First Owl's Club, 300 N Main Ave

The Owls Club was one of Henry Trost’s fist projects when he arrived in Tucson. It is not known with certainty why Trost choose Tucson to start his early architectural practice. However, it was what both he and the town of approximately 7,400 citizens needed to transition to a locally defined architectural style. After he arrived, Trost was introduced to and was fascinated by the San Xavier Mission. Although schooled in the Louis Sullivan style in Chicago, Trost respected Spanish influences on architecture. In particular, at the time in Chicago, the California inspired Mission Revival style was popularly received. A. Paige Brown presented this design style in Chicago exhibitions when Trost still lived there. Trost took the opportunity to study the buildings in careful detail. His first local use of solid semi-circular arches and curvilinear parapets combined Sullivanesque and Mission Revival design aspects. The Owls Club was an immediate success in a town that to date had only felt this level of architectural affection for San Xavier.

When completed, the Owls Club served as the residence of successful young bachelors. Around 1900, there existed a group of young successful businessmen in Tucson. They maintained close personal ties in their mutual dealings which involved finance, law, real estate, cattle and mining. There was a shortage of marriageable women in their social setting and many of these men married later in life. These single gentlemen formed clubs to support their residential needs and their interlocking social connections.

Besides the architectural style the building was a canvas for the type of relief details Trost had brought with him when he designed ornate metalwork in Chicago. The niche in the high gable once contained a stature of a watchful owl, recalling the playful use of animals seen on the façade of San Xavier. The building was U-shaped with the center enclosing a courtyard containing  luxuriant landscaping and a fountain. The courtyard view is open today, however the gardens have made way for a parking lot.

The oval clerestory openings running along below the hipped roof were aligned to the attic area. The airflow through these openings provided a natural cooling system. A veranda is formed by the front arches. Over the arches is the original richly embellished ornamentation that Trost practiced under Sullivan. In the spandrels the bodies of owls whose outstretched wings morph into intertwined geometric patterns. These are attributed to sculptor Gustave Vierold who worked for Trost and later followed him to El Paseo. This theme is repeated on all three sides of the building’s exterior.

This Owls Club built in 1900, now called the First Owls Club as a second was later built a few lots to the north. Not to add confusion, the real ‘first’ Owls Club in 1886 was called the Owls Nest organized by the Fraternal Order of The Owls, including the bachelor Levi Manning. The Owls were lively, cavalier, enjoyed galas, and had the motto “Dum Vivimus, Vivamus”, “Let Us Live While We Live”. The Owls Club contained a storage room for their steamer trucks for when they traveled to Europe on vacation. Local potential mothers-in-law delighted in the hope of their daughters catching an Owl.

Construction was stucco over local brick. Spanish tile covered the pitched roof sections. The building was situated on a sloped lot as were all of the homes on the west side of Main Ave. The rear of the building is two stories in height, partially excavated into the hill to accommodate the slope. The front of the building measures 72 feet and sides are 100 feet long. It was one of the first homes in Tucson to have a bathtub with running water, and this trend was the major contributor to the demise of public bathhouses.

The human Owls moved on to the Second Owls Club after only two years. Now former-Owl, Levi H. Manning and his wife Gussie, acquired the building as his first of two Trost commissioned residences. The second on Paseo Redondo was being designed and finally constructed five years later. The ‘Owls Club’ was Manning’s residence when he served as mayor in 1905. Levi went on to develop other residences on Main Street; the area becoming the most attractive street in Tucson.

Albert Steinfeld and his wife Bettina née Donau, purchased the house from Manning for their residence in 1909 and Trost designed a polygonal extension for them on the south side. The building still popularly known as the Steinfeld Mansion and was the showplace of Tucson. Albert being one of the most successful over-achievers of the southwest could afford the finest interior decorations that he and Bettina aquired from the East Coast.

After Steinfeld’s death in 1935, the building was used as a Benedictine Sisters convent, an American Legion hall, and art studios. By 1977 it had fallen into disrepair. All of the exterior ornament had been taken down or was destroyed. The fall of this year, the building was on the verge of being demolished. The construction firm Lawrence Hickey & Sons purchased it and with $550,00 of funds aided by $50,000 Federal tax incentives, happily the reconstruction of the mansion was started. The exterior ornaments were recreated with the aid of old photographs, although today none of the owl motifs exist. In 1979 the building was used for office spaces, including those belonging to United States Senator Morris K. Udall. Udall was instrumental to having the building placed on the National Register. The building continues to be used for offices.