Anne Rysdale was born in Detroit in 1920 as Barbara Anne Nicholas. Growing up in a military family they moved often living in various parts of the county including Plainfield, New Jersey and then Tucson, Arizona. Rysdale was a natural artist and graduating from Tucson High she matriculated into the University of Arizona.

She graduated in 1940 with a degree in engineering and fine arts (the University did not yet offer an architecture degree). Rysdale married George “Rattlesnake” Jackson, a UA football player and for a short time she worked under Tucson architect Henry Jaastad, but then relocated to Seattle to become an officer in the Navy during World War II. While in Seattle, she obtained her architecture degree at the University of Washington. Returning to Tucson in 1945, she received additional architectural training under Tucson architect Arthur Brown before establishing her own practice.

  • Tucson Inn
    photo: Tucson Historic Preservation Foundation

During her early career (1949 to the early 1960s), Rysdale was the only registered female architect practicing in Arizona; Annie Graham Rockfellow, Arizona’s first female registered architect, had retired in 1938. Architecture was still heavily dominated by men at the time. Rysdale frequently had to fight biases against women in her field. She was instrumental in creating a numerical-based system that anonymized the name and sex of applicants. (Rysdale, 2012) It still took five years of repeated sponsorship for her to be admitted into the Southern Arizona Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA). Despite these professional obstacles, she credited several of her commissions to her clients’ curiosity about what a woman could design (Harelson, 1960). She felt that to compete effectively in a male dominated field, she had to produce more and better work (Gerdan, 1959).

Rysdale initially designed residential projects, her most active home design period being the early 1950s into the mid 1960s. Major residential projects included: Winterhaven, 21 residences in Colonia Solana, 8 residences in EI Encanto, and other homes in the Tucson Country Club Estates, Highland Manor, and Palo Alto Village.

With increased competition from designers and builders in residential home construction, Rysdale shifted her focus to commercial design. These works embraced popular stylistic trends of the era and included: the Tucson Inn on Drachman, the Old Spanish Trail Motel on Benson Highway, the Sun Building on Speedway, the Shelter Cocktail Lounge on Grant Road and the now demolished downtown Myerson’s Department Store on Congress Street. When the University of Arizona opened its architecture program under the College of Fine Arts in 1958 becoming its own college in 1964), Rysdale served as an adjunct lecturer. She retired for a short time in the 1970s before returning to work at her former firm. In 1976 she completed the new Gila County Courthouse in Globe. Rysdale later relocated to Florida where she continues her practice as an architect and consultant.

Although Rysdale gained the most personal satisfaction from her commercial work, she was proud of the ranch-style homes which displayed her high level of understanding regarding the complexities of residential design (Harelson, 1960). She favored ranch-style residential architecture because she felt it had grown out of Arizona. Another important consideration in her residential architecture was for the home to “fit the way the family likes to live” (Rysdale, 1961). Rysdale considered herself “fussy with the details” and this attention to detail is evident in the high quality of her designs.

During her architectural career in Arizona, Rysdale was frequently interviewed and wrote over a hundred columns for the Arizona press on architecture, home building, and her career as a female architect. Some of this coverage stemmed from her novelty as the only female architect practicing in Arizona for much of her early career. Rysdale is also notable for pioneering the use of copper ore as a decorative building stone in Tucson (Harelson, 1960).

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