House was just one part of Manning's grand reach

2013-03-31T00:00:00Z 2014-07-15T17:55:07Z House was just one part of Manning's grand reachTony Davis Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
March 31, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Clare Schnaufer, now 85, lived in the Manning House for 18 years and was married there in 1948.

She herself never much cared for the house and hasn't missed it since she moved away more than 60 years ago.

But if the 106-year-old building were demolished, she believes Tucson would miss it a great deal.

"I just wasn't a city person, but for historical reasons, it should be preserved," said Schnaufer, the granddaughter of Levi Manning, the early Tucson mayor for whom the house is named. "I just hope somebody buys it and they don't tear it down. It would be an awful loss."

Major entrepreneur

Back in 1907, the house, built of stuccoed brick on a rock foundation, was about 12,000 square feet. It was home to the family and servants of Manning, a former newspaper reporter and an entrepreneur who has been compared to Howard Hughes for the boldness of his exploits.

Manning invested in mines, the Canoa cattle ranch, an ice and electric company, a big downtown hotel, fertile land in the Flowing Wells area, railroad construction projects in Mexico, oil wells in California, even a mule-powered streetcar line in Tucson, which he electrified.

The North Carolina-born, Mississippi-raised son of a congressman and Civil War veteran was the grandson of plantation owners on both sides of his family. He served as U.S. surveyor-general for the Territory of Arizona in the 1890s and was elected Tucson's 17th mayor in 1905 on an anti-gambling ticket - a promise he kept by ridding the city of gambling during his term in office.

The house itself was built amid grain fields that Manning later helped develop into an upscale subdivision known as Snob Hollow. The original Manning House was designed by Southwestern architect Henry Trost with considerable input from Manning's wife, Gussie, the daughter of a judge. It combined Spanish Colonial, Territorial, Italian Renaissance and Prairie style architecture into one sprawling structure surrounded by palm trees and bougainvilleas.

The original, elongated structure had 16 rooms, servants' quarters, a stable and two ponds. Out back, the family built Tucson's first private swimming pool - an elevated bamboo structure - and a seven-car garage. Gussie Manning commissioned a leading Mexican-born artist, Salvador Corona, to paint frescoes featuring exotic birds and floral designs in pale blue, gold and silver hues in the building's south rotunda. The paintings remain today.

House passed to son

Levi Manning died in 1935, and the house and Canoa Ranch passed to his son, Howell Manning Sr., who adopted Schnaufer at age 3.

"We had an Arabian stallion over there, a horse, a cow, chickens and peacocks," recalled Schnaufer, who split her time between the home and ranch until marrying in 1948. "We had palm trees, cottonwood trees and a walnut tree outside. We had two goldfish ponds. We had a cook, a maid, a laundress and a chauffeur."

She recalled the home as a showpiece, drawing movie stars such as William Holden and Jean Arthur to visit and play. Local luminaries were also a frequent presence, including department store and Pioneer Hotel owner Harold Steinfeld and downtown car dealer Monty Mansfield.

"It was party, party time - there were parties about once a month," recalled Schnaufer, who today lives on a former family ranch about 20 miles south of Tucson.

The house was sold because the Mannings had a home in Guaymas, Sonora, as well as Canoa Ranch, which at its peak covered 100,000 acres south of what's now Green Valley. With the Mannings' two sons already grown, "Once I got married, once they got rid of me, they decided to get rid of the house," Schnaufer said.

The Manning family empire started to dissolve after Howell Jr. was killed in a car accident in 1951. Howell Sr. gradually sold off much of the ranchland before he died in 1966.

What was left of the original ranch was sold to Fairfield Homes in the 1990s. Today, about 4,800 acres is a public preserve, and 1,200 acres were allowed to be developed for housing.

Elks club additions

Back in Tucson, the Elks Club added nearly 20,000 square feet to the Manning House, then sold it to the city of Tucson in 1979, the year it landed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The city sold it in 1984 to a Canadian developer, who spent $1.5 million renovating it, then used it as office space. The building changed hands once more before a Chicago-area firm sold it to it to Colleen Concannon's family in 1997 for $2.2 million.

The family poured another $3 million or so into restoring and refurbishing the house. By the start of this century, so many changes had been made that two architecture historians pronounced the current building "unrecognizable" compared with the original. Architecturally, besides Corona's frescoes in the rotunda, "little integrity remains," wrote Brooks Jeffery and Anne Nequette, in their 2002 Guide to Tucson Architecture.

But Jonathan Mabry, the city's historic preservation officer, said last week that the building's front facade has been sufficiently preserved and restored over the years for the building to keep its historic status. Even a proposed removal of some of the post-1949 additions would have to be carefully reviewed, he said.

"Some recent additions are so recent that they could be removed for sure, while some of the earliest additions may have acquired historical significance in their own right," Mabry said via email.

"There have been many interior changes, but preservation of the exterior, particularly the front face, is most critical in maintaining its historic significance, because that is what is most visible to the public."

Contact reporter Tony Davis at tdavis@azstarnet.com or 806-7746.

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