Downtown Tucson has preserved a cultural heritage from
approximately 900 AD to the present. Early Hohokam Indians, Spaniards,
Mexicans, and Anglo
pioneers struggled with the environment and isolation. The words
"El Presidio" refer to the walled fort that replaced Tubac as
an outpost for Spain in the New World. In 1775, the Presidio was
laid out by Colonel Hugo O'Connor, but it took several years to
complete the adobe walls that would provide protection from Apache
El Presidio de Tucson was established in 1776.
By 1800 there was a population of 300. Despite population increases
and a change of flags from Spanish to Mexican in 1821, Tucson and
its low, flat-roofed, adobe Sonoran buildings continued to look
much the same. In fact, during territorial times, adobe blocks
from the Presidio wall were scavenged to build new structures,
while other portions were incorporated into homes at the fort
In 1853, part of Arizona including Tucson became
territory of the United States as a result of the Gadsden Purchase.
Almost immediately Anglo settlers from the east trickled in, and
with them came American manufactured goods. The shipment of glass
in particular led to the addition of windows to the Sonoran style
and development of the transitional style home.
With the arrival of the railroad in 1880, many architectural
styles were introduced. By the time of statehood in 1912, Tucson
was seeing new home styles such as Anglo-territorial, in which
the basic adobe form of a Sonoran structure was superimposed with
pitch roofs and Greek Revival architectural detailing.
The Southern Pacific Railroad also brought settlers
from California and the East, and with them other home styles,
including Italianate, Stick Style, Queen Anne, and Bungalow.
1872, Tucson was the largest town between San Antonio and Los
Angeles. Today many of the communities that began back then still
exist in the many designated historical neighborhoods of Tucson,
which remain rich in history and reflect a sense of community
pride. These neighborhoods are devoted to preserving their unique
Jefferson Park has received its official designation as Tucson's 31st historic district! It was officially designated and listed in the National Register of Historic Places on May 1, 2012. This designation not only recognizes the historical significance of this neighborhood. The boundries are basically Euclid to Campbell and Grant to Speedway.
Jefferson Park was home to “Tent City” In 1909, Dick Hall brought his mother and older brother John to Tucson. His mother was suffering from tuberculosis. He was seeking treatment for her in the dry desert. He could not afford the private sanatoriums or the hospitals—St Mary’s or the old Whitewell on North First Avenue. So he took her to “tent city” also called ‘tentville”. Canvas dwellings for “lungers”, as the tubercular patients were known. That community was located on the desert land north of Speedway between First and Campbell avenues. John describes what it was like in the summer 1978 edition of the Journal of Arizona History. “When a sick person needed a place to live, beginning about the turn of the century, he somehow got a tent set up in this area. The streets were unpaved and consequently it was very dusty. The invalids were too sick to work. The nights were heartbreaking, and as one walked along the dark streets, he heard coughing from every tent. It was truly a place of lost souls and lingering death.” The tent the Halls rented was on Park Avenue three blocks north of Speedway. It was “one of the better sort, having a wood floor, wooden sides, a steel roof three feet above the canvas and two cottonwood trees which gave us some shade.” Thirty-five feet behind their tent was a one-hole toilet. Water came from an outside faucet and was supplied by a shallow well owned by the landlords. Kerosene lighted the lamps at night.
Polo was brought in to the Arizona territory by the US Calvary units. And, until the start of World War II it was kept alive at the U of A Calvary ROTC program. Important polo fields were located just north and east of what is now Jefferson Park. To the east Leighton Kramer build a polo field (Catalina Field) east of Campbell north of Elm. It had stands to hold 1000 people and in 1925 was the site of the first “La Fiesta de Los Vaqueros”.
To the north were located the U of A polo fields that are shown in the accompanying photographs. The U of A polo team became quite a powerhouse. It was the first sport to bring national recognition to the U of A. The 1924 team captured the Western Collegiate Championship and traveled to the east coast to present U.S. President Calvin Coolidge with a cowboy hat.
In May 1931 Will Rogers, a polo enthusiast, did a benefit performance at the Fox Theater to raise money to send the U of A team to play Yale. The university earned the nickname “the college on horseback”. The team played such important teams as Princeton, the Army, Oklahoma, and New Mexico.
December 7, 1941 players were getting ready for a game when the terrible news blared from the radio—Pearl Harbor had been bombed. Boys went off to join a mechanized army no longer relying on horses. This was the end of polo at the U of A. By 1944, eighty head of the horses at the U of A had been sold off.
-- Another Tucson, by Bonny Henry, AZ Daily Star, 1992
The Armory Park neighborhood traces
its origin to 1862 when the California Column established Camp
Tucson near the future site of the Santa Rita Hotel,
an area that would come to be called Military Plaza. In 1866
the Californians were replaced by regular army troops and the
camp was re-named Camp Lowell, in honor of an officer killed in
the Civil War. The post was greatly enlarged in 1870, taking in
367 acres running south from Camp Street (Broadway) to 14th Street,
and east from Scott to Fifth Avenue.
Camp Lowell was not a permanent installation. A
few buildings were constructed, but soldiers lived in tents with
crude brushwood awnings to ward off the sun. In 1872, General George
Crook called Camp Lowell "unfit for the occupation of animals,
much less the troops of a civilized nation", and constructed a
new post northeast of Tucson.
Boasting a population of about 3,000,
Tucson incorporated in 1871 and the next year the area that would
become the Armory Park neighborhood was surveyed. A few houses
were built around the abandoned Military Plaza, but until the
turn of the century confusion existed about who owned the land
- the city or the federal government, which limited expansion.
After the arrival of the railroad in 1880, the neighborhood
grew south, principally along Third and Fourth Avenue, where
many Southern Pacific workers built homes in proximity to the
railroad yards. Railroad workers constituted the majority of residents,
but soon were joined by lawyers, judges, politicians, merchants, saloon
owners and a variety of other professionals.
Land was set aside in 1900 on the old Military Plaza
for the Carnegie Free
Library, and across the street a city park. Originally designated
Carnegie Park, the name later changed to Washington Park, and
following construction of an armory in 1914, the name Armory Park
evolved. Its official name, however, remains Military Plaza Park.
As mentioned earlier, the coming of the railroad
heralded an architectural transition in Tucson. Building materials
from the East and West coasts were readily available for the first
time, and shingled roofs and wooden porches were added to many
of the mud adobe homes dotting the city. New construction in Armory
Park included local variations on Victorian, Queen Anne, and Greek
Revival architecture, however, most homes were built in what has come
to be called the Anglo-Territorial style - characterized by wide,
deep verandas and high pyramidal roofs.
Some houses were built by speculators in tract fashion,
while others were custom built and show concern for design and
craftsmanship. Despite diversity of style, structures in the neighborhood
work together to form a harmonious architectural blend.
Armory Park is a living neighborhood,
with architecture reflecting its history. Designated in 1974 as the
Armory Park Historic Residential District - the first in Tucson,
this 32 block neighborhood is listed on the National Register
of Historic Sites and Places.
The Barrio. In 1881 in the Tucson
directory, the following was written: "Barrio Libre. This designation
was given by the Mexican residents to that quarter of the city
lying along Meyer and adjacent streets, southward of the business
portion of the city, occupied by the Americans. It means free
zone, and in earlier times was allowed to remain without legal
restraints or the presence of a police force. Here the Mescalian
could imbibe his fill, and either male or female could,
in peaceful intoxication, sleep on the sidewalk or in the middle
of the streets, with all their ancient rights respected. Fandangoes,
monte, chicken fights, Groils, and all the amusement of the lower
class of Mexicans, were, in this quarter, indulged
in without restraint; and to this day much of the old time regime
prevails, although the encroachments of the American element portend
the ultimate doom of the customs in the Barrio Libre....."
Many of the current adobe Barrio homes were built
in the 1870's or earlier. Barrio homes were built in stages, there
are no front yards as your see in most other neighborhoods. The
fronts were often right on the sidewalk. Rear courtyards were
popular, and rear rooms would be added as needs required and means
The basic house through the 19th century had 18-inch
thick exterior walls on stone foundations, floors of 4 inch fir
planking, a canvas sub-ceiling called a manta, and hidden ceilings
of saguaro ribs or packing crates supporting a three layer roof
of dirt, straw and more dirt.
1880 rough sawn 2x12's and 2x10's replaced the traditional pine
vigas in most houses. Low parapets of 12 inches or less were often
topped with a single or double course of the old, soft, jumbo bricks.
Tin canales directed roof runoff away from the walls. Lime plasters
were used early on for exteriors, often over stones set every
other course in strands of mortar to help tie the plaster to the
wall. Interiors were often mud plastered with a hard, thin finish
coat of lime and gypsum.
Around 1933 Dr. James Harvey Robinson, History Dean
at Columbia University wrote this on first visiting the Barrio:
"But this cannot be the United States of America, Tucson, Arizona!
This is northern Africa - Tunis! Algiers! - or even Greece, where
I have seen as here, houses built flush with the sidewalks with
pink, blue, green and yellow walls, flowers climbing out of hidden
patios and overall, an unbelievable blue sky. And the sweet-acrid
smell in the air? Burning mesquite. Lovely! And the people - charming.
But all this is the Old World, not America."
Unfortunately in the name of urban renewal, back
in the 1960's Tucson all but obliterated the area. Bulldozers
leveled 260 adobe shops and houses to make was for La Placita
and the Tucson Community Center. What has been left is an 18 block
area now designated as the Barrio Libre National Historic District.
What was left of the Barrio has now become trendy.
The West University neighborhood.
In 1872 when Tucson was the largest city between San Antonio and
Los Angeles, the city surveyed and plotted a large area to the
northeast, to facilitate the lease of land. Part of the city of
Tucson addition was to become the West University neighborhood.
However, in 1872, development had not yet reached the area. In
the 1872 plot, one neighborhood park, Catalina Park, was set aside.
The earliest structures in the neighborhood were
built in 1879. With
the construction of the railroad tracks running southeast to northwest
between downtown and the adjacent West University neighborhood,
the two areas became somewhat separate. No houses were built between
1880 and 1890, and only 20 constructed from 1890 to 1900.
These houses were examples of Sonoran, Transitional,
Anglo-Territorial, or American Victorian Styles. Brick and adobe
were the predominant materials. In 1900 there were 111 residents
in the area, mostly concentrated in the southwest corner.
The neighborhood is one-half square mile bounded
by Speedway Blvd., Park Avenue, Sixth Street and Stone Avenue.
At the turn of the century, the West University Neighborhood began
to grow substantially. There were two reasons: the establishment
of the University of Arizona immediately to the east in 1887,
and the influx of tuberculosis patients (tuberculars) and seasonal
of the substantial permanent and transient population growth,
the city council in 1902 approved a subdivision plan with 42 blocks,
each with 16 lots. These blocks often were set up with alleys.
The alleys divided blocks to allow for access to rental housing,
as well as service. First the house on the alley would be built,
then 3 to 5 years later the main house on the street would be
built. The alley houses were frequently rented to seasonal tourists,
tuberculars, and later to students.
Availability of rental housing has always been an
important factor in the neighborhood. Between 1901 and 1910, 151
houses were built. By 1911 Tucson's population was 14,000. The
next decade saw 217 new houses, and the growth ended with 174
new houses between 1921 and 1930.
Although a number of home styles were represented
in the period, the Bungalow style was the most popular. The typical
Bungalows are small, tow rooms wide and two and three rooms deep,
built of stuccoed brick, with front porches and gable roofs. They
cost about $5,000 to build.
From 1901 to 1945, 373 Bungalow style houses were
built compared to 51 Spanish Colonial Revival houses and 20 American
Victorian houses, among others.
From 1900 to 1930, many houses in the neighborhood
were built for speculation. The
Drachman family, for example, purchased many corner lots. The
John Murpy Company purchased a half block on Second Street between
Fourth and Fifth Avenues. Similarly, P. N. Jacobus, a speculative
builder who later became Mayor of Tucson, purchased land on half of
a block on Fourth Street between Second and Third Avenues.
As the population grew, so did the need for institutional
structures. Several large apartment courts and houses were built
to accommodate seasonal residents. In 1924, the first neighborhood
supermarket opened at the corner of University Blvd and Third
Avenue. Tucson High School was built in 1908, which now serves
as Roskruge Elementary. The new Tucson High School was built in
There are many architectural styles in the West
University neighborhood. In 1978 the West University Neighborhood
Association (WUNA) was formed to promote and maintain the unique
qualities of the area. In 1980 the neighborhood was placed on
the National Register of Historic Places and was designated a
local Historic District in 1983. The West University District
is the largest historic district in Arizona.
The Sam Hughes neighborhood has been
considered a Tucson treasure for many years. It is named after
school near the center of the area, which in turn is named in
honor of Sam Hughes who came to Tucson in 1858 and was an early
proponent of a free public school system.
In 1994 the neighborhood was added to the National
Register of Historic Places. The Sam Hughes Neighborhood is traditionally
bounded by Campbell Avenue to the west, Broadway
to the south, Country Club to the east and Speedway to the north
(although the official boundaries are a little different), and
is composed of 218 acres with 718 buildings. Of these buildings,
586, mostly homes, are considered historically significant and
represent 16 different architectural styles.
Today's residents enjoy the neighborhood because
of it's central location, proximity to the University of Arizona,
Himmel Park Library and a variety of shops and services. It is
also known for its bike routes, recreational facilities, pleasant
areas for walking and jogging, and generally quiet, settled environment.
El Presidio was Tucson's
first neighborhood. In the mid 1800's, it grew up near a Hohokam
site and the walled Spanish fort call Presidio San Agustin del
Tucson. This structure was the biggest Presidio built be the Spaniards
in North America.
Originally laid out by Colonel Hugo O'Connor in
1775, this bastion of the Spanish Empire on the northern frontier
of Pimeria Alta was built under wartime conditions by Spanish,
Mexican, and Native American people.
Several of the oldest houses in town survive on
the remains of the old fort whose original perimeter was the present
streets of Church, Pennington, Washington, and Main.
walls of the fort were approximately three feet thick and 12 feet
high with raised corner bastions at the northeast and southeast
corners and covered an area of 10 acres. Today's dimensions of
the El Presidio neighborhood encompasses a 12 block area just
north of downtown and runs from Sixth Street to Alameda Street,
and from Granada Avenue to Church Avenue.
Living quarters in the old days consisted of stables
and a chapel. The original gate was at the present intersection
of Alameda and Main streets. A second gate was later cut into
the east wall where Alameda meets Church.
For 80 years of its existence, infrequently paid
and poorly equipped soldiers provided protection and sanctuary
for the settlers and Pima Indians in the area.
Within the area are about 80 architecturally significant
constructed between the mid-1800's and 1912. El Presidio, which
received historic district designation from the city in 1975,
encompasses the design characteristics of both the Barrio and
Spanish-Mexican influence is heavy along Meyer Avenue,
thick-walled adobe Sonoran row houses line up right on the street,
sharing walls to moderate the desert heat. One street over, on
Main Avenue, the home styles instead reflect those of the east
or mideast. Little bits of the past show through, blending with
the present and subtly altering it at the same time. Residents
of each successive generation have added their own layers of influence
as well as paint.
The old Fort Lowell neighborhood has
been called a microcosm of southwest history because of the many
cultures that are a part of its past.
In 1872 General George Crook declared Camp Lowell
located downtown unfit, so in 1873 Lt. Colonel Eugene Asa Carr
settled on a new site near the Rillito riverbed because of the
"distance from temptations of town".
Water has always been the draw to this area, which
is why around 300 AD the Hohokam (ancestors to the Sobaipuris,
Pima, and Tohono O' Odham Indians) showed up to irrigate and farm
the land near the lush fork where Tanque Verde and Pantano washes
merge to give birth to the Rillito River.
For about 1000 years, the Hohokam were happy tenants
of the valley. Then about 1250 AD they vanished without leaving
a forwarding address. There are still many shards of their pottery
and traces of their dwellings to be found beneath the park and
The first Anglo on record to respond to the areas
moisture was Robert Rolette, who moved out from Arkansas in 1859
and farmed some bottom-land acreage. He had a fruit orchard and
apparently didn't get along with the Apaches because he pulled
out after three years.
In 1873 work on the Fort began and in 1875 through
1880, a long double row of Cottonwood trees were planted between
the officers quarters and the parade ground. In 1963, the Pima
County Parks and Recreation Department planted the current Cottonwoods
in about the same location as the original trees.
In the first decade after the Army's 230 soldiers
departed, calling an end to the Indian Wars, El Fuerte, a little
Mexican settlement, took root among the abandoned buildings. Today
some of the relatives of those original residents still live in
the little "barrio" on El Callejon or "narrow lane", a T-shaped
Around the time the fort was built several 35 foot
wells were sunk. By the mid 1940's many of these wells ran dry.
Today many have been re-drilled and water was found at 250 feet.
When a visitor strolls through this neighborhood
today, they'll clearly see a lovingly preserved bit of Tucson's
Other historic communities include Pie Allen
and Iron Horse Expansion. The area roughly encompasses
Euclid and Fifth Avenues, Broadway and Sixth Street. Pie Allen
is named after John Brackett Allen. He came to Arizona about 1856
and sold pies made from dried apples to soldiers and settlers
for one dollar. The pies were a hit. Allen opened trading posts
and post offices from Bisbee to Wickenburg. Tombstone Arizona's
famous Allen street is named for him as well.
El Encanto Estates lies between East
Fifth Street and Broadway Blvd. Immediately west and north of
El Con Shopping center. El Encanto was developed in the late 1920's.
This is an elegant Spanish or Moorish style community laid out
along streets that form circles around a central plaza. The homes
today generally sell above $500,000.
Just to the south is Colonia Solana.
With equally posh homes, it is bounded by Broadway, Country Club
to the west and Reid Park to the east and south. Colonia Solana
is crossed by Arroyo Chico, a usually dry wash that serves as
a corridor for urban coyotes and other wildlife.
The John Spring neighborhood was named
after John Spring, Tucson's first public school teacher. John
Spring school was first opened in 1872 at 21st Street and Main
Avenue. The first students were ages 6 - 21.
The Speedway-Drachman neighborhood
was named after the Drachman family. Roy Drachman was a
prominent man in Southern Arizona and also a prominent real estate
agent. He opened his real estate office in 1946. Elsyian
Grove was another early development with a lot of character.
There are so many beautiful sights and stories in
and about Tucson for everyone to enjoy! If you have questions
about any of Tucson's wonderful historic homes & neighborhoods,
don't hesitate to call or e-mail me.