James Elmore

January 1, 1966

  • James Elmore

James Elmore, FAIA (1917 – 2007) was the founding Dean of the Arizona State University College of Architecture. He is often referred to as “The Father of the Rio Salado Project.” In 1966, he challenged the College faculty: “Let’s do something with the river.” The Salt River was then a dry dumping-ground eyesore, and a periodically flooded hazard.

As a result, Professor Robert McConnell led his fifth year studio class of 16 students in visualizing the enhancement of the 40 mile section of the Salt River, from Granite Reef Dam to the confluence of the Agua Fria River, from a landscape scar to a grand civic amenity for the Phoenix metropolitan area.  The proposal was entitled The Rio Salado Project.  Dean Elmore brought the idea to civic leaders and championed the vision until his death in 2007.  The City of Tempe accomplished the most ambitious portion of the project, dedicating the Tempe Town Lake in 1999. The City of Phoenix has constructed a riparian habitat near Central Avenue.

n urban Planning as a founding member of the Valley Forward Association (now the Arizona Forward Association). Besides the Rio Salado Project, he was an early advocate for transportation including freeways and light rail.


Steve Nielsen Describes Planning and Constructing Tempe Town Lake

November 3, 1987

A video recording of Steve Nielsen, Tempe Town Lake Project Manager, describing the City’s work between 1987 and 1999 to achieve the Lake.

Source Credit Arizona State University


Professor McConnell’s Letter to Class

May 1, 1998

Professor Robert McConnell’s letter to the members of the 1966 Rio Salado design studio was written to congratulate them on the success of their work over the past 32 years and express concern that the Rio Salado Exhibit (Fall 1997) at the Tempe Historical Society Museum “gave almost no credit to all of you and others who participated in the first months of Rio Salado’s life.” The document is a well organized description of the class effort.  Attached are historical notes and the “Log of the Original Slide Presentation” and a list of the members of the “Rio Salado Design Class.”

Source Credit Bill Close archives