Tucson

By Nora Burba Trulsson

Built in 1785, Mission San Xavier del Bac is a national historic landmark. Photograph by Chuck Albanese

Built in 1785, Mission San Xavier del Bac is a national historic landmark. Photograph by Chuck Albanese

It’s visions of hiking, mountain biking, trail rides, golf, and poolside lounging that spring to mind when you hear “Tucson.” Architecture and design don’t. But they should. “Tucson has a nuanced and significant architectural pedigree,” says R. Brooks Jeffery, a University of Arizona architecture professor and historian, and co-author of A Guide to Tucson Architecture. “It’s a layered community that includes the building traditions of indigenous peoples, the Spanish, the Mexicans, and the Anglos.” All of this is set against a backdrop of snaggly mountains—the Santa Catalinas—and surrounded by desert dense with saguaros in southern Arizona.

Tucson firm Line and Space designed the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, including its Ocotillo Café. Photograph by Tom Spitz

Tucson firm Line and Space designed the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, including its Ocotillo Café. Photograph by Tom Spitz

The arrival of the railroad in the late 1800s brought new architectural influences to Tucson, and, by the early twentieth century, Jeffery notes, Tucson was swept up in romantic revival styles of architecture best exemplified by the gracious designs of Josias Joesler, the city’s most recognized architect who built many homes and buildings with Spanish and Mexican colonial motifs. Midcentury modernism took root in the city after World War II, with long, low-slung homes and buildings that reached out into the landscape.

“It’s all led to what today some have termed the ‘Arizona school of architecture,’ ” Jeffery says, “in which Tucson architects and firms like Judith Chafee, Rick Joy, Ibarra and Rosano, and Line and Space have become nationally and internationally known for their modernist language that’s adapted to our desert climate.” Architect/development planner Jim Barlow at Pierson Land Works here in Jackson says that even though Jackson Hole and Tucson are one thousand miles apart, “Western architecture, whether in the Southwest or the Rocky Mountains, has similar properties due to the common element of an arid climate.” Also, Barlow points out that Arizona and Wyoming rank 47 and 48 in annual precipitation: Arizona gets 13.6 inches and Wyoming 12.9 inches. “This can create a very similar response in design and a vernacular that has some commonalities,” Barlow says. But the yards in Tucson are planted with saguaro rather than aspen.

GET YOUR ARCHITECTURE ON

Mission San Xavier del Bac. Photograph by Bill Steen

Mission San Xavier del Bac. Photograph by Bill Steen

Take time to drive the nine or so miles south of downtown to Mission San Xavier del Bac, an iconic Mission church built in 1785 that today is a national historic landmark. Its style is exuberant Spanish baroque, with an interior brimming with frescoes and retablos. Mass is still celebrated on Sundays. 1950 W. San Xavier Rd.; 520/294-2624; sanxaviermission.org

See Josias Joesler’s romantic architectural style at Broadway Village (3000-3052 E. Broadway; broadwayvillagetucson.com), which he conceived in 1939 as the city’s first suburban shopping center, designed with fired adobe walls, courtyards, and archways. Today it’s home to restaurants, food shops, and boutiques. In 1936, Joesler designed St. Philip’s in the Hills Episcopal Church (4440 N. Campbell Ave.; 520/299-6421; stphilipstucson.org), now a national historic landmark. This tranquil church welcomes visitors with colonnaded walkways and a contemplative chapel.

Tucson Museum of Art has a plaza ringed with historic, restored houses—now used as galleries and classrooms—dating from the mid-1800s to the early twentieth century. $10; 140 N. Main Ave.; 520/624-2333; tucsonmuseumofart.org

The Tucson Historic Preservation Foundation does frequent, and varied, architectural tours. Past tours have included the nineteenth-century adobes of downtown’s Barrio Viejo neighborhood, a midcentury modern tour, and a tour of Joesler homes. preservetucson.org

BRING IT HOME

The Lost Barrio Tucson, a historic warehouse district near downtown, now houses a collection of shops and galleries that specialize in rustic, antique, and Mexican furnishings, and they have friendly agreements not to compete with each other, so each shop carries wares from a different part of the world.
Colonial Frontiers consists of thirteen thousand square feet of antique and new furnishings—think pots and statuary to architectural elements—from Spain, Mexico, South America, and India (244 S. Park Ave.; 520/622-7400; colonialfrontiers.com). People’s Imports skews more Asian—tribal rugs, crystal balls, gilded lions, and bronze Buddhas (276 Park Ave.; 520/903-2300; peoplesimports.com). Rustica is crammed with Mexican folk art, punched tin lamps, Talavera pottery, and more (200 S. Park Ave.; 520/623-4435; rusticatucson.com).

About a decade ago, a historic warehouse district turned into Tucson’s go-to place for antique and international furniture and accessories. Find everything from Talavera pottery to Asian rugs and antique doors from India in the Lost Barrio’s collection of stores. Photograph by  Lee McLaughlin

About a decade ago, a historic warehouse district turned into Tucson’s go-to place for antique and international furniture and accessories. Find everything from Talavera pottery to Asian rugs and antique doors from India in the Lost Barrio’s collection of stores. Photograph by Lee McLaughlin

Russell Shumate showcases his background in upholstery and cabinetry at Russell’s Retro Furnishings—all the midcentury modern treasures on the floor of his modest storefront are perfectly restored. Recently spotted: a Saarinen dining table and Tulip chairs, plus a 1950s aqua cracked-ice chrome dinette set. 1132 E. Broadway; 520/882-3885; russellsretro.com

PLAY

Saguaro National Park is home to an estimated 1.8 million towering Carnegiea gigantea, a.k.a. saguaro, as well as 1,200 other plant species, desert tortoise, black bear, Mexican spotted owl, and Arizona mountain king snakes. The park’s ninety-thousand-plus acres are divided into two divisions: the Rincon Mountain District (the East District) and the Tucson Mountain District (the West District). The Rincon Mountains rise to 8,600 feet, so that side has a greater biodiversity than the west, where the Tucson Mountains are 4,600 feet tall. Both sides have hiking trails and ranger-led programs. $10; 3693 Old Spanish Trail and 2700 N. Kinney Rd.; nps.gov/sagu

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is a ninety-seven-acre outdoor facility dedicated to the flora and fauna of the surrounding desert and the nearby Gulf of California. Trails wind past exhibits like a hummingbird aviary, a canyon populated with bobcats and ocelots, and a riparian corridor where sleek river otters play. The dramatic rock and glass restaurant and gallery complex is a desert modern design by Tucson firm Line and Space. $19.50; 2021 N. Kinney Rd.; 520/883-2702; desertmuseum.org

Tohono Chul Park. Photograph by  Josh Schachter

Tohono Chul Park. Photograph by Josh Schachter

Tohono Chul Park is part botanical garden, part art gallery, and part cultural center: see specimen cactus, demonstration gardens, and seasonal blooms as well as work by Arizona artists here. Or do a bird walk, butterfly tour, or tai chi class. The Garden Bistro, located in what was once a gracious, private hacienda-style home designed by Josias Joesler protégé Lewis Hall in the early 1960s, serves one of the city’s best prickly pear margaritas. $10; 7366 N. Paseo del Norte; 520/742-6455; tohonochulpark.org

EAT WELL

Maynards Market & Kitchen anchors one end of downtown’s still-active historic train depot, a restored 1907 Mission-style building. The Kitchen serves a classic dinner menu with entrees like bouillabaisse, filet with bearnaise sauce, and duck l’orange, and has a Wine Spectator-lauded wine list. The Market does pastries and lattes in the morning, then noodle bowls, vegan tamales, sandwiches, and salads. The name honors both Maynard Flood, a local railroad legend, and artist Maynard Dixon, who painted the depot’s murals. Kitchen: dinner daily; Market: breakfast and lunch daily; 400 N. Toole Ave.; 520/545-0577; maynardstucson.com

Reilly Craft Pizza & Drink

Reilly Craft Pizza & Drink

Reilly Craft Pizza & Drink is especially popular around Halloween. Why? From 1908 to 1990, the two-story, Pueblo Deco-style building was the Reilly Funeral Home. In 2012, a trio of twenty-something siblings reopened it as a restaurant and beer garden, preserving its elegantly arched architecture and serving chewy, moist pizzas with such toppings as speck, egg, and Calabrian salami. Also, they’ve got forty beers on tap. In 2014, the former casket showroom—down in the basement—was turned into a bar, the Tough Luck Club. Open daily for lunch and dinner; 101 E. Pennington; 520/882-5550; reillypizza.com

REST UP

Built in 1930, the Arizona Inn is the grand dame of Tucson’s glamorous resorts and a national historic landmark.

Built in 1930, the Arizona Inn is the grand dame of Tucson’s glamorous resorts and a national historic landmark.

Tucson is known for its glamorous resorts, and The Arizona Inn is the grande dame. Built in 1930 by Isabella Greenway, a congresswoman and social activist, the ninety-five-room inn is a national historic landmark and still family owned. The pink-hued buildings are set on fourteen acres interspersed with manicured lawns, flower beds, and towering cypress. Rooms are detailed with handcrafted furnishings and original screen doors. Loll around the pool, play croquet or ping pong, take tea, or read in the library. It’s as though Herbert Hoover was still in office. Rooms from $109; 2200 E. Elm St.; 520/325-1541; arizonainn.com

The Downtown Clifton, a 1940s motor hotel, was restored and reopened earlier this year.  Located at the edge of the historic Barrio Viejo and Armory Park neighborhoods, the hotel’s ten rooms are decorated in vintage Tucson style—Mexican serape bedspreads, swag lamps, and even some original Raymond Loewy pieces. Borrow Liberace or Bob Wills albums and a portable record player from the office. Breakfast is a $10 coupon good at nearby 5 Points Market & Restaurant, where you can get smoked salmon Benedict or chai. Rooms from $100; 485 S. Stone Ave.; 520/623-3163; downtowntucsonhotel.com

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