By Douglas Towne
Downtown Phoenix was the city’s commercial district until the 1960s, and one unique store stood out. The business, which opened in 1891, attracted both locals and tourists as its fame spread worldwide. The N. Porter Saddle and Harness Company, commonly known as Porter’s, was known as “The West’s Most Western Store,” and renowned for the quality saddles and other leatherware such as boots and chaps it manufactured.
After World War II, Porter’s became the talk of the town for installing a contraption few cowboys had ever ridden: Arizona’s first escalator. “Some people came in just to take it up to the second floor,” recalls William Linsenmeyer, the building owner’s grandson. “A lot of people in those days didn’t travel much and had never seen an escalator.” This is the story of Porter’s, a business that helped transport Phoenix from Territorial Days to the Space Age over its more than 70-year run.
The N. Porter Saddle and Harness Company was founded by the Porter family in Texas in 1875. The family relocated the business to Phoenix in 1891, opening at 142 East Washington Street. By 1904, Porter’s moved to larger quarters at 40 West Washington Street, and relocated again to the newly constructed Luhrs Building in 1914. Porter’s moved to the northeast corner of First and Adams streets in 1928, an area was the location of Phoenix’s first Chinatown district. The new building featured the store on the first floor, and its leather shop on the second floor.
By 1940, Porter’s moved to a modern building designed by the architectural firm of Lescher and Mahoney for developer Ottilia Linsenmeyer, the widow of Ernest Linsenmeyer. The Linsenmeyer’s had been active in real estate in Phoenix since 1906 and had previously operated a meat market at the building’s site.
For the new construction, the site was cleared by the Heyne Lumber and Wrecking Company. The new two-story structure made of brick, reinforced concrete and stucco was built for $65,000.
Porter’s featured Western wear and outdoor equipment on the first floor and basement, while the second floor had a leather shop. “I went in there as a kid just to enjoy the aroma of the leather,” Joe Agnew, who works in the retail industry, says.
Advertisements for Porter's 1940 Grand Opening include a broad range of outdoor products including Simon Pure sleeping bags, Victor tennis racket strings, Hendan shirts, Field and Stream sportswear, Martin bits and spurs, Ralph-Pugh leather coats, Eberhard Tanning Company which supplies woolskins to line the skirts of their saddles, and McCabe Silversmiths.
But the store was famous for their saddles. “The life of an N. Porter saddle is so long that the cowboy, rather than the saddle itself, is the first to wear out," said 25-year-employee Walter King to The Arizona Republic in 1940. “Consequently, our saddle business volume depends on a far-flung market that reaches from Africa to Canada and receives orders from places few people have heard of including Jiffs, NV, Pie Town, NM, Bromide, OK, Spur, TX, Consumers, UT, and Wolf Hole, AZ.”
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This article originally appeared in the bimonthly Arizona Contractor & Community magazine, Jan/Feb 2021 issue, Vol. 10, No. 1.