The Tucson Historic Preservation Fountain in partnership with the National Park Service, NPS Urban Fellowship, University of Arizona Heritage Conservation and neighbors in Barrio Viejo are pursuing designation of the Barrio as a National Historic Landmark.

National Pattern of History:
The Santa Cruz Valley was originally settled by Spaniards as part of a system of missions and visitas under Padre Kino in the early 1700s. In 1744 and 1747 the Spanish king approved advancement of the military frontier to the Gila River in response to the threat of French expansion westward from the Gulf of Mexico and presidios were established in the Alta Pimeria. (Journal of the SW)

Tucson began as a presidio on the North American frontier of New Spain in 1776. It existed as a small agrarian multi-ethnic community reliant upon the waters of the Santa Cruz River for decades before the arrival of Anglo settlers in the later half of the nineteenth century. Compared to cities in California, Texas and New Mexico, Tucson experienced relatively slow population growth up until the early 1900s. The early years of Anglo migration were also comparatively peaceful, with Mexican citizens comprising the majority of the population and Anglo settlers assimilating and marrying into Mexican families and adopting farming, ranching and building methods that had been honed by the Spanish and Mexican residents to the limitations of the hostile desert climate. There were not many reasons for Anglo settlers to spend much time in Tucson, aside from passing through on the way to California, but those that did found success only by coexisting harmoniously with Tucson’s Mexican residents. (Los Tucsonenses)

Barrio Viejo’s landscape is exemplary of a larger National pattern seen in southwestern cities, illustrated in its built environment is the transition from Spanish presidio to Mexican frontier town to American city and fits in with the vision behind the National Park Service American Latino Theme Study.

Important Association with National Pattern of History:
The Barrio Viejo landscape fits into a national pattern of the growth and development of Spanish presidios into Mexican frontier settlements to American cities. Much of the Barrio’s exemplary Sonoran vernacular architecture built between 1860 and 1900 remains today. Because of the relatively harmonious transition from Sonoran to American city, and the large Mexican population that remained in Tucson and in the Barrio late into the 1900s, the community that created it inhabited the neighborhood for several decades and as a result, the architecture remained in use and intact.

The physical environment that existed in places like Tucson and Santa Fe in the early 1800s was an expression of the institutions of Spanish imperial colonialism as embodied in the Laws of the Indies and the limitations imposed by a frontier culturally and economically impoverished by great distance from its center. The environment was changed, slowly at first, but at an accelerating pace, by the westward-moving Anglo American frontier. Barrio Viejo is one of the largest surviving concentrations of Sonoran Adobe flush‑front architecture and urban block typology in the American southwest. This district exemplifies the influence of Spanish and Hispanic architectural traditions and the built environment and its impact on the emerging American southwestern cities in the second half of the 19th century. In this conception of space, houses are not necessarily separated from outdoor space in the way that a typical house sitting in the center of a piece of land is, but create and frame space in the form of patios and courtyards creating less of a distinction between outdoor and indoor space. This configuration of low, interlocking buildings creating a continuous street façade and a network of cool, shady patios is ideal for creating a functional, shaded and cool urban area in the harsh desert climate. This architecture developed due to extreme weather conditions in similar climates in Southern Spain, North Africa and the Middle East, and was adapted to Tucson using available local materials while also incorporating regional cultural influences and building styles, resulting in a unique regional architecture reflective of Tucson’s diversity.

In early Tucson, the population was relatively evenly split between Native American, Mexican and American residents and cultural traditions from each of these groups were adapted and shared freely. The changing population continued to have its effects on the architecture as the city grew. With the arrival of the railroad, the Anglo influence accelerated as the population grew exponentially, resulting in a number of hybrid styles. Nineteenth-century Anglo American urban form incorporated many eighteenth and nineteenth-century European precedents but was dictated in large part by easily surveyed and titled rectangular plots within the larger grid established by the 1785 Land Ordinance. By the turn of the century, Anglo culture and urban form had supplanted the Hispanic through a combination of three basic transformation processes: addition, reconfiguration, and subtraction or demolition. (Nina Vergge) The Barrio Viejo is comprised of a number of smaller barrios with similar but distinctive cultural and architectural identities that can be read in the existing landscape. Despite the change, the heart of Barrio Viejo remained a working-class predominately Hispanic neighborhood and the majority of its architecture distinctly Sonoran.

Known collectively as “Barrio Libre” at the end of the 19th Century, Barrio Viejo fell outside of the City’s jurisdiction and was inhabited mostly by working class Mexican residents. The neighborhood was almost a self-contained city, residents owned shops, markets and restaurants often attached to their homes, and trading for services was common. After the arrival of the railroad in 1880, a number of Chinese immigrants moved into the neighborhood opening restaurants, laundries and markets. The majority of the Barrio was built between the 1860s and 1920s and the remaining neighborhood today is all that survived the Urban Renewal movement that demolished the heart of the Barrio in the 1970s.

Barrio Viejo was included with three other distinct neighborhoods in the Barrio Libre National Register of Historic Places nomination completed on September 26, 1977 and listed in 1978 at the local level of significance. The district was subsequently rezoned as a City of Tucson Historic Preservation Zone in 1978.

Within the proposed NHL District is located: El Tiradito (Wishing Shrine) Listed in the Nation Register of Historic Places 16 March 1976 and subsequently designated a City of Tucson Historic Landmark, and the Velasco House, Listed in the National Register of Historic Places 5 March 1974.

Physical Integrity and Comparison to similar Properties:
Although individual examples of Sonoran Adobe architecture survive in the southwest, Barrio Viejo is one of the largest concentrations of stylistically unchanged 1880s urban adobe architecture in the United States, consisting of sections of contiguous street facades of adobe row houses. Whereas the New Mexican cities of Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Socorro, Las Vegas and Mesilla each have significant concentrations of adobe architecture, the Sonoran vernacular architecture and urban typology of Barrio Viejo retains its essential feel and character as a living neighborhood and community.

Barrio Viejo’s surviving intact streetscapes express the vernacular Hispanic architectural traditions of Northern Mexico that migrated into the southwest during the Spanish and Mexican periods. In this early style, residences shared walls, lining the block and forming a continuous façade at the property line. Shared courtyards in the back created a tight network of indoor and outdoor space, resulting in narrow shaded streets and cool courtyards and patios. Commercial buildings were situated on corners, buildings were often living and work spaces and were integrated within the neighborhood. In this urban typology, the street becomes a clearly defined social space. Later houses in Barrio Viejo reflect the Anglo-influenced transition from this style to one where the house sits as a singular unit at the center of the property, surrounded by a buffer from the street, but the majority of the neighborhood retains the Sonoran feel. A number of hybrid Territorial styles are also present, reflecting the adoption of national stylistic trends made possible by the availability of building materials brought to Tucson via the railroad, that were then applied to Sonoran Adobe structures in the district such as hipped and gabled roofs, milled lumber moldings, etc. Overall, the Proposed NHL possesses a high degree of integrity of location, design, setting materials, workmanship and association with the themes presented in the NPS American Latino Theme Study.

THPF received a National Park Service Grant for a phase I survey. During the summer of 2017 over 50 community volunteers and interns conducted research and fieldwork to complete a comprehensive innovatory of the proposed landmark district. THPF is currently perusing grant funding to prepare the National Historic Landmark nomination.

For more Information:
National Park Service Historic Landmarks Program –
National Park Service Heritage Program – Telling All Americans’ Stories

Latest Stories

Read More

Tucson Modernism Documentation Competition

First Prize: $1000 cash prize and the winner will be honored during Tucson Modernism Week 2019....
Read More
Read More

Harwood Steiger

Read More
Read More

Max Gottschalk

By Kathy McMahon...
Read More
Read More

Nik Krevitsky: Action/Abstraction

Read More