Mi Pueblo Viejo, What Happened To You?

John Bartlett Sketch (1852) from A Mountain with the Mission San Agustin and Convento in the foreground.

I have witnessed three major changes or “inflection points” within the downtown urban core. The first occurred during the 1950’s when the westside bank of the Santa Cruz, between St Mary’s and 22nd Street, was mined for clay deposits. The red brick buildings around town are a testimony to this building material. Progress superseded Tucson’s history, as old adobe buildings were replaced with fired red bricks. Origins history was negated and as the late Daniel Preston, Vice Chairman of the San Xavier District Tohono O’odham Nation stated, “the remains of our ancestors are found in those red bricks.”  Tucson’s Birthplace was further disrespected by locating a landfill on the base of A Mountain and razing the remnants of the old Misión San Agustín and Convento. Collectively, we had developed cultural amnesia.

The second inflection point was the Urban Renewal in the mid 1960’s which resulted in destruction of the barrios that included El Hoyo, Membrillo and parts of Barrio Viejo. These vibrant barrios were the most ethnically diverse neighborhoods in Tucson composed of Latinos, Blacks, and Chinese families. In total 80 acres were razed. The landmarks of my childhood — El Cine Plaza, Meyerson’s White House, Old Pueblo Bus Station, Art’s Hamburger Joint, Pat’s Chili Dogs and Jacome’s disappears before my eyes. Nowadays, Tucsonans lament the loss of the Sonoran adobe rowhouses. Lydia Otero’s book, La Calle Spatial Conflicts and Urban Renewal in a Southwest City, poignantly narrates the story of “urban removal.”

The latest inflection point is the current redevelopment of the urban core. The destruction of the Santa Rita Hotel was personal as I worked as a busboy at the Mountain Oyster Club, a hangout for Southern Arizona cattlemen. The Santa Rita was opened in 1904 by Levi Manning, Charles Shannon and Epes Randolph. It now seems that every vacant lot and old building is scheduled for development; the Infill Incentive District appears to be working. This City policy declared that the urban core was blighted and offered incentives in the form of fee waivers and eight year property tax abatement (GPLET) to developers. Rio Nuevo also leveraged loans and sale tax rebates for extended periods within its district. Many see this as progress and once again, downtown is a happening place.

However, in this process we are losing the uniqueness and history of our community. Multi story buildings with few architectural accents, constructed mostly of stucco and glass, dot the urban landscape. We are creating a transient downtown community composted of student rental housing; densification is the new buzz word.  Neighborhood associations have lost their power as developers imposed their will on neighborhoods. Student housing continues unabated as two new projects are planned for on North Fourth Avenue. The Benedictine Monastery is slated for development with the developer setting the parameters. There is an imbalance in the power distribution between residents and developers.

With the redevelopment and downtown amenities perceived as desirable, traditional barrios such as Anita, Kroger Lane, Santa Rosa, Santa Rita, Menlo Park, and Hollywood, are experiencing significant gentrification. Housing in these areas is still affordable and close to the action, but the families moving there are predominately Anglo.

It is time to have a community dialogue to address the questions “Where are we going?” and “How do we deal with gentrification?” We need a community forum, similarly to the 2013 Urban Land Institutes charrettes. We need to restore balance between historical preservation, development and community decision making.



  1. but the families moving there are predominately Anglo.

    What a racist statement. Dumbass liberal. You mean that the Whites have the money, a job and the education and the barrio dwellers don’t. Gee, wonder why? Keep the barrios brown and black, right Raul? Thought so. Raul, might want to go to California with an attitude like yours. You will fit right in there with the racists.

    • Wow señor Ramirez, thanks for your enlightened view of your world.
      Well that didn’t take long. Out with the old and in with the new. I guess with Albert’s signing off, ADI has decided to replace it’s weekly featured white guilt section with it’s new featured white hate section.
      Perhaps the editor should extend “Awaiting Moderation” to its featured contributors as well those who just post here.

      The Oracle

  2. Yes, we should keep the barrios intact because they are of historical nature to many minorities but damn, we sure need to remove historical statues of famous people from the south who fought for our nation. The insanity of liberalism rears its ugly head once again. Nobody wants to speak about the deterioration of ethnic neighborhoods brought about by the minorities themselves. Like all things liberal, it’s everyone else’s fault.

  3. You need to practice a little patience, we don’t sit around waiting for you to post a comment.

    Obviously something triggered a review. Your comments are often insulting(verging on attack) in tone as opposed to expressing an opposing point of view.

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  4. ‘the mission from ‘A’ Mountain ? The mission is way south of ‘A’ Mountain… which would be looking ‘way way south’ at the mountains way to the south towards now Green Valley – far enough in the distance you might not make out it is the mission looking up the Santa Cruz valley… but hey – nice doodle, looks like a good place for a pic-nick – guess he was spying on these folks from the back ground… hmmmmm and what are those buildings in the distance? The new mall?

    • Actually Billy B those buildings did exist when this sketch was done. in face Rio Nuevo at one time had planned to reconstruct the convento as a tourist attraction.

      • Dwayne, may well be sir, but from the places and neighborhoods of mention – that would have been looking east, south east, Santa Cruz Church, South Tucson, DMAFB etc. as the direction of view, that and east just across the river to the east. – looking at the mission, is a ‘way south look’ from the “A”… just say’n

  5. Well we could all go back and be hunter/gatherers. Growth vs Charm, gee I wonder which one will work, is there a model we can look at, and learn from out there?

  6. Raul, you sir are ‘veho’… and the barrio is still the barrio, the Democrats will make sure the slum stays one! CSU at El Rio being a good example of, keep it stupid. El Hoyo.. is still El Hoyo for many, I’m not so sure that’s a good thing. Yeah I miss the old downtown area of Tucson, but then who rides the bus? The hotdogs are now on Grande and still an available good dog. The brick factory, long before use to make adobe’s (Nick De Gracia used to make them there in the 40’s) city changed, that 50’s you remember had a population of 140,000, I too was here and remember those days… I was baptized at Santa Cruz – the snow cones on 29th were great, now that I miss! The projects were simply rebuilt and some put downtown on the 90,000,000.00 rail line close to the tatoo’s and bars, modern conveniences of necessity. Good thing the Wishbone is still around.

  7. “Many see this as progress and once again, downtown is a happening place.” Where is this in reference to? I have to drive thru ‘downtown’ a couple of times a week and except for people escaping the courthouses or trying to get away There is NOTHING happening that I can see. Co-workers dont go ‘downtown’ if they dont have to either. Jury duty is about the biggest thing going down there. New monster buildings going up for a few and hotels no one can afford to stay in unless from ‘out of town’ and there are better places to stay IMO.

    Yes I remember all you write about, but as noted by others were primarily slum type of areas that the DEMOCRAPS said need to be rebuilt. This was mainly the age of the kennedy’s when everything was to be ‘camelot’. Main street used to have the shrine just south of the cathedral, it also is now long gone as are all the main draw stores. Steinfelds, Jacamies, walgreens on stone and pennington, levy’s, so many others the old SRK mens store, ronstads hardware yes there were things to draw people to ‘downtown’ but now not much and it all supposedlyhas to do with progressive thinking and progress by those in the know.

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