection at all. Therefore I will try to give the public a taste of the best the Pink Pony had to offer: the camaraderie of 50s and 60s Scottsdale socialites, the enjoyment of a lackadaisical two-hour lunch, and most importantly, Charlie Briley’s love of baseball that brought the Cactus League to Scottsdale, a major economic boon to the city still today.
For now, as I move forward and new developments emerge, I will focus on the reasons why the restaurant was designated in the first place. I will do my best to help this story recreate the nostalgic atmosphere for those who will miss the Pink Pony while also informing newcomers about the important relationship that existed between the community and the restaurant for 64 years. All in less than 600 words.