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Early Mayor Levi Manning left lucrative legend

Citizen Staff Writer


Citizen Staff Writer

It was a tossup:

Two story leads came to mind – “An early Tucson mayor was brought here by an elephant” and “Frat boys haven’t changed much in the past 125 years.”

Wishy-washy won out, so you’re getting both.

Levi H. Manning, Tucson’s mayor from 1905 to 1907 and Territorial surveyor general, was in fact brought here by an elephant. But he didn’t ride it Hannibal-style.

The year was 1883, and Manning and a fraternity brother from the University of Mississippi were spending the summer at the plantation home of Manning’s father, Vannoy Hartrog Manning, a lawyer and three-term congressman.

During their hiatus, the young men attended a circus, and during the course of the visit managed to borrow, rent or in some fashion acquire control of one of the circus elephants, according to recollections of a Manning family member, a record of which is in the files at the Arizona Historical Society.

The trunked titan and the young men apparently had a parting of the ways, and the former managed to wreak substantial havoc around the town before being brought back under control by its handlers.

When young Manning’s mother heard about the incident, she advised him to “leave town before your father finds out about this.”

Knowing his father’s temper and having matured enough to sense the wisdom of his mother’s counsel, Manning accepted her carriage horses and what money she had on hand, did some negotiating that funded a railway ticket, and headed for points west.

Tucson was the terminus of his trek, and a penniless-if-aristocratic Manning, age 19, became part of Tucson’s work force.

Among the more literate residents of the Old Pueblo in 1883, he found work as a reporter, successively, for both the The Daily Arizona Citizen and Arizona Daily Star.

He was fascinated with the newly evolving science of electricity – an interest that prompted him to buy a controlling interest in, and serve as general manager of Tucson Ice and Electric Co. (His ability to become a financial player suggests he had managed to make peace with his father, since reporters – then, as now – seldom get to be counted among the wealthy.)

Manning was said to have made a “considerable fortune” when he sold his interest in the enterprise.

He was made mineral clerk in the U.S. Geology Office here in December 1885. Another interest, land surveying, would prepare him for his job as surveyor general of Arizona Territory, an appointment from President Cleveland from 1892 to 1896 – both indications that he had influential family backing.

When a California group faltered in constructing the Santa Rita Hotel in 1904 after building only the ground floor, Manning and partner Epes Randolph took over the project and completed it, ignoring advice against doing so. Once again, Manning realized a handsome profit when he sold his interest, reflecting a lifelong record of business aplomb.

The local electorate sensed his leadership qualities and selected him to serve as Tucson’s mayor from 1905 to 1907.

Before his marriage to Gussie Lovell in Tucson in 1897, he was an early member of the Owls Club, a group of prosperous bachelors who built and lived in an impressive house in Snob Hollow, immediately north of downtown.

When the group dwindled to only three, Manning purchased the building and his family lived in it until he had a 12,000-square-foot mansion, Manning House, built on Paseo Redondo nearby. He sold the former Owls Club to fellow merchant Albert Steinfeld.

In the late 1940s, the family sold Manning House to the Elks Lodge. It was enlarged to 36,000 square feet by enclosure of the arched loggia that extended from the core structure, and now is owned and operated as a civic gathering spot by the Concannon family.

“General” Manning purchased a failed irrigated farming operation west of the Santa Cruz River in 1902, drilling a series of shallow wells to tap the subsurface river flow. He sold the operation a decade later to Chicago and British investors.

He was a major influence in bringing an electric trolley system to the Old Pueblo in 1906, replacing horse- and mule-drawn vehicles.

A shortage of natural rubber from Asia during World War I prompted an effort to cultivate a Southwestern shrub, guayule, that produces latex, the major ingredient of rubber. For that, in 1916, Manning sold 9,700 acres of the 20,000-acre Canoa Ranch to the newly formed Intercontinental Rubber Co. That operation ceased at war’s end.

He was one of a partnership, including Cananea “copper king” William C. Greene, that bought the Tucson Citizen in 1901, after which John H. Behan, former Cochise County sheriff during the OK Corral shootout affray in 1881 in Tombstone, was made business manager.

Over the years, Manning gained control of an estimated half-million acres of ranching property and a chain of general merchandising stores stretching from El Paso to Portland, Ore. He was one of a group of investors who discovered oil at Signal Hill, Calif.

In 1926, he and son Howell Manning launched an ambitious horse breeding program at Canoa Ranch, establishing a line of Clydesdale draft horses and a line of Arabians as well, paying $3,000 for Saraband, an Arabian stallion.

Manning died Aug. 6, 1935, at his summer home in Beverly Hills, Calif. His body was returned to Tucson, where he was buried in the Masonic section of Evergreen Cemetery.

Paul L. Allen can be reached at 573-4588 and pallen@tucsoncitizen.com. For more history coverage, go to www.tucsoncitizen.com/history.

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