Tucson’s home-tour season has a new kid on the block — San Clemente.
The midtown historic neighborhood is holding its inaugural event April 22.
“People are aware of Sam Hughes, Blenman-Elm,” says resident Margot Veranes Edgecombe, one of the event’s organizers. “Not as many people know San Clemente, and it’s equally wonderful.”
Cecil Lytle and his wife Betty McManus Lytle agree. Wholeheartedly.
The couple, who’ve been married for a decade, bought their four-bedroom, three-bath home not long after they exchanged vows. Betty jokes that Cecil, who’d been doing consulting work in town, had a “cockamamie” plan to move here.
“I said, ‘Where is Tucson?’” she laughs, and adds that her one request was to be within walking distance of a Starbucks.
The couple also live in a downtown San Diego condo — Cecil, a classical pianist, is professor emeritus at the University of California, San Diego and provost emeritus at the university’s Thurgood Marshall College while Betty, a former piano teacher, is a retired mediator and training specialist with the National Conflict Resolution Center.
“After 40 years, I know everyone in San Diego,” says Cecil, who admits to getting easily sucked onto volunteer boards. “The only way to protect my retirement was to leave town.”
Nothing in the foothills seemed quite right, but once they walked into the San Clemente house with the built-in bookshelves and wood-beam ceilings, they knew they were home.
Betty and Cecil recall that they swung open the front door, breezed straight through the great room and screened-in patio and were drawn to the bubbling backyard fountain.
They told their real estate agent they’d take it. She gently asked if they didn’t want to see the rooms first.
“It’s our retreat in the desert,” Betty says of the 2,022-square foot, four-bedroom home. “Every room just feels good in this house.”
Originally built in 1941 for John and Clara Lee Tanner, who were known for their pivotal roles supporting and promoting Southwest Indian arts, the house was designed by John Joynt, a General Motors Institute grad who knew how to make smart use of small spaces, thanks to his experience designing car interiors. Not long after Betty and Cecil moved in, Joynt’s widow Isabel visited the home, telling the new owners she could see his touch in the built-in bookshelves and closets.
The home has tons of storage, along with plenty of little nooks and a stretch of built-in cabinetry topped with a long counter that spans the entire eastern end of the great room. It’s such a handy feature that the couple even gave it a name. It’s called Chico, as in, “Where did you put that striped tablecloth?” “Check Chico.”
The couple redid the small, white-washed galley kitchen, installing soapstone counters and charmingly rustic, knotty alder cabinets. The roof also needed some serious attention.
“The house used to groan and pop at night,” says Betty, who adds that sometimes, it sounded like an entire football team ominously pounding around up there.
Turns out 75 years of layering roof coatings, tile and even concrete were to blame. In a testament to the home’s structural soundness, tons of material were torn out.
Another big project Betty and Cecil undertook was renovating the screened-in patio. French doors from the great room and another set from the master bedroom open out onto the expansive porch, which is ringed with a low wall topped with bull-nosed bricks that serves as extra seating. The mesh screening is so fine, it disappears as you look out onto the backyard lined with brick walkways, a tile-accented fountain and filled with the intoxicating smell of orange and grapefruit trees in bloom.
It’s a great space for entertaining, which the home’s previous owners did regularly. Matriarch Mary K. Foster was known for hosting a 5:30 p.m. cocktail hour. Guests were expected to vacate promptly at 7 p.m., according to neighborhood lore.
The home has three “very vintage bathrooms” — so says Betty — that the Lytles left untouched, right down to the black, cursive writing near the floor in one of them. It reads “Cornelia Foster March 1968.” No doubt she was claiming ownership of the space over her two sisters.
In San Diego, Betty says, they listen to people yelling in nearby bars at closing time. Here, it’s the howling of coyotes at night.
“It’s so friendly and quiet,” she says of the neighborhood, which holds regular picnics and garden exchanges where people swap cuttings as well as veggies and fruit. An active ListServe alerts residents to stray dogs and other area goings-on.
Their San Clemente retreat is a special place, she says.
“It’s the most beautiful house I’ve ever lived in and ever will,” Betty says. “I consider it a real honor to have such a beautiful home.”