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El Presidio Neighborhood

There is a lot to see here and it relates to history, heritage and modern times.  Walk up Paseo Redondo to Main.  Just across the street is the Stevens House built in 1856. It is typical of other Tucson houses of the period, being built out to the street with rear open and part of the living quarters. Hiriam Stevens, a businessman and politician, married Petra Santa Cruz, the Mexican granddaughter of his washer woman. They entertained and traveled together for years until Hiriam inexplicably shot her and himself in1893. He died but she lived, saved by a silver comb in her hair.

Turning right down Main, you come to the Edward Nye Fish House on the corner of Alameda and Main. Mr. Fish, a successful store and flour mill-owner, built the house in1868. Today it is home to El Presidio Art Gallery and you can visit the interior during business hours to appreciate the 15-foot ceilings and 2 ½ foot thick walls. There is a lovely shaded ramada area in the rear to sit and rest.

Walk through the courtyard just to the left of the Fish house and you are in the courtyard of the Tucson Museum of Art, a first-class art museum. It also has a good gift shop. A historic marker on Alameda locates the Plaza Militar on this spot. This was a parade ground wher the soldiers exercised their horses.

Walk through the courtyard to the east and you will be in front of La Casa Cordova, a restored preterritorial house reputedly started in1848 and expanded in 1879. This is the best example of a typical adobe courtyard and the facilities for animals makes this representative of what it
was like to actually live in a typical Tucson house in the mid 1880s.  Still, it is awfully clean and, according to many contemporary travelers, Tucson of that era had a "lived-in" look. Especially amusing (accurate or not) is the account of journalist J. Ross Browne who passed through in 1864. He referred to Tucson as:

"the most wonderful scatteration of human habitations his eye ever beheld-a city of mud-boxes, dingy and dilapidated, cracked and baked into a composite of dust and filth; littered about with broken corrals, sheds, bakeovens, carcasses of dead animals, and broken pottery; barren of verdure, parched, naked, and grimly desolate in the glare of a southern sun. Adobe walls without whitewash, inside or out, hard- earth floors, baked and dried Mexicans, sore-backed burros, coyote dogs, and terra- cotta children"

Well, even allowing that this fellow was an Easterner, there must have been a little truth in what he said. So, as you are looking around the spotless courtyard of La Casa Cordova, imagine a few kids running around, some laundry hanging, a few dogs lying about and probably several pigs rooting for food. But it was home and a very workable solution to living in the desert without cooling, either for the house or the food.

Across from La Casa Cordova is a large enclosed courtyard, which houses Old Town Artisans, a colorful collection of shops featuring southwestern crafts and art.  The Courtyard Café is also located here and makes a great place to stop for lunch on their shady patio.

Exit Old Town Artisans through the Courtyard Café patio. This will put you on Washington
Street. Continue north on Court and you will soon pass El Charro Café and Gift Shop.  Family operated for many years, this fine Mexican restaurant also has a gift shop with some very interesting items.

Just past El Charro turn left on Franklin Street and continue to the corner of Main.  There on each corner you can see the eclectic variety of architecture that evolved in Tucson from the exit of the Mexican garrison in1856 to 1912 when Arizona became a state.

The big urban hacienda on the left now houses El Presidio Bed & Breakfast.  Across the street to the west is the Steinfeld Mansion. This Spanish mission-style building was erected in1900, originally as The Owls Club for a group of bachelors. It was purchased by the Steinfeld family in1904 and served as their home.

To the right on the northeast corner of Franklin and Main is the Rosalia Verdugo House.  It stared out in the Sonoran tradition when built in 1877 but an Anglo gabled roof was added later. To complete the confusion of identity, the original canales for draining water off the flat roof were left in place in the Main Street side.

Take a left at the corner and walk south on Main back to the car.  If you still have energy, walk across El Presidio Park and the Community Center grounds to the Barrio Historico or the Sosa-Carrillo-Fremont House behind the Music Hall in the Community Center.



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