The El Con Water Tower was built in 1928 by Martin Schwerin to serve the new subdivision of Colonia Solana. In 1932, architect Roy Place designed the ornate tower building enclosing the metal frame, masking the 50,000 gallon tank, and highlighting the area’s elegant housing developments.
The 65 feet tall tower is 30 feet square at the base. Three small windows on the obelisk‑like main portion of the structure provide visual interest on the north and south façades, while the east and west façades are unbroken planes of stucco. Atop the base is an octagonal cupola topped with red Spanish tile, with arched windows flanked by ornate twisted columns. These windows face north, south, east and west. At the apex, a wrought‑iron weather vane, depicts a silhouette of a prospector and his donkey. Two large doors at the base of the Tower face north and south. Above these are elaborate bas‑relief scroll plaster ornamentations.
The tower was designed in the popular Spanish Colonial Revival Style, the stylistic choice for many of Tucson's landmark buildings of the 1920s. In addition to its functional purpose, the tower was intended to draw attention to the subdivision, promote sales of lots and homes, and stand as a monument to its architect and builder. The tower was thought to serve El Encanto and the El Conquistador resort hotel complex across Broadway, north of Colonia Solana, but no records indicate pipes crossing the boulevard.
The 75 pound weather vane was commissioned by John Murphey, design architect Josias Joelser, and fabricated by the Taylor Metal Works shop at N. Fourth Avenue and Seventh Street.
In 1978 Helen Murphey recalled:
We thought the weather vane would be a little added attraction for the tower, Colonia Solana was way out in the country then so we thought of miners and we put Joesler to work on it. In those days there were lots of prospectors digging in the Catalina Foothills. We decided the water tower should be as pretty as the houses going up around it.
Antonio Vegara, who worked Taylor Metal Works reminisced in 1978:
We laid it on a sheet of iron and burned it out with a torch.
The tower was purchased by the city water department in 1944 and retired from service, by 1962 the City of Tucson drafted the first of multiple plans to demolish the elegant icon. The weather vane was removed because of safety concerns. Area residents advocated again and again on behalf of the building blocking demolition. The vane was restored and retrofitted by Clayton Hamilton, and reinstalled in October of 1978.
The tower was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on June 30, 1980, and designated as a City of Tucson landmark in 1991. In 1994, the City made further restorative efforts.
The Tucson Historic Preservation Foundation chose the El Con Water Tower as a logo not only because it is a classic, iconic landmark, but also because it reminds us all of the tremendous loss of the El Conquistador Hotel and other landmarks and neighborhoods during the 1960s. The tower also reminds us that neighborhoods and concerned citizens can influence the preservation of our shared past. Without strong voices advocating for its preservation, the beautiful tower would only be a memory.