Agreement between city, county may provide way to preserve site of state’s earliest public construction
More than 2,500 years ago, some of the earliest inhabitants of the area now known as Tucson started to build.
Terraces and walls were constructed sometime between 300 and 500 B.C. University of Arizona anthropology researchers called it “the earliest known public constructions in Arizona, that is structures large enough to require communal labor for building.”
The work took place on what later was named Tumamoc Hill – a modest rise on the western fringe of downtown Tucson.
Perhaps a thousand years later, the summit of Tumamoc Hill was the site of one of the largest villages in the Tucson basin, with more than 100 pit houses. “Residents built circular houses with domed superstructures of desert willow poles, woven brush, and packed hearth,” UA researchers found.
Today, only ruins 1 to 3 feet high mark the spots where more than a mile of rock walls were built centuries ago. There are remnants of the pit houses, and rock art can be found in several places.
The features that made Tumamoc Hill popular with the ancients remain a powerful draw for the Tucsonans of today. The hill offers unparalleled views of the city that has grown up around it as well as varied and lush desert vegetation.
Now action by the Pima County Board of Supervisors and the Tucson City Council makes it likely that no more structures will be built on Tumamoc Hill, leaving intact the artifacts left by ancient civilizations.
Pima County is poised to take advantage of depressed real estate prices and an agreement with the city to buy Tumamoc Hill and permanently preserve it.
The hill, west of “A” Mountain, has been a hiking magnet for decades and is home to the century-old Desert Laboratory, where the University of Arizona has a long-term lease. The land used by the laboratory is not threatened by development and is not part of the impending county purchase.
There long has been the desire to protect Tumamoc from development, but there have been problems.
The land is owned by the state, which is required to put it up for auction. That prospect, however, elicited fear a developer would outbid local governments.
There also is a landfill on the property that was built and closed before modern environmental regulations went into effect.
But now, with the real estate market reeling, there is reduced development interest. And the city has reaffirmed a 2000 agreement to maintain the landfill and indemnify the county for any liability.
So it appears Tumamoc will be placed on the auction block in February, with the county set to purchase it for the appraised value of $4.7 million. The county has a $3.5 million grant from the state and will use open space bonds to pay the rest of the cost.
This is an opportunity to forever preserve a beautiful and historic piece of Tucson. It is an opportunity that we cannot let slip away.