When we first went house-hunting in Tucson in the early 1980s, our realtor thought we were crazy because we wanted a house with architectural style and wooden floors. Having lived in Columbus’ city core in an old Victorian-era brick double, we didn’t realize what a tall order this was in Tucson, our new home.
We spent several weeks driving around older neighborhoods in July in our AC-free Toyota Corolla with Judy (our chain-smoking realtor) and our baby daughter searching for style, affordability, and a house worth the sweat equity we were going to have to invest. We finally settled on a California Bungalow handyman special in the Pie Allen Neighborhood, priced at $34,000– the cost of some new vehicles today.
If Judy thought we were crazy while we were house-hunting, she probably really thought we were nuts when we bought that place, but we saw style and potential in that little house with the inviting front porch, the volcanic rock columns, the cozy fireplace flanked by wooden built-ins, and the large back yard– ready for a swing set and sandbox. Little did we know we were downtown pioneers before downtown was hip.
Thirty years later, many other urban pioneers have joined the struggle to breathe life into Tucson’s older neighborhoods and help downtown become livable and even fashionable.
At yesterday’s City Council Meeting, historic preservationists in Tucson won a major battle against the mini-dorm industry. The Council approved the Neighborhood Preservation Zone (NPZ) overlay for the Jefferson Park Neighborhood. The NPZ will restrict mini-dorm development by limiting the scale of new construction, making it more difficult to build a second story and limiting the size of a building to no more than 35 percent of the lot size. This is the second NPZ the Council has approved– the first being the Feldman Neighborhood NPZ in 2009, which developers are fighting.
Also, this week, a new guide to historic homes in Tucson was published.
Next week, at the June 28 City Council Meeting, the Council will consider a proposal to amend the sign code protect and preserve historic landmark signage older than 1975. Although I am a bit concerned about inclusion of “transitional” signage between 1961-1974 in this amendment, I think it is a worthwhile effort to protect the funky neon signs that mark Tucson’s past as a motor hotel haven.
With this volume of preservation activity, will Tucson save its unique architecture and sense of place? I hope so. I don’t want developers to make Tucson into a place where there is no there there. I still remember the July thunderstorm clouds gathering over the old courthouse’s mosaic dome and the reflection of the Tucson Inn sign in the swimming pool that night in 1981 when we first visited Tucson.