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Arizona's Cameleon City Now Thriving After Surviving

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Welcome to CityScapes, a new column in which we explore some of the nation's oft-overlooked cities and towns: their local history and real estate offerings. Have a suggestion? Do let us know.

The northern Arizona city of Flagstaff, once a whistle-stop on the transcontinental railroad (above, circa 1899), has since evolved into an intriguing combination of cosmopolitanism and casual ruralism. The city owes this eclectic character to its unique history, shaped by legions of pioneers, drivers, Hollywood expats, and astronomers. Today, the city's residents enjoy the fruits of that legacy and the natural gifts of northern Arizona's mountainous high desert.


When travel by rail gave way to the highways in the 1920s, Flagstaff continued to prosper thanks to the famed Route 66. With this ease of access, the city became a hub for filmmakers in the '40s and '50s, who were busy filming Westerns in the surrounding desert. The downtown Hotel Monte Vista (above) played host to stars like Gary Cooper, Spencer Tracy, John Wayne and Bing Crosby, and one scene in Casablanca was filmed in one of the guest rooms. But, like the rail tourism, the film fascination with Flagstaff faded, and the city looked to the heavens for salvation...literally. The city's high altitude (7,000 feet above sea level) and generally clear weather had made it a premier destination for stargazers since the turn of the century. The Lowell Observatory (below), established in 1894, was used by astronomer Clyde Tombaugh in his 1930 discovery of Pluto. As a national leader in astronomy, Flagstaff was chosen as the site for several government telescope installations, which today provide many of the region's jobs, along with several major manufacturing concerns, including W.L. Gore (of GoreTex), Purina pet food, and ice cream cone producer Joy Cone.


? Flagstaff is no stranger to high-priced property, particularly in the communities surrounding Continental Golf Club. This 16,000-square-foot home is sited on 1.6 acres, and features eight bedrooms, a 3,200-square-foot master suite with four fireplaces, and a three-story chapel with separate entrance, just in case the next buyer is more into heaven than the heavens. Those sacred features don't come cheap though, and this is Flagstaff's most expensive listing. It clocks in at $7.5M.

? For something a little less formal, there's always this industrial loft-style home on North Lake Hills Drive. The design is a little heavy on the red and black—and the listing dubiously claims the house was built in the "International Style"—but the mountain views and seven acres of space make this five-bed, four-bath manse a mighty attractive way to spend $3M.

? For something a bit more affordable, there's this split-level ranch home on Cherry Hill. Located a few blocks from Flagstaff's downtown, the house offers views up to the distant mountains and down into town, including the landmark train station and Route 66. Comparing favorably to its multimillion-dollar counterparts, this 2,000-square-foot number comes in at a relatively modest $359K.

· 5015 Lakeside Country Rd [Century 21]
· 96 N Lake Hills Dr [Sotheby's]
· 701 E. Hilltop Avenue [Zillow]