Men of Privilege on Main Ave

Students of architectural history in Tucson can enjoy many fine examples of preservation of our local turn-of-the century residential buildings. These monuments  symbolize the blending of artist styles and tastes of their time. To discuss our appreciation of these buildings naturally leads to the ‘entertaining’ stories of those individuals that commissioned and occupied those building. To limit our investigation to only the inanimate structure often pales to the human energy that brought about the construction and maintained the continuation of their existence. Part of the narrative includes the post-WWII near destruction and and eventual labor-of-love salvation of many of the homes.

An exceptional collection of post-railroad era residential buildings in Tucson still exist as the ‘mansions’ of Main Ave between Congress St and 6th St. This entire multi-block stretch of century-old, mostly stately homes, delight those of us that can walk along this architecural museum today and step back a time of Tucson’s Renaissance.

What is inescapable is that this neighborhood came into existence due to the exceptional wealth of a few, and by the segregation of wealth. An excellent study of the shift in prosperity around 1900 is chronicled in Thomas E. Sheridan’s Los Tucsonenses: The Mexican Community in Tucson, 1854-1941. The arrival of the railroad in 1880 triggered a dramatic shift in the economic fortunes separated by culture in the following decades. The previous pre-rail economy was characterized by a century of immigration and adoption by families moving north from Sonora Mexico. The influx of European descendants from the east coast and post-gold-rush newcomers made accessible by the new rail lines allowed for a rapid shift from the established self-reliant agrarian existence to one dominated by goods imported and local resources exported by rail.

Many of the individuals that built and initially occupied Main Ave were usually well-educated products of eastern communities. When they arrived they recognized the untapped resources of the area could be exploited in ways unrealized by the established community. These men made fortunes by parlaying ownership in mines, large ranches, merchandise stores, and controlling the unrestricted pumping of Santa Cruz underground water. Other imports where  lawyers and appointed judges, journalists, and school superintendents. It is true that many of these typically Anglo men married local Mexican women and openly adopted cultural aspects of their wives’ families, however Tucson progress was driven mostly by a white paternal dominated society two deades after the railroad arrived.

As a continuation of this blog's research on the influence that the architect Henry C. Trost had on Tucson in only a few years of commissions, I had looked forward to understanding who were the almost exclusively Anglo men that lived in this enclave of what was called ‘Snob Knoll’ at the time Main Street was built. Notable Trost clients included the Owls, a well-to-do bachelor fraternity that used their networks to further improve their advantage in the expanding economy of the town.

Author Eula Biss has introduced the phrase ‘opportunity-hoarding’ in the lexicon of the history of American’s racial divide. That concept seems well represented in this particular physical quarter of Tucson historic communities, as well in our newly renewed awareness of a deeply established economic divide among many ethnic groups in today’s society. These were clients of the talented Henry Trost. His architectural contribution can still be appreciated in light of the wealthy few's path to success.

It should be noted that there were several well-known names of wealthy Tucson citizenry that were self-made, at least initially. They would include:

The Welshman Sam Hughes who arrived in Tucson in1858 poor, with little formal education and with advanced tuberculosis. He eventually opened a butcher shop and thanks to the military as a steady customer began his path to wealth. Sam was one of the first residents on Main Street before the transition from adobe to brick construction.

Leopoldo Carrillo arrived in Tucson from Mexico in 1859. He was a brilliant example of the Spanish speaking entrepreneur and builder. He was gambler that became the wealthiest person in town before his death in 1890. 

Frederico Ronstadt arrived in 1882 from Mexico and his path to wealth is described in his page in this series of stories.

Levi Manning arrived in 1884 without significant funds. He did have some college education and first worked as a reporter. While his family was wealthy, it is not clear that the family funded his exploits in his many very successful ventures. Levi was one of the driving forces of the expansion of Main Street as the upscale part of town at the turn of the century.

These are some examples of gentlemen, along with their wives, that exhibited intelligence, ambition and charisma to reach their significant status.

From North to South, some of the Main Street's more signifacant remaining homes by most noteable owners, address on North Main, year built and style, means of wealth, * = former Owl:

William Herring House, 430, 1868 adobe American Territorial, AZ Attorney General. (His daughter was the first woman to plead a case before the US Supreme Court.)

Selim and Henrietta Franklin House, 402, 1898, County Attorney, Ag professor, * 

Leo Goldsmidt House (Second Owls Club), 378, Trost built Mission Revival, Furniture, flour mill president, *

Frank and Ardeline Hereford House, 340, 1902 Trost designed Mission Revival, attorney,*

Albert and Bettina Steinfeld Mansion (First Owl’s Club later L Manning residence), Trost designed Mission Revival, merchandise, industrial business, warehouses, real estate tycoon

Julius Kruttschimtt House, 297, 1896-1912 adobe American Territorial, son of president of Southern Pacific, mining interests

Dr. Purham Purcell House, 250, 1901 American Territorial built upon an ealier adobe home, doctor and surgeon

George and Annie Cheyney House, 300, 1905 David Holmes Mission Revival, Managed several mines, school superintendent.

Sam and Atanacia Hughes House, 1864, Mexican style adobe row house aquired from brother in-law Hiram Stevens.

J Knox Corbett House, 179, 1907 Mission Revival by David Holmes, Postal clerk, postmaster, ran a stagecoach, lumber and cattle investments, Tucson mayor.

Hiram Stevens House, 188, Mexican style adobe row house, Ex-army, prominent merchant initailly to the army. Became a legislaturer.

Edward Nye Maria Wakefield Fish House, 223, 1868 Mexican style adobe row house. Wheelwright, post trader, merchandise, Eagle Flour Mills