WHERE WE LIVE: BEL AIR RANCH ESTATES

Where We Live: Bel Air Ranch Estates

2013-05-05T00:00:00Z 2013-12-05T13:59:33Z Where We Live: Bel Air Ranch EstatesGabrielle Fimbres Special To The Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Editor's note: Our series explores Tucson neighborhoods' homes, vibes and people. Look for the Where We Live series monthly in the Home + Life section of the Arizona Daily Star.

Dorrell-Jo MacWhinnie strolls down the street with her stunning Egyptian Arabian, stopping for her 10-year-old neighbor to give the horse a treat and a pat on the nose.

Nicolai is somewhat of a celebrity among neighborhood kids in Bel Air Ranch Estates.

"I'll be walking with Nicolai and I feel like I am walking with a rock star," MacWhinnie said. "A neighbor will be driving by and I'll hear, 'Daddy, daddy, it's Nicolai. You have to stop.' "

Bel Air Ranch Estates was the first - and perhaps only - equestrian subdivision in Tucson, according to neighbors. It touches Tanque Verde Road to the south, Solider Trail to the east, Melpomene Way to the west and stretches north beyond Prince Road.

"Instead of a pool or tennis courts it had a stable for the community members," MacWhinnie said.

The community is known for Pride, the iconic fiberglass horse that stands watch at the Tanque Verde entrance of the neighborhood on Tucson's far northeast side.

Community stable

As the story goes, developers were having difficulty selling the pristine lots that - in the early 1970s - seemed a world away from town. So they built stables where homeowners could keep their horses as an incentive to buy.

While the stables were later sold, some residents continue to board horses there. Others - like MacWhinnie and her partner, Ed Berkeley - keep horses on their property.

MacWhinnie and Berkeley moved into their burnt adobe brick home nearly two decades ago, seeking solace from city life. They wanted a place where Berkeley could ride his bike to work at Canyon Ranch, where he runs the bike department.

While groceries and other essentials of life - like coffee from Le Buzz Caffe - are just a few minutes away, the couple loves the quiet and the abundance of nature in their hideaway.

Nature's amenities and history

MacWhinnie's favorite time of day is an hour before sunset, when the light on the mountains turns to gold.

"It's so nice to sit outside with a glass of wine and smell the sweet scent of acacia," she said. "At night you hear great horned owls and coyotes. We have views of the Catalinas and the Rincons and Agua Caliente Hill. It's magnificent."

When the summer rains come, the Agua Caliente Wash is quick to fill. "Neighbors will bring lawn chairs and boom boxes down to the creek, set up their chairs and enjoy the 'beach,' " MacWhinnie said.

This neighborhood of 432 properties - most consisting of an acre or more - is in the Tanque Verde Valley. The area is rich in history, reported to have been visited frequently by Apache Indians as well as soldiers from Fort Lowell.

It boasts one of the older school districts around, formed in 1886. One of the things longtime resident Dave Baird appreciated most when his kids were young was Tanque Verde School District.

"In Bel Air Ranch, we have one of the best school systems in the state," said Baird, a retired Air Force pilot and flight instructor who moved into the neighborhood in 1972. Baird served as president of the Bel Air community association for 13 years.

"The mountains enhance the location," Baird said. "When I get my newspaper in the morning and I look at the Catalina Mountains with the sun on them, it still gives me a shiver."

This son of a dairy farmer was drawn to the desert beauty.

"It's really a wonderful place to live. It's quiet, and it's very open, with a lot of space. I don't like to be crowded."

Pride of the neighborhood

While about two-thirds of residents can keep horses on their property, he estimated that about a third do. While not many "For Sale" signs can be found, homes for sale in the area range from about $200,000 to nearly $500,000.

Neighbors stay on top of any graffiti or vandalism, which means protecting Pride, the fiberglass Arabian who stands atop a tall brick structure.

"That horse has been yanked off five times," Baird said. "Last time it broke the legs off, so we put steel through the legs."

A monitoring system now protects the pony. "We are very proud of that horse," Baird said.

Jim Mulligan, who has lived in the neighborhood for 25 years with his wife, Mary Ann Mulligan, is in charge of the horse. At patriotic holidays, he decorates the area with the American flag and flags from each of the military branches.

Contact local freelance writer Gabrielle Fimbres at gfimbres@comcast.net

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