Downtown Walk

Just about a week ago, the Local Couple decided it was time to be a "Tourist in your Hometown." We had first heard this term back when we lived in Lowell, MA (which has done wonders with its downtown), and thought this is a really cool idea -- to take time out just to do the local tourist things. Often it seems as though you don't see the local attractions, always because "we can do that anytime." Well, too often "anytime" turns into "no-time" which is a shame, since just about every place has so much to offer.

So, even if you don't get to Tucson to take this walk, take one of your own in your hometown. You'll be glad you did.

La Placita

La Placita, the Starting Place of our Walk.

Our starting place for the walk is La Placita (Site 1 on the Local Couple's Downtown Map). We chose this as a starting point for two reasons: it is located on one of the main streets downtown, Broadway, and hard to miss because of its bright colors. Second, there is a matching, multi-hued, multi-story car park directly across the street. La Placita also happens to be home to the Tucson Visitors' Center. We stopped in to pick up a map of the downtown walking tour they suggest. It's pretty good, but it could be better; a line on the map indicating the path would be a nice touch, for example. Rather than just complaining about the shortcomings of their map, though, we created our own downtown map for you to use. While it doesn't list all of the things that you can find in the visitors' guide, it lists those that we liked best. It also leaves some surprises for you to discover on your own. And it has a walking path marked out.

Starting out from the Tucson Visitors' Center, head straight north, past the Sports Hall of Fame; take a slight left out to the footbridge, and follow the stairs on the left down to Broadway Ave. Head west on Broadway; you'll pass a hotel and the US Courthouse building and arrive at a small side parking lot for Garcia's Restaurant, which happens to be Site 2 on the map. Housed in the old El Paso and South West railroad depot, Garcia's makes good use of a historic building that might have otherwise gone abandoned. Which is reason enough for the Local Couple to have stopped in for lunch (it was ok, but we can't give it a ringing endorsement). Even if you don't stop in for a meal, at least step in to look at the stained glass dome in the entryway, and check out the photos from the era of the steam train.

Leaving Garcia's, we head on to Site 3, the Garden of Gethsemane. Cross Congress at the lights near the interstate on-ramps so that you're on the north side of Congress, proceed under the overpass and across the Santa Cruz River. There on your right will be a path down to the sculpture garden. These hand-sculpted religious statues are the work of Felix Lucero, in fulfillment of a vow he made on a World War I battlefield.  

Screwbean Mesquite seed pods

A Screwbean Mesquite Pod

Returning down Congress Street, go past the Arizona State Building and turn north onto Granada (the US Courthouse at the corner of Granada and Congress makes a convenient marker for where to turn). One block up, turn east onto Alameda, making sure to look back at the serpentine wall of the north side of the Arizona State Building complex. About a block east, you will arrive at El Presido Park, which is Site 4 on the map. As you enter the park, look for the distinctive seed pods of the screwbean mesquite. Directly across the street is the Tucson Museum of Art, which is worth a visit. But for today, wander around the park at your leisure, checking out the statuary and fountains, and when you're good and ready, head toward the colorful tiled dome of the Pima County Courthouse (Site 5). Go through the entryway directly beneath the dome, and into the eastern part of the courtyard. Built in 1929 to replace the previous courthouse, this building provides a nice contrast to the modern buildings surrounding it. While you're in the courtyard make sure to note the line marking the boundary of the original wall of the Presidio, a reminder of the past when Tucson was walled off as a safety measure against attacks from the Apaches.

Turn north on Church Street, cross Alameda, and walk up to Washington, where you should take a left to head back west. Two blocks down, you arrive at the entrance to the Old Town Artisans (Site 6). Stop in and wander about in the shops, all of which seem to sell some really nice, locally produced wares, such as metal work, pottery, and jewelry. If you're looking for a keepsake of your visit to Tucson, this might be just the place to find it. If not, make sure to take a note of the saguaro ribbed ceilings and the Sonoran style architecture of the buildings. Leave the Old Town Artisans through the same gate where you entered and continue down to Meyer.  

The Owl's Club Mansion.

The Owl's Club Mansion.

Heading north on Meyer takes you through the El Presido Historic District, which we've denoted as Site 7 and Site 8. There really isn't anything in particular that represents Site 7, just the general atmosphere of the neighborhood. When you reach 6th, head one block east and turn down Main toward the south. Again, this part wasn't intended to have a specific Site 8, but make sure to check out the building that used to be the Owl's Club, the El Presidio Inn, the Steinfeld mansion, and the other houses along the way. When you reach Washington, head east back to Meyer, where you'll turn south toward the Tucson Museum of Art entrance. Right before the entrance, turn left on Telles, which happens to be the other side of the Old Town Artisans (Site 6); follow Telles a short block up to Court, and head south back to Alameda.

House in the El Presidio District

Sonoran Style Housefront
in the El Presidio District.

After passing the north side of the public library on Alameda, head down Stone to the Arizona Historical Society Museum (Site 9), which is on the east side of the Stone directly across from the library and adjacent to the Wells Fargo Bank.  Stop in; it's $3 and has excellent exhibits of what early Tucson was like. There is also a display about the capture of John Dillinger by Tucson's finest. You did know that Public Enemy Number One and his gang were captured right here in the Old Pueblo, didn't you? As an aside, John Dillinger is the only person to officially have the designation of Public Enemy Number One. And, if you can spare it, drop a buck or two in the donation box, just to show your support and appreciation of local history. Feel free to tell the curator that the Local Couple sent you; you're bound to get a blank stare.

Tucson's Train Depot
The Tucson Train Depot
Undergoing Restoration.

Tucson's Train Depot

And After Restoration!

Back out onto Stone and back up to Alameda! Continue your trek several blocks down Alameda, where there really isn't anything of interest until you come to the intersection with 6th Avenue. Cross 6th, and there to the southwest you'll see our pick for Site 10, the Tucson train depot. When we wrote this, the depot wasn't much to look at, but it is currently restored, and open. Take your time to stop inside and check out some of the detail work on the depot: the long waiting benches, the luggage area, even the sign typefaces above the doors make the ambiance of the railroad depot just right. A job well done! And, in case you're wondering, you can catch trains here; the Sunset Limited stops in The Old Pueblo regularly. Afterwards, make your way around to the back of the depot, where you'll find Old Steam Engine 1673. Retired in 1954, it was used as the backdrop for the movie "Oklahoma!," which, of course, was filmed here in Arizona. If you want to see the Engine up close, the ramada is open 9:00am-10:30am on the second and fourth Saturday of each month, October to April.

Hotel Sign

Hotel Congress
The Hotel Congress.

Continuing around the back of the depot, you'll work your way back out onto Congress Street. Here at the corner of Congress and Toole, you'll see the Hotel Congress (Site 11), which played a part in the capture of John Dillinger. No, we're not going to tell you the details, but if you really want to know, wander into the Congress Hotel, over to the Cup Cafe, and ask to see a menu. The story is printed on the back. Now if you don't want to know how the Hotel Congress relates to the capture, wander into the hotel, check out the original switchboard on display, the incongruence of the old phone booths with modern pay phones, and the general ambiance of the lobby. Don't worry, the Hotel Congress doesn't mind people stopping in for a look-see. By the way, if you're starting to feel a bit peckish, the Cup Cafe has pretty good food, too.

After departing the Hotel Congress, continue down Congress Street back to Stone Ave. On the southwest corner is the Bank One building, which is our Site 12. Go inside (if it's open, that is) and up to the second floor, where you'll find murals and paintings depicting early life in the west.  Besides that, the woodwork and other decorative details in the building are worth a stop in just by themselves.

The Fox Theater

The Beautiful Fox Theatre Marquee.

On the northwest corner (well, not the corner exactly, but pretty near) is the Fox Theatre, which is undergoing restoration (learn how to help at the Fox Theatre Foundation) , and is a fine example of Art Deco style that was popular in the 1930s. This, as you would guess, has to be lucky Site 13 selected by your faithful 'crew of two.' The renovation is scheduled to be finished in 2005, and then you should be able to stop in for a show and to check out the interior. Until then, you'll have to content yourself with a gander at the brand new marquee -- an excellent replica of the original (we've seen photos of the original, and would be hard pressed to tell the difference).

Detail at San Augustin.

Detail of
San Augustin

Head south on Stone, and in a couple of blocks you'll come to San Augustín Cathedral (Site 14). Started in 1896, the sandstone facade of the cathedral is carved with scenes of desert life. Get up close and search out the saguaros, prickly pears, and yuccas. And there are bonus points for the first person to spot the regal horned lizards. If it is open, it is well worth stepping into the cathedral for a look around. But remember, this is an active house of worship, not a tourist attraction, so be polite and show your respect. We are going to digress here a little bit, but you know, at one time an admonishment like that wasn't needed. Men removed their hats, everyone kept quiet so as not to disturb those concentrating on their prayers, and in general kept a civil attitude. So, if you do stop in, as a favor to the Local Couple, please do these simple little things. Little things can sometimes make all the difference.

Onward! When you see the Old Pueblo Printing Company, that's your cue to turn east onto McCormick, so that you'll be able to see the Temple of Music & Art on Scott Street, and check off Site 15. This is the home of the Arizona Theatre Company, and just looks cool. Built in 1927, and recently refurbished, it regularly hosts performances, adding to the nightlife in Tucson. Directly south of the Temple of Music & Art is 14th Street, which will bring you back out to Stone Avenue.

Follow Stone Avenue south a few blocks until you reach the appropriately named Stone Avenue Temple, the site of Arizona's first synagogue (it also happens to be Site 16 on the Local Couple's downtown walking tour). Built in 1910, and recently restored, this double-domed building has been home to the synagogue, a Baptist church, possibly a tavern, and an unintended dwelling for homeless folks; it really suffered the ravages of time. But that is now past; the Temple is restored to its former glory, and is currently used for community functions. Across the street is the Mexican Consulate, which is an interesting juxtaposition, to say the least.

Head back north on Stone Ave. until you reach Kennedy Street. Take a left and head west. Once again, there isn't any one particular thing that is supposed to stand out, but just the general atmosphere of the Barrio Viejo (Old Neighborhood). When you reach Main, turn north past the Carrillo Elementary School. Immediately south of the El Minuto parking lot, you'll find Site 17, El Tiradito. Now, we talk about El Tiradito elsewhere on these web pages, so you can find out the details there. Also, as noted elsewhere, El Minuto is the Local Couple's favorite Mexican restaurant. When Main Street comes to a T-intersection, you will be at Cushing Street.  

Cushing Street Bar&Grill
Teatro Carmen

The Teatro Carmen in the Barrio District.

Walk east on Cushing for one block until you reach Meyer Street (you'll see the Cushing Street Bar and Grill on the corner -- stop in, tell 'em the Local Couple sent you, and you get a pint of Guinness for the regular price). Head south on Meyer for about a half-block. At 380 S. Meyer, there is the Teatro Carmen (Site 18), one of the first theaters in Tucson dedicated  to presenting dramatic works in Spanish. (Right next door is a cool mural, too). Opening night was 20 May 1915, but unfortunately, the theater is now closed and a little the worse for wear. Looking at the outside, you can be sure that it is indeed a loss to the community when places like this close. Cross the street, and check out the iron work on 363 S. Meyer. If you look around, you'll find snakes, a bear, lizards, and other animals. All courtesy (we think) of The Village Blacksmith, a local artist/blacksmith.

La Placita Return to Cushing Street, and make a similar half-block trip down Convent Street. Again, no one thing is supposed to be Site 19. It's just interesting to look at the Sonoran style architecture in the area. Afterwards, head back up Convent Street, which becomes Church as you cross Cushing Street, and return to your starting place: La Placita.