University Walk

On the Friday after Thanksgiving, the Local Couple, feeling sluggish, decided to take a walk. This time it was to include the University of Arizona and the 4th Avenue shopping district, with a smattering of interesting neighborhoods tossed in for good measure. You see, when we were finalizing our Local Couple's Downtown walk, we stopped in at the main library and picked out a book on Tucson architecture1 in the hopes of learning a little bit more about what there is to see in Tucson. By combining the sections on the University of Arizona and West University, we formulated a Local Couple's University map (also in portrait mode for ease of printing) for our walk that we thought would cover the more interesting sights mentioned in the book.

That said, let's get walking. First, if you're not already in the UofA area, there is a parking garage on the corner of Euclid and 2nd Street that marks the start of our walk. As a side benefit, this garage is free on the weekends; on weekdays you'll probably find it difficult to park around campus (these parking maps made by the UofA may help). That's the downside to having a vibrant University right downtown; the only downside, we might add. A quick note about the area: many of the streets are numbered, with avenues running north-south, and streets running east-west. Thus, you can be at the corner of 2nd Street and 2nd Avenue.  So check the outline on the map to make sure you're headed in the right direction.

AHS Logo

Azizona Historical Society Museum

The Ornate Façade is
from the Original
San Agustin Church.

Leaving the parking garage, we head west on 2nd Street. Just past the Marriott, on the north side is Site 1: The Arizona Historical Society Museum. The stone portal on the front graced the original San Agustín Cathedral (demolished 1936). Now don't just stand there admiring the outside, step inside and check out the museum itself (there's a request for a five dollar per head donation; give it, you won't be sorry). It is wonderfully done, with exhibits ranging from photos of early Tucson and Arizona, a large exhibit on mining (including a mine shaft), an excellent treatment dealing with the changes in women's clothing and fashion, decade by decade, starting around 1900. We happen to think that this museum is one of the lesser known gems in Tucson.

Leaving the museum, (if you still have time and energy to finish the walk) head south on Park Avenue, until you reach University Boulevard and the main gate for the UofA. Made of volcanic rock in 1916, the gate forms the boundary between the bustle of the city and the calm of the open, green campus, thus earning it the Site 2 designation on the Local Couple's University Walk.

Head directly into the campus, and soon you'll be flanked on the north and south by the Arizona State Museum (Site 3). The North building was the original library for UofA, and the South building was the original anthropology building. Sometime make a point of stopping into this museum, also. Charging no admission (but taking donations), the Arizona State Museum houses some of the best examples of Tohono basketry and prehistoric pottery around. In the past, the Museum also had a small display of old Oaxacan carved animals; these particular carvings, while unrefined compared to today's more commercial offerings, were special. You could tell immediately that they were not made for selling; these were made with all the care the carvers could muster. These are real Oaxacan carvings.

Old Main on the U of A Campus

Old Main, The Original School of Mines.

Continuing east on University Avenue, past the barricades that make this a pedestrian only zone, you'll come upon the defining building for the University, and perhaps Tucson, itself: Old Main. This wonderful structure is the University's first permanent building (1891), and, we think, its best. With its wrap-around veranda and partially sunken first floor, buildings just don't get any better than this one. Naturally, this is Site 4. It's amazing, no, unbelievable is the right word, to realize when you look at Old Main, that in the 1960's the University wanted to raze it! Yes, raze it. We don't know what they wanted to put in its place (probably a parking lot), but we're sure it wouldn't have been an improvement. Fortunately, a campaign to save Old Main was started and wiser heads prevailed. As we will see on our walk, this isn't the only idiotic idea that the University has had over the years that has had to be stopped with a public campaign. See, for example, our next stop.

Boojum (Idria columnarus)

A Boojum,
What More is
There to Say.

Passing Old Main to the south, continue east through the park-like green lawns until you get to Site 5, the Joseph Krutch garden. This small desert garden in the median of what used to be Cherry Avenue houses three of the best examples of boojums here in Tucson, perhaps the United States. These are some of the finest ones we've seen anywhere, and that includes the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Tohono Chul, and the Arboretum at the San Diego Wild Animal Park. Their only rivals that we know of are at Boyce Thompson Arboretum. So, of course, just this year (2002), the University wanted to remove them! And guess what was going to go in their place? Yep, more lawn! Here you have some of the best examples of a tree that most people haven't even heard of, much less seen, and you want to move them off someplace so you can put in more lawn. Words just fail me. Again, the public and students had to rally, and the boojums were saved.

Let's move on before one-half of the Local Couple becomes incoherent at the thought of such stupidity and head on past the Integrated Learning Center with its partly underground patios, past the Flandrau Science Center, Planetarium, and Mineral Museum (Site 6), and out to Campbell Avenue; be sure to notice the clothespin-like sculpture. We call this Site 7, just because it's a good place to turn around and head back down the mall. Plus, we kind of like the sculpture.

Cresting Saguaro

A Nice Example of
A Cresting Saguaro.

Retrace your steps all the way back to the Main Gate, but make sure to go around the north side of Old Main, where you get a chance to see a nice example of a cresting saguaro. This crest occurs when the growth point, or meristem, elongates to a line, causing the folded, fan-like growth. No one knows what causes this cresting, but apparently it occurs in all plants. Also to the north of Old Main, you can find one of the largest Kapok (Silk Floss) trees we have seen. Kapok trees, with their thorn covered trunks, look like something out of a Dr. Seuss book, and besides, it's fun to say Kapok. A side note: the University grounds are a designated arboretum, so you'll find a number of interesting trees if you just go looking.  Many are labeled, too, so you'll know what it is you're seeing.

Art Deco House

A Cool Art Deco House on University Ave.

Head straight down University Blvd., past the Chipotle Mexican Grill (don't eat there, it's just a McDonalds; you can find a good restaurant elsewhere). As you walk down University, you'll move into more of a residential area, with a nice streetscape. In particular, check out the Art Deco façade on the house at 521 E. University. Isn't that great! Just looking at it, you know this is Site 8 on the Local Couple's University Walk. Much of the rest of University Blvd. has wonderful examples of 1930's bungalows that are in various states of renovation or restoration; enough, in fact, to make it a fun stroll.

Art Deco Gas Station

An Excellent Example of Art Deco Architecture.

As you approach Stone Avenue, the grittiness of the city returns for the next couple of blocks. If you're not interested in Art Deco architecture, you can easily cut one block down 6th Avenue and resume the walk at 6th and 4th Street.  We won't be offended. Otherwise, turn south on Stone, walk down one block, and you will find the Art Deco gas station (Site 9). It's not used as a gas station any more, which is a shame, but it looks cool, with its ice cream cone swirl roof and adjacent canopy. After admiring the swirled roof, and thinking how cool it would look with glowing neon striping along the canopy, a couple of snappy uniformed attendants asking to fill 'er up, free air, and a quick cleaning of the windshield, snap out of it and realize that those days are gone forever. And that's a real pity.

Native Seed/SEARCH Logo

Fourth Avenue Scene

Fourth Avenue Street Scene.

Turn east on 4th Street, and walk until you get to 4th Avenue (all of which is Site 10), where you'll find that not all of the past is gone. Heading south along 4th Avenue, you'll find a small enclave of the 60's and 70's still holding forth. Resale shops abound, along with art galleries, restaurants, bars, a food co-op, and several import shops. Head down one side of 4th Avenue, and up the other, and make sure to go all the way to Coronado Hotel just before the 4th Avenue underpass. Currently serving as apartments for elderly and handicapped, this building is a reminder of when downtown Tucson was the place to be. Return up 4th Avenue on the other side of the street, and you'll pass Caruso's (an Italian restaurant and a Tucson landmark), Native Seed/SEARCH, and a jumble of other establishments. All of which make good use of the existing architecture, making for an excellent business streetscape.

When you reach University Blvd., turn east for a couple blocks, then north on 1st Avenue. One block up is 2nd Street (as a side trip, continue up 1st Avenue to the Postal History Foundation), where you'll turn east to return to the starting point, the parking garage at Euclid Avenue and 2nd Street.

 1 Anne M. Nequette and R. Brooks Jeffery, A Guide to Tucson Architecture, The University of Arizona Press/Tucson, 2002.