Matus | Meza House

Matus | Meza House


The Matus | Meza house, located at 856 West Calle Santa Ana, is one of only a few remaining buildings in the Old Pascua Yaqui Neighborhood from the early decades of the 20th Century.  Due to its association with the early development of the Neighborhood and its unique architectural style, the Matus | Meza House was listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) in 1991.  The building has been vacant for most of the past two decades, following the death of the last permanent resident, Elisa Meza.


The builder and first resident of the Matus/Meza house was Antonio Matus. Matus, a Yaqui Indian, moved to Old Pascua Village in 1926 during which time he constructed his home.  Matus was born in Sonora, Mexico around 1846 and later married a woman (no information available) with whom he had three daughters (Bureau of the U.S. Census 1930).  According to the 1930 U.S. Census, Matus was a widower and was head of a household that included his three daughters, members of his extended family, and one boarder.  Matus died of natural causes a year later on January 10, 1931 (Arizona State Board of Health 1931).  During his lifetime Matus was employed as an itinerant worker and was often away from his residence; when he was at home he held a ceremonial post at Old Pascua Village.


The transfer of property from one family member to another is a typical pattern at Old Pascua Village and in 1937; Antonio Matus’ niece, Julia A Valenzuela, retained title to the property until June of 1950.  During her residence in the home, other members of her immediate and extended family periodically lived at the property.  Sometime after 1950, the house was transferred to a Mexican couple, Eliseo and Elisa Meza.  While a resident at Old Pascua Village, Elisa Meza had earned a reputation as a bruja or witch.  Based on brief interviews with older residents of the neighborhood, she was not a trusted member of their community and many of them had unfavorable childhood remembrances of her (personal communication with Yaqui residents [names withheld] with Jennifer Levstik, Drew Gorski, and Demion Clinco on April 25, 2009]. What she had done to earn this reputation is not known. Elisa’s husband passed away in 1968, and Elisa died in 1988. Upon her death she bequeathed  the property to the San Ignacio Yaqui Council of Old Pascua Village.


Matus’ original construction consisted of a three- roomed adobe house that included a kitchen and two bedrooms.  The floors were polished concrete and the roof, typical of Yaqui vernacular architecture was a low-pitched gable roof with hewn-timbers.   Over the years, subsequent modifications were made to the house and surrounding property.  These additions included a third bedroom on the southwest corner of the house, a closet on the northwest elevation of the house,  a hall-like storage area along the east elevation of the house, and an enclosed porch with an arched doorway and dirt floor.  These later additions were masonry and were covered with a flat roof. Although the date of these modifications is unknown, researcher and archaeologist, Linda Gregonis, estimates that the home was modified sometime between 1950 and 1962 during the Mesa’s ownership.  Gregonis further postulates that the modifications occurred during that time, as the flat roof construction is atypical of Yaqui construction but is commonly seen in Mexican vernacular architecture.


By 2009 the building was in poor condition based on years of neglect and vacancy.   The most critical problems included poor roof drainage, burrowing vermin that caused damage to adobe walls and the threat from vandalism and arson.


In July 2009 the Tucson Historic Preservation Foundation prepared a Building Condition Assessment Report for the San Ignacio Yaqui Council to help asses the historic integrity and major conditions issues.


In fiscal year 2012 – 13 the City of Tucson applied Community Development Block Grant funding to rehabilitate the building and prepare it for adaptive reuse as a neighborhood community space.