Tucson: The Old Pueblo
Got a Modern Makeover
The economy improved as Tucson entered the Twentieth Century, and despite the financial Panic of 1907, city leaders embarked upon a cleanup campaign that involved a new wave of building, further marginalizing minorities. Movement of the business district east on Congress led to removal in 1902 of The Wedge on west Congress, a narrow triangle of buildings formed as Maiden Lane angled toward Congress. Maiden Lane was the red-light district. Removal of the narrow street forced these unofficial small entrepreneurs to move to Gay Alley between Meyer and Convent, three blocks south of Congress. City ordinances in 1906 banned women and children from “wine rooms” in saloons and in 1907 forbid loitering of female singers in bars as a means of discouraging prostitution. In 1905, Tucson used regulation to shut down most gambling in town. A 1908 City ordinance closed all taverns at midnight, further discouraging gambling, which had already gone underground, where it survived for another forty years or more. The Territorial Legislature outlawed gambling in 1908 and then adopted prohibition of all alcohol in 1914, five years before the rest of the country.
Tucson had always been a multicultural community, with a majority of Spanish speakers until late in the 19th century. And while Hispanics at least enjoyed more opportunity and self-determination in Tucson than in just about any other Arizona town, darker-skin minorities were never allowed a level playing field when it came to getting an education, making a living or perpetuating traditional culture. Chinese first came to the Old Pueblo in the 1860s, joined by Asian railroad construction workers in the late 1870s. They managed to irrigate truck gardens on the west side of the Santa Cruz River, despite attempts to shut of their water supply. Fresh vegetables brought customers to their grocery stores in Hispanic neighborhoods. African-Americans came to Arizona in the 1880s as cowboys or with the military and many settled in Tucson neighborhoods on both the north and south sides.
Anglo community leaders would achieve some segregation of Hispanic students by building schools in Hispanic neighborhoods and through English language proficiency rules adopted midway through the twentieth century. Legislation in 1909 allowed communities to remove African-American pupils from classrooms. A state law passed in 1912 made African-American segregation mandatory. Tucson established a “colored school” in 1913, completing a building named Dunbar School in 1918. A segregated Junior High was added in 1948, but segregation ended in 1951 and the school was renamed John A. Spring Junior High School. In contrast, Jewish residents owned successful businesses and gained leadership positions in the community, though their achievement required assimilation. The first Jewish Mayor of Tucson, Charles Strauss (1840-1892), served 1883-1884. It was 1910 before the first synagogue in the southwest opened in Tucson, but it was called The Jewish Church and held services on Sunday.
Harry Herz of Phoenix published this view of Stone Ave looking south toward the intersection with Pennington about 1930. Tucson’s first two skyscrapers are prominent on Stone, both built in 1929 during a booming economy that would soon crash. At left (northeast corner of Stone & Pennington) is the façade of the 11-story Pioneer Hotel, while down the street at the intersection with Congress is 10-story Consolidated National Bank. The new bank replaced a building dating to 1900 shown in the view of Congress in “Tucson-Part One” posted on this blog. The Pioneer Hotel suffered a disastrous fire in 1970, described in the October 30, 2009 post on this blog called “Arizona Apocalypto.” On the southeast corner of Stone & Pennington is the Roy Place designed Montgomery Ward (later Walgreens) building, constructed in 1928 and recently restored to its former appearance as shown here. Steinfeld’s department store is on the southwest corner, with Steinfeld’s grocery on the northwest corner. Tucson Gas, Electric Light & Power Company (now TEP) occupied the Henry O. Jaastad designed building at right until 1967. Mule-drawn streetcars, in operation since 1897, were replaced by electric models in 1906. Buses replaced streetcars in 1930, then, antique streetcars returned to Fourth Ave. in 1993.
Lacking a large agricultural or industrial base, Tucson made the most of its government offices, University and scientific institutions. The University of Arizona, created in 1885, grew slowly. Classes didn’t begin until October 1891, and then for only 23 students. But its School of Mines and School of Agriculture would contribute greatly over the years. A number of important scientific institutions made their homes around Tucson. The Carnegie Institution’s Desert Botanical Laboratory located behind Sentinel Peak on Tumamoc Hill in 1903. The same year, the US Forest Service opened the Santa Rita Experimental Range in partnership with the U. of A. on four sections of land in the desert southeast of town. The US Coast and Geodetic Survey established a Magnetic Observatory (at Udall Park) in 1909. Steward Observatory for astronomers was dedicated at U. of A. 23 April 1923 through the efforts of Dr. A. E. Douglass (1867-1962), who also established a groundbreaking tree-ring laboratory in 1936. The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum opened in 1952 in the saguaro forest west of Tucson.
Here again is the same block on West Congress Street depicted in 1905 and 1906 in Part One of the Tucson history on this blog, only this time looking east. The artificially colored photo is cropped from a postcard published in 1942 by Curt Teich company. The intersection in the foreground is with Church Street. Martin Drug (at right) shares the building with the White House Dept. Store. Fox Theatre was added to the block in 1929-1930, closed in 1974, but restored 2000-2005. The old Ivancovich building farther east on Congress still has its onion dome, but the grocery has closed. Consolidated National Bank is the tall building on the SE corner of Stone. Way down the street, to the east in the sunrise glow (or artist’s imagination), is the neon sign on top of Hotel Congress (1919).
Tucson’s desert climate cured many tuberculosis patients who could choose from a number of local sanitariums, including St. Mary’s, Whitwell Hospital (1906, now Castle Apts.) and Desert Sanitarium (1907,now Tucson Medical Center). The SP railroad offered employees a tuberculosis hospital in Tucson from 1931-1974. By 1935 there were at least twenty hospitals, clinics and sanitariums in Tucson. Business leaders also promoted the climate and cowboy culture to vacationers. The Tucson Sunshine Climate Club was established in 1922 to promote tourism. The Arizona Polo Association sponsored its first annual Fiesta de los Vaqueros parade and rodeo February 21, 1925. During the next decade the area around Tucson could offer more guest ranches than anywhere else in the state.
Tucson was a welcome stop for many transcontinental travelers. A railroad line from Tucson to Nogales was added in 1909 and the El Paso & Southwestern Railway provided competition for the Southern Pacific “Sunset Route” by connecting Tucson with Texas in 1912. A cross country highway routed through Tucson went by a number of names: The Old Spanish Trail, Bankhead Highway, Dixie Overland Highway and Lee Highway, until it was finally designated US Highway 80 in 1926. The first airplane arrived in Tucson by rail 17 February 1910, to be assembled and thrill crowds at the Elysian Grove Amusement Park. City government opened the first municipal airport in the nation 20 November 1919. A larger facility was soon needed and Davis-Monthan Field was dedicated November 1, 1925, and then dedicated again 23 September 1927 when Charles Lindberg flew in for the day. Standard Airlines began scheduled service in 1928 and its successor, American Airlines, would follow the “The Sunshine Airway” in 1930. Early on, Davis-Monthan became a combination civil and military airport and by 1941 civil aviation had to go looking for a new location. In 1940, Gilpin Air Lines built an airport on the northwest side, which lasted until 1978 as Freeway Airport. With excellent flying weather in winter, Tucson became an important World War Two aviation training area when Ryan Field was added in 1942 along with a number of auxiliary fields. The nonprofit Tucson Airport Authority, created in 1948, opened a new commercial facility where it remains today.
Emilio Carillo (1841-1908) operated the large Rancho Buena Vista from 1868-1908 near Tanque Verde, a “green pool” fed by an artesian spring near the base of the Rincon Mountains. Carillo later renamed the ranch La Cebadilla after the wild barley along Tanque Verde Creek. Jim Converse acquired the property, changing the name to Tanque Verde Ranch, and continued cattle operations while also providing a dude ranch experience for guests from 1928 until 1955. In 1957 Brownie Cote (1900-1991) from Minnesota bought the ranch at auction and expanded the recreational opportunities as shown on this postcard from around 1959. Cote had already opened Desert Willow Ranch in 1944 but he let it go in 1968. The 23 acres became a substance abuse facility 1983-1995 and then burned in 2005. Tanque Verde Ranch is still operated as a resort by the Cote family.
US Highway 80 was advertised as “The Broadway of America,” where the motorist could cruise “All-year-high-gear” without the snow, steep grades and tight curves found on Route 66. Long distance automobile vacations grew steadily in popularity beginning in the 1920s when tourists pitched a tent in an Auto Camp. Auto Courts and Motor Hotels became a cheaper alternative to downtown multi-story hotels in the 1930s and they seemed to be everywhere in Arizona. Travel trailers became popular at the same time and were essential during the post-World War Two housing shortage. B & B Trailer Court, pictured here about 1947, was located at the south entrance to Tucson, near Ajo Way. The view is toward the northeast, with the El Conquistador Hotel (1928) on Broadway, visible about three miles away in the distance. Western Ways of Tucson issued the postcard.
Bokes Downtown, shown here about 1948, was located a few blocks northeast of the railroad depot. Bokes larger Northside Drive-In served their famous root beer and Bokes Twinburger at 2408 N. Stone, just north of Grant Road. The billboard is crowing about the “marvelous motorless” Servel gas refrigerator, very handy on remote ranches beyond electric lines. Bokes was one of a number of locally owned fast food joints that flourished before the national franchises took over in the 1960s and 70s.
Speedway Boulevard on the north side of town about 1954 illustrates the kind of strip development that led Jack Kerouac in 1957 to describe Tucson as “very Californian.” The strait and wide thoroughfare, probably named after the East River Speedway in Manhattan, hosted the city’s first auto race in 1911. Motorists used to enter Tucson from the north on the Casa Grande Highway (State 84) or Oracle Road (US 80/89), both of which converged at a traffic circle at Blacklidge Drive. Oracle became lined with more than a hundred motels by the 1950s. At Drachman Street, and another traffic circle, thru traffic went east four blocks to Stone, which sent cars and trucks through the downtown. Oracle Road between the two traffic circles had become Arizona’s first divided highway in 1937. By the time this color slide was made, Speedway, four blocks south of Drachman, had become an alternate business district, lined with strip malls, gasoline stations (Blakely’s discount gas at left) and cafes. But plans for a freeway to bypass all the business districts were underway by 1948. Clearing land for freeway construction to follow the Santa Cruz River began as early as 1951 and four lanes of controlled access highway were in use by 1957. As a marketing move, in 1962 Casa Grande Highway and the divided portion of Oracle were renamed Miracle Mile, probably after the street in west Los Angeles. But rezoning to allow commercial development along the freeway went ahead despite the opposition of business owners on Miracle Mile and Speedway and in the old downtown.
Dobson Motel, built for Elmer and Angeline Dobson in 1942 at 2425 North Oracle Road, was sold in 1947 and renamed the DeAnza in 1951. Sold again in 1957, it became Tucson Holiday Motel. This view of the motel and pool appears to date to 1957 or 1958. Eldridge and Claire Rigg bought an interest in the Holiday in 1961, but business would soon decline due to the freeway bypass. By 1974 the motel had been sold three more times, becoming the No-Tel in 1975. Motel chains and hotel resorts have pretty much replaced mom and pop motor courts. And Miracle Mile is now named North Oracle Road once again.
The US economy in the fifties was great! Tucson experienced a building boom from 1955 to 1958, and then a short recession followed by another building boom 1962-1969. Catalina High School (1955-1956) and Rincon High (1957) were built, along with a number of modern style storefronts and high-rise buildings along Stone Ave. In 1956 and 1957 Jacome’s and J. C. Penney got new stores adjoining each other, in the shadow of new buildings for Pima Savings, Southern Arizona Bank & Trust and Arizona Land Title. Steinfeld’s façade was remodeled in 1957 while Mountain States Telephone and Telegraph completed a million dollar addition in 1958.
Tucson International Airport opened at its present location in 1948. This view from the 1960s, looks southeast with Los Reales Road heading across the desert to meet Highway 80. Tucson Boulevard, at left, is the airport entrance. The terminal is at right with the Tucson Airport Authority RONtel, “remain over night” motel, to the left of the control tower. The 119-foot control tower opened in October 1958 and the new terminal building in 1963. American Airlines was the original carrier. Arizona Airways was flying to Tucson by 1947. Frontier Airlines added service from Tucson in 1950 and TWA came in 1956, Continental in 1961. When Aeronaves de Mexico inaugurated service in 1961, the airport became Tucson International.
El Con Shopping Center opened in 1960, next to the El Conquistador Hotel (at left), which was demolished in 1967. The profit motive, land values, zoning and changes in employment have driven American cities to evolve. Tucson subdivisions sprawled east over the plain and stores followed. Levy’s department store, formerly on Stone just north of Congress, was the original anchor at El Con. Steinfeld’s, which used to be next to Levy’s on Stone, moved to El Con in 1967. J. C. Penney left the downtown for El Con in 1971. Following the nationwide trend, it became an enclosed mall shortly after. But shopping environments changed again as “big box” discount chains replaced anchor department stores in malls and the older enclosed part of El Con is now largely vacant. The divided street at lower right is East Broadway.
This is the site of the Spanish presidio almost two hundred years later. In 1929, a new court house with an orange tile roof and greenish dome replaced the 1883 Victorian structure built where the southeast corner of the presidio wall once kept out Apache raiders. La Plaza de las Armas has become a small park on the west side of the building. West of the park is City Hall (1917). Across the street from the courthouse to the north, where the Territorial government met in 1874 in an adobe called Governor’s Corner, an 11-story office tower for Phoenix Title & Trust rose in 1962 (now the Transamerica Building). The intersection at bottom is Church and Alameda, with Pennington running across the postcard from middle left to the curve at upper right and Congress in upper left under the title. The southeast corner of the presidio wall was located at the corner of the courthouse addition (1955) on Pennington Street. The block with the parking garage (lower left) was cleared to build Joel D. Valdez Main Library (1990). Petley Studios of Phoenix issued this postcard about 1964.
Naurice Koonce helped Ray Manley take this aerial photo in 1958, looking toward the Santa Catalina Mountains with the red tile roofs of the University of Arizona at upper right. Green grass of Tucson High School’s campus is below the university. The first new high-rise building since the twin towers of 1929 is at left, above the courthouse. The Arizona Land Title Building (now County/City Public Works Center), completed at nine floors in 1957, was the tallest of several mid-century modern structures built downtown beginning in the economic boom year of 1955. The bottom third of the photo is filled with the Barrio Historico (aka Barrio Libre) neighborhood, from left to right, the intersection of Main and Broadway (above lower left corner), then Meyer Street, a half circle of grass that is left of La Placita, Greyhound depot where San Agustín Church used to be, and Marist College (1915) at right.
Urban renewal began sweeping the nation in the 1960s, promising a better life through wholesale destruction of historic downtowns. Minimalist mid-century modern cityscapes designed to appeal to upwardly mobile corporate professionals would “abate” slums and revitalize urban economies. Stores downtown were struggling to compete with new shopping centers and malls in outlying subdivisions. Hotels couldn’t outdraw chain motels along the freeway. And nowhere in Arizona did this urban design movement have such impact as it did in Tucson. March 1, 1966, local voters approved the first major urban renewal scheme in Arizona, Pueblo Center Redevelopment Project. Bulldozers attacked the old barrio in 1967, demolishing 319 homes, from which more than a thousand lower-income, mostly Hispanic residents had been forcibly evicted. Destruction of historic properties, which had really begun in the 1950s in the commercial district, would continue Protests against abatement of Barrio Libre were ineffective until a freeway extension through the area proposed in 1971 was stopped.
Fred Wehrman took this photo of downtown looking northeast late in 1970 or early 1971. Compare it with the 1958 view above. The north half of the barrio has been cleared, along with west Congress Street. Tucson Community Center (foreground) will open soon. The intersection of Simpson and Main is in lower right corner. Main Street has morphed into Granada Avenue running north in curves to meet Alameda at far left edge of photo. Following Alameda east toward the railroad (which runs across top), the high-rise buildings are Tucson City Hall (1966) on south side of street, followed on the north side of the street by Phoenix Title (1962), Arizona Land Title (1957) and Mountain States Telephone (now Alameda Plaza City Courts building). In front of Alameda Plaza, on Stone, (left to right) are the 1929 Pioneer Hotel, Tucson Federal Savings Tower (1965), the tallest building in Tucson at the time, and 1929 Valley Bank (Congress & Stone). The Community Center buildings completed by 1971 are (left to right) the Music Hall, Leo Rich Theater and Tucson Convention Center Arena. Left of Community Center is the Southern Pacific railroad hospital (1930). On the north side of Congress, where it begins joining Broadway, are the first two buildings of the county government complex, the Health and Welfare Building (1968) at left and Administration Building at right. The Superior Court building would be added in 1974. In the upper right corner is the Martin Luther King, Jr. Apartments (1969, rebuilt 2008 as One North Fifth), SP depot (1907), Hotel Congress (1919) and Rialto Theatre (1919).
Many Tucson residents liked the modern face of downtown created by urban renewal. Spectacular government buildings replaced worn-out, unsightly commercial storefronts and adobe cubicles devoid of character. Shining glass, tile and metal towers shouted out that Tucson is growing up and the sky is the limit. But streets became eerily calm and sidewalks almost empty as crowds went shopping and playing to the north and east. While more urban renewal remains on its wish list, in recent years, Tucson has also tried to interest tourists in its heritage by restoring and reconfiguring historic structures. “There is a sense of pride that only a knowledge of the past can bestow. This knowledge, of place and people, is an important part of both our individual and community identity. An appreciation of the contributions of those who came before gives us a sense of belonging and ownership.” (“Mexican Tucson: Remembering Barrio Libre” by Lydia Otero, pp. 4-5, The Arizona Report, Univ. of Ariz., Mexican American Studies & Research Center, Spring 2000)
Demion Clinco, et al., Historic Miracle Mile. . ., (2009)
Roy P. Drachman, Just Memories, (1979)
Juan Gomez-Novy & Stefanes Polyzoides, “A tale of two cities: the failed urban renewal of downtown Tucson in the twentieth century,” Journal of the Southwest, Spring-Summer 2003
Michelle B. Graye, Greetings from Tucson. A Postcard History of the Old Pueblo., (2004)
Michael F. Logan, Desert Cities: the environmental history of Phoenix and Tucson, (2006)
James H. McClintock, Arizona. . . Vol. 2, (1916)
Lydia R. Otero, La Calle: Spatial Conflicts and Urban Renewal in a Southwestern City, (2010)
C. L. Sonnichsen, Tucson, The Life and Times of an American City, (1982)
Tucson Chamber of Commerce, Rodeo, souvenir program 1961
Tucson Sunshine Climate Club, Tucson, 
Sonoran Desert field trip guides
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