Historic Downtown Tucson Walking Tour
This walking tour begins and ends at historic railroad depots with stops at several museums and numerous historic Tucson buildings and landmarks along the way.
Built in 1912, the El Paso & Southwestern Railroad Depot is a fine example of Beaux Arts and Neo-Classical architecture. The EP&S railroad company was owned by the Phelps Dodge Corporation, which was a successful copper mining business. Its owner, Walter Douglass, decided to extend the railroad to Tucson to better reach the company's mining operations. Perhaps its most striking feature is the rotunda with a stained-glass dome. It does not appear to be open to the public or have any establishment as of early 2017, but two Mexican restaurants were located here beginning in 1978 and operated through at least the mid-2000s. Passenger service ended in 1924 when the Southwest Railroad merged with EP&S but freight service continued until 1936. The depot was used for storage and mostly abandoned until it was bought by Allan Norville, the man who opened the two restaurants.
This historic property, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was built by former Tucson mayor, Levi Howell Manning, who served one term a mayor from 1905-1907. Today is the headquarters for El Rio Community Health Center, the state's largest such organization. Manning constructed the building in 1908, using his large fortune to pay for it. It is historic for its association with Manning and its architecture. In terms of the latter, the house's design is a combination of Spanish, Colonial, Italian Renaissance, and Prairie styles. The house, which sits on 10 acres, also featured gardens. Manning hosted many festivities including an annual garden party.
Take a journey through art, history, and culture at the Tucson Museum of Art (TMA). The Museum features changing exhibitions of Art of the American West, Latin America, and Modern and Contemporary art forms, with a permanent collection of more than 9,000 objects. TMA offers ongoing educational programs for children, families, and adults through summer arts programs, lectures, and art-making activities. The annual Dia de Los Muertos celebration is a Tucson tradition. The Museum campus includes four historic adobe properties and a restored Craftsman home (check tour hours on the Museum website).
One of the oldest existing buildings in Tucson, La Casa Cordova is part of El Presidio Historic District. The original rooms of this historic adobe home may predate the 1854 Gadsden Purchase. The name of the home comes from the surname of owners who occupied the home in the 1930s and 1940s-the time when historians became interested in the significance of the structure.
Located next to the Old Pima County Courthouse, El Presidio Park has been in continual use since 1539, when the Spanish first arrived. Today it features historical markers, monuments and statues, a water fountain, modern art, memorials, and a rose garden dedicated to John F. Kennedy. There are memorials to the Vietnam War and World War II's Battle of the Bulge; and a monument to the Mormon Battalion who, in December 1846, briefly raised the first American flag over Tucson. The park, which is located over an underground garage, is also used for festivals, weddings, and political gatherings.
On December 16, 1846, Mexican forces in the garrison of Fort Tucson abandoned the fort and town in the face of the oncoming Mormon Battalion during the Mexican War. The 200 man-force decided not to take on the 360 (out of the original 500) man-force of the Battalion as soon as they discovered the latter was coming. The Battalion captured the fort and town with no bloodshed and raised the American flag at the Presidio (fort) the same day. Days later the Battalion left for California, Tucson was recaptured by Mexican forces, then re-abandoned by the war's end. In 1993 a monument of the flag raising was erected and dedicated by the LDS/Mormon church.
This marker, located just next to the Internal Revenue Service and U.S. Immigration Court building, indicates the location of the Arizona's first public school, which was a small adobe building.. The Pima County Board of Supervisors established the Tucson School District 1 in November 1867. After collecting supplies, building the desks, and reconfiguring the building, the school opened in January 1868. Unfortunately, due to lack of funding, the school closed only after 6 months.
Roy W. Place, one of Tucson’s most distinguished architects, designed Pima County's third courthouse in 1928. Built around three sides of a patio, with a covered arcade enclosing the fourth side, it is a two-story stuccoed brick structure built in the Spanish Colonial Revival style. It features an elaborately carved facade and a large dome adorned with brilliant ceramic tiles. This courthouse is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The building was vacated by Fall of 2016. The Pima County Supervisors will have the final say on how the courthouse will be utilized. Plans tentatively include a visitors' center and museum. The County is in discussions with the University of Arizona and the Tucson Museum of Art to house exhibits. There will be a new café, and a memorial to the victims of the 2011 Tucson Shooting that seriously wounded then-U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords. Regardless of who moves into the building, it is expected to look pretty much the way it does now. There are no plans for renovations other than updating the interior space to accommodate new tenants.
The Fox Tucson Theatre opened on April 11, 1930 as a dual vaudeville/movie house. Competition for new theaters and the decline of downtown shopping led to its closure in 1974. The theater remained empty for many years and fell into disrepair. Finally, after a major renovation, it reopened in late 2005. Since then, it has been a driving force for entertainment in modern downtown Tucson.
Constructed in 1929, the Chase Bank Building is Tucson's oldest skyscraper. The building is the third bank on the site. In 1901, Consolidated National Bank (CNB) bought the property and built the second bank on the site. The first one belonged to another company and it was demolished to make way for the second one which was expanded in 1917. Given its architecture and importance to Tucson's economic development, the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2003. The lobby features murals painted by Anthony B. Heinsbergen, whose work is present on several Los Angeles landmarks.
Named after Tucson's only federal judge between 1952-1981, the James A. Walsh United States Courthouse is a historic building constructed in 1930. It was designed in the Classical Revival style and includes elements of the Mission style as represented in the tiled hipped roof. Today, the building serves as a U.S. Bankruptcy Court.
This building, though as of early 2017 is unoccupied, is significant for its architecture and association with two important businesses in Tucson: J.C. Penny and the Chicago Store, which sells musical instruments and related merchandise. The Chicago Store moved to another, smaller location just one block south in early 2016. In terms of architecture, the building is an excellent example of Italianate design. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2003. Currently, a new developer is devising plans to convert the building so that it can house multiple commercial tenants.
The Rialto Theatre, completed in 1920, is located in one of the more urban districts of downtown Tucson, across the street fromClub Congress. It bears much similarity to the neighboring Hotel Congress, being built in the same year and by the same contractors. Primarily holding music concerts from all genres, the Rialto hosts other shows and events as well; from dance, performance, and occasional film screenings. Approximately 150 events occur at the Rialto annually, with reported attendance of more than 100,000 patrons.
First opened in 1919, the hotel may best be known as the site of bank robber John Dillinger’s legendary capture in 1934. Since 1994, the hotel has celebrated the anniversary of this event each year. The rear of the building faces the historic (Amtrak) Southern Pacific train station, built by Southern Pacific in 1907. In addition to being a hotel, the Hotel Congress also houses a restaurant, bar and music venue. In 2003, the hotel was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Tucson's Amtrak station was built in the Spanish Revival style by the Southern Pacific Railroad in 1907. This building replaced a wooden structure that had served the public since the railroad's arrival in 1880. After a major renovation by the City of Tucson after it purchased the station complex in 1998, the depot, in addition to its rail functions, now offers office, restaurant, and retail space and houses the Southern Arizona Transportation Museum.