I found these notes buried in the “Old Articles” section of the APNA website (ArmoryParkTucson.org) in a November 2014 article. They deserve to be republished for those of us trying to learn more about our community. Thanks to our neighbors for their contributions.
Railroad executives built homes, many of which are on each side of Railroad Street, and were built in the style of the East (Queen Anne, brick) to remind them of home, I suppose. They typically have two front doors, one for the family and the other for an office or for other executives who visited. My house has a dirt basement opening from the outside with ledges built in for the railroad workers to sleep where they would be cooler, if not very comfortable. –Nancy Myers
Our neighborhood developed and grew as a result of the railroad so there should be more of its history reflected in any art project depicting Armory Park. The Queen Anne style homes, Victorians, etc. were made possible because red brick and lumber was more plentiful now that the railroad came through here (1880). Folks could actually build their home with a peaked roof, wrap around porch and materials other than adobe. In fact some of the existing adobe structures had porches added just to blend into the “new” style of home sprouting up in the area. My own family worked for the Southern Pacific railroad for three generations starting with my grandfather (laborer) back in the early 1920s until retirement in the late 1940s, then my dad (mechanic/welder) from the late 1930s until he passed away in 1972. One of my cousins retired about ten years ago after a very successful run of about 30 plus years in sales for now the Union Pacific. Finding a home in Armory Park during housing shortages was quite the achievement and the motivations were: 1. proximity to work-the railroad yard on 22nd street and cherry/aviation was located at Toole as was the Round House (back in the day of steam engines and the tower previously located in what is now Armory Park del Sol. PFE (Pacific Fruit Express) also had a significant presence in the neighborhood. 2. Good school nearby–Safford still stands despite a shaky reputation in the 1950s and 1960s–much improved since I attended during that era. 3. A Catholic Church –All Saints-now a condemned building on the southwest corner of 14th Street and 6th Ave. Great place to grow up, to live, to retire, to enjoy all of Tucson’s vibrant offerings in art, history, nearby museums and educational institutions, spiritual development and continuing the welcoming spirit of the southwest. Oh, and the plethora of downtown restaurants, a new grocery store, and for the most part, good, solid decent neighbors. Now, bring on the retailers that were part of the history! -Julieta
The focus of Armory Park was, indeed, the SPRR after its arrival in 1880. The maintenance yard was located where AP del Sol now is. Homes of managers, on the east side of 3rd Ave., were torn down when the yard was moved eastward as downtown grew, so SP didn’t have to pay the high taxes on them. Lower level staff & laborers lived in many of the small houses along the alleys (now dedicated avenues) & streets. Many of the larger avenue houses (& even some smaller houses, like mine) have a second front (or other) door that led to a single room that was rented out to temporary/transient RR laborers. There are also what used to be rooming houses for these workers. –Gloria Fenner
Annie Laos and Gerri Braummeir (sp), law professor Winton Woods and the 74ff helped save Armory Park. The tree-planters helped bring back the greenery that was disappearing with all of the old turn of the century dying China Berry trees that are not native to the area. Thank you, Gloria for that–I have one of your trees. Barrio Viejo, or Barrio Libre as it was known originally as well as “El Hoyo” had a significant Chinese residential and commercial presence up and down Meyer Street and Convent. El Hoyo was also home to several well-known bootleggers and bath-tub gin makers during prohibition–you know the type that the local sheriff would warn ahead of a raid whenever the feds were in town. Armory Park had a significant presence of Chinese grocers and markets, many that survived well into the 1960s. –Julieta Gonzalez
Then there are the Gandy Dancers, a slang term used for early railroad workers (usually Negroes) who laid and maintained railroad tracks in the years before the work was done by machines. Jeff Bailey knows more about this, I believe one his houses on 3rd was a boarding house for these men. They used a special tool to align the rails, and developed graceful movements (dances) and folk songs unique to their occupation. –Kathleen Koopman
Before our neighborhood had trains, and beautiful Queen Anne homes with front porches, it sat as unbuilt land just south of a settlement called Tucson.
Tucson had an Armory that served as a storehouse for guns used by Federal troops to defend Tucson’s walled center from raids by Apache Indians. These guns were stored outside the city’s center in an effort to protect them from being stolen by Tucsonans. Ultimately, this stockpile was moved to Fort Lowell.
Tucson’s Armory was built at the southern edge of the city — at the north end of what would become our neighborhood, Armory Park. The attached image of the original Armory building illustrates the park’s (originally Washington Park) namesake. The building’s suggestive battlements with roofline crenellations were meant to convey the building’s “protective” role.
While firearms and military defense may not easily mesh with our sensibilities today; our neighborhood, was functionally linked to the defense of the city. This aspect of our neighborhood is a key reason Tucson survived and grew to become the city that it is.
It seems to me, this aspect of American history is what makes our neighborhood unique. Iron Horse has the claim to “trains”. And front porches exist in many Tucson neighborhoods. And unfortunately porches offer no architectural connection to Armory Park’s oldest homes — adobes such as mine. I applaud our communal search for an essential and unique icon that evokes “Armory Park”, but suggest the answer is found in our neighborhood’s earliest history, and in its name. –Ken Godat