by Blake Herzog
Today’s Casa Grande Carr McNatt Park is a community hub — the home of Palm Island Aquatic Center, Velocity Skate Park and other key amenities for residents.
The man it was named after was an avuncular figure who became a sort of one-man chamber of commerce for the city as the founder of another gathering spot, which endures after nearly 100 years.
“It was known all over the country. You’d stop in places away from here (in other states) and mention Casa Grande and people would ask ‘have you ever been to the Wonder Bar?’ his daughter Frances Stein told the Casa Grande Dispatch in 1984. “Everybody loved daddy, they would call him Daddy Mac or Uncle Carr.”
She added there were many illustrious patrons including Clark Gable, who passed through on his way to Tucson.
Carr McNatt was born in Bowie, Texas, in 1881 and arrived in Casa Grande with his wife Elizabeth in 1907. All three of his brothers — Robert, Mark and William (known as “Jinx”) — followed within the next decade, and all prospered as the community found its footing as an agricultural center after the initial railroad and mining booms was spent.
In 1915, the year the City of Casa Grande was incorporated, he opened Carr’s Emporium, a soda fountain and ice cream shop and purchased the Casa Grande Supply Company’s oil business, including the real estate, for about $4,000, becoming the representative for all of Standard Oil’s products in the community at the dawn of the automobile age.
But he sold the oil business just a year later, and around this time opened the Gilt-Edge Saloon across the street from the Southern Pacific depot.
McNatt worked in mining, cotton farming and cattle ranching and was a constable in the 1920s. He was active in service clubs and volunteered to haul most of the rocks that built the Woman’s Club building in 1925 (now used by the BlackBox Foundation).
Once Prohibition ended, he got back into libations and opened the Wonder Bar, which debuted in 1934 inside the old San Carlos Hotel near First and Sacaton streets. One year later he moved it into a larger space in the hotel and added a restaurant and café, and in 1942 built the current location at 310 W. Second St.
He talked travelers into staying in the town and provided an informal conference room for bankers and businessmen to work out their deals, while cowboys and ranchers would bring their families in for good clean fun. He worked and became partners with son Mickey, who took over after his father died in 1964 and kept it going until selling it to Cotton Graham 20 years later.
In 1967, the City Council voted to rename Le Grande Park at McMurray Boulevard and Brown Avenue in his honor, adding him to a pantheon of pioneers so honored in Casa Grande. But it took until 1984 for a new sign to be put up, after Stein noticed a sign that still bore the old name.
Sources: Museum of Casa Grande, Casa Grande Dispatch