This iconic mural formerly at Sky Harbor Airport is now in its new home. Here’s how to see it – The Arizona Republic

After a countdown led by Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego, the drawn black curtains pulled back, slowly revealing the panels of Paul Coze’s 75-foot long mural “The Phoenix.”

His daughter, Elizabeth “Lisa” Parrone, stared up at her father’s work. Newly restored and glimmering in the light of the Rental Car Center, she was overwhelmed with emotion.

Aside from being a piece of public art beloved by Phoenicians for more than 60 years, the mural is deeply personal as her father incorporated many pieces of her family in it.

The steering wheel from one of her toys makes up the control on the steam pipes. The shape of the necklace her mother always wore is just above the arrow on the right panel. One of the initial sketches on exhibition next to the mural is stained with a streak of Parrone’s spilled Hawaiian punch. 

“It’s just incredible to me. They did a phenomenal job and the amount of time and money that went into restoring this and relocating this is incredible,” Parrone said. 

Moving the mural to its new home

Contractors delicately removed the mural in May and moved it into storage, a painstaking process.

“The hardest part of this is it’s just a once-off. You know, it’s not something you can go look at and say ‘Oh, we’ve done this before,'” Ward Helm, special projects administrator for the city, told the Republic at the time the mural was removed.

The planning started in 2016 and the challenge was threefold. The mural measures 25 by 16 by 75 feet, so its sheer size was a factor. Then, thanks to its age, brittleness presented another obstacle. Finally, the mixed-media elements and construction of the work added fragility to the mix of challenges to navigate.

In an oral history the airport museum recorded with Coze’s wife, Kay, she described her husband’s process in detail. She said he gathered sand across the state from the Grand Canyon to Tucson. He visited Native American reservations and included soil and objects from Hopi and Navajo reservations. The bird is adorned with 365 feathers. Gemstones and obsidian rocks are also incorporated into the design.

Records show Coze then applied those materials to 15 canvas strips and, with the help of his art students, he attached the canvas strips like wallpaper to three panels, affixing them with glue.

Cerelle Bolon was one of those art students. Bolon was a student at Washington University in Saint Louis at the time. During one of her breaks back home she helped craft the jeweled “atoms” that adorn the right panel. She said it was done in Coze’s kitchen.

“When you made the atoms, he chose those sparkles and put them in the glue and put them in the oven to bake for a while until they got to a certain temperature. So that was one of the fun things I did,” she said. 

Invoices filed with the city of Phoenix record Coze ordered more than 10 gallons of glue to hold the mural solidly in place on the plastered wall of Terminal 2.

Paul Coze mural moves from Terminal 2: The history of his iconic piece “The Phoenix”

And, for all of this work, he was paid $10,000 for a mural that would survive the building it was designed to adorn. 

Moving it to the Rental Car Center

To the relief of those working to save the mural, it was successfully extracted and placed into storage. 

The airport chose the Rental Car Center, 1805 E. Sky Harbor Circle South, as the final location to display the mural due to its ability to accommodate not only the mural’s size, but an exhibit accessible by local visitors to learn about what was the first piece of public art the city of Phoenix ever purchased. 

Vice Mayor Carlos Garcia remarked the location also offers opportunity for reflection as the mural, which tells the story of Phoenix’s past, present and future, now stands on the site of what was the Golden Gate barrio. Many Latino families who lived in the barrio were displaced when the airport acquired the land and demolished homes to make way for airport expansion. 

“So I think it’s important to also remember the debt that we have to those that sacrificed for us to have these amazing facilities looking toward the future,” Garcia said.

The mural has been cleaned and the bird in the center panel sparkles in the light. Off to one side, an exhibit tells more about Coze and the process of constructing the mural. On the other side, two viewing scopes allow visitors to take a closer look at the materials used to construct it. 

“I was so distressed when I heard they were going to tear the airport terminal down and I thought they’ll never put the money in for what it takes to do that (save the mural) right, but by golly, they’ve done a wonderful job,” Bolon said. 

Parrone said her mother was also distressed about the prospect the mural would be abandoned when Terminal 2 closed. Her mother passed in 2012 without knowing the future of her father’s masterpiece. 

“It was very important to my mother that this was never compromised and eliminated. That it was something people look forward to when they arrive at Sky Harbor. So this is incredible to me,” Parrone said.

How to see the Paul Coze exhibit

The Paul Coze mural “The Phoenix” is located in the Rental Car Center at 1805 E. Sky Harbor Circle South.

There is no cost for admission and visitors can park for free in one of the two visitor lots located on the northeast end of the rental car center. To access those lots from Sky Harbor Circle, bypass the rental car return turn off and follow the signs for visitor parking. 

You can connect with Arizona Republic Consumer Travel Reporter Melissa Yeager through email at You can also follow her on Twitter and Instagram

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