Henry O. Jaastad was born in Norway and emigrated to the United States in 1886. A skilled journeyman carpenter, when he arrived in Tucson in 1902, he worked on the Willard Hotel, Owl’s Club, and the Desert Botanical laboratories. Within the year, he started his own contractor business in which he designed small, largely unremarkable, residential buildings for private individuals within the Armory Park, West University, and North Speedway neighborhoods. Two years later he became a naturalized citizen and in 1908, completed correspondence courses in architecture and enrolled in an electrical engineering program at the University of Arizona. In 1922, Jaastad was officially registered as an architect, holding his architecture license until 1959.
By 1912, Jaastad began branching out into commercial architecture, many of his projects included store and office buildings in downtown Tucson, but also in Yuma, White River, Globe, and Safford. His commercial ventures also included institutional properties such as schools, hospitals, and sanatoria, including the Southern Methodist Hospital and Tucson’s County Hospital (demolished). During this time, his interests extended beyond traditional architectural design, including the design and construction of paved streets. In fact, he advocated redesigning Tucson’s streets to better accommodate automobile traffic through changes in paving methods and the introduction of gutters. This civic interest led to his election as the president of the Arizona Good Roads Association.
During his career as an architect, Jaastad’s clientele list was a veritable “who’s-who” of influential Tucsonans. His clients included downtown businessman J. Ivancovich, Mose Drachman, former mayor Preston Jacobus, George Kitt, and many others. His local popularity enabled him to design some of Tucson’s most significant public architecture and in 1915, his popularity increased when he shifted his design aesthetic from minimalist and utilitarian to the newly popular Spanish Colonial Revival and Mission Revival styles. His extensive research on mission architecture in Northern Mexico and throughout the Southwest, helped solidify his local architectural signature. As a result of this new interest, Jaastad embarked on creating the most ornate architectural designs of his career, including the 1933 façade of St. Augustine’s Cathedral, NogalesTown Hall, Ganado Mission School, El Con Resort Hotel, and the Safford School.
Jaastad’s new aesthetic shift earned him many accolades, including the declaration published in the History of American Architecture, that his façade design for St. Augustine’s Cathedral was, “…the finest example of pure Southwest pyramid style of architectural design in existence.” These accolades would not however have been possible without his chief designer, Annie Rockfellow. While her contributions have been largely overshadowed, Rockfellow was in fact responsible for the design of many of Jaastad’s public buildings, including the Safford School and the Desert Sanatorium.
Jaastad was also actively involved in local politics, acting first as a city councilman in 1924, followed by his tenure as Tucson mayor from 1933 to 1947. He was considered a progressive leader who helped the city secure natural gas, a subway, 90-miles of paved streets, public pools at city parks, and the expansion of military airfields. By the time Jaastad retired in 1957, his architectural office was responsible for over 500 projects. Over the course of his 50-year architectural career, Jaastad and his associates designed plans for residential buildings, commercial buildings, schools, churches, health facilities, water towers, and even utility projects. Much of his architectural legacy remains to the present day and “…his work as an architect and tenure as mayor have left an indelible imprint upon the City of Tucson.”
McCroskey, Mona L. Henry O. Jaastad: Architect of Tucson’s Future. Tucson: Smoke Signal, Spring 1990.
Nequette, Anne and R. Brooks Jeffery. A Guide to Tucson Architecture, Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2002.