The Bates Mansion, on North Stone Avenue and West Franklin Street, is a downtown landmark - well known for three decades as the former home of the Mountain Oyster Club, a private club where Tucson's elite relaxed and made deals.
But lesser known and maybe more important to Tucson's history is that the old club's dining room is home to Salvador Corona's murals.
Corona, who came to Tucson from Mexico in the mid-1940s and died in 1990, was for many years one of Tucson's leading artists. His graceful, folk-art renditions of Colonial Mexico can still be found in some Tucson homes and businesses.
The Bates Mansion is one of three known Arizona properties to have Corona's murals. Not only is the 49-year-old dining room mural rare, it is deteriorating. A local effort is under way to preserve it.
The mural and two others by Corona in the mansion are considered significant contributions to Tucson's historic and cultural heritage, according to Archaeology Southwest, a nonprofit research and education institute whose offices are located in the building.
Corona's work is representative of the folk-art tradition that came to Tucson at a time when the city was trying to redefine itself, said Diane Dittemore, an ethnological collections curator at the Arizona State Museum. Dittemore and her husband, Seth Schindler, are partners with Archaeology Southwest to preserve the murals and convert the property into commercial space.
The mansion, which sits just south of the North Stone underpass on the southwest corner, is listed on the National Historic Registry. It shares a common adobe wall with the historic Jácome home. The Jácomes owned a downtown department store on North Stone Avenue and were one of Corona's Tucson patrons.
In addition to the large mural in the dining room, there are two small exterior murals. One is over the Stone Avenue entrance, and the second is on the archway of the north-side parking lot facing the inside patio.
But it is the large mural that is in danger. Water in the adobe wall has damaged it and continues to eat away at the colorful scene of bucolic Colonial Mexico.
Corona, who was a bullfighter before turning to painting, often depicted 17th- and 18th-century Mexico based on stories he heard while growing up in the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua in the early 20th century, according to Corona biographer Corinne Holm Milton in her book "Corona: Torero y Artista/Bullfighter and Artist."
Corona turned to art after being seriously gored by a bull in 1919. Initially, he learned the art of lacquering and decorative painting of furniture. He learned about Spanish Colonial architecture and Spanish and French Colonial clothes. In 1939, he traveled to New York City's World's Fair to represent Mexico.
His furniture art attracted the attention of well-heeled clients, including President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
About 1945, Arizona rancher and businessman Howell Manning invited Corona to Tucson to paint murals and furniture. Corona painted a rotunda in the Manning House in Snob Hollow, west of downtown.
He brought his wife, Maria Luisa, and two daughters, Guadalupe and Mercedes, for a temporary stay that turned into a permanent Tucson residence.
"He was very caring," said Corona's grandson, William Canizales, a lead carpenter at the University of Arizona.
Corona painted a Venetian scene at Vince's Italian Restaurant in Tucson and a mural at the Hacienda Corona de Guevavi, a bed-and-breakfast near Nogales, Ariz.
There have been two major exhibitions of his work: in 1989 at the Arizona Historical Society and in 2010 at the Arizona State Museum.
Next Sunday, Jan. 27, Archaeology Southwest will host a "Corona Tardeada" reception at the Bates Mansion, 283 N. Stone Ave., from 2 to 4 p.m.
Speakers will be the author Holm Milton; consulting preservation architect Bob Vint; and Charlie Burton, the consulting painting conservator. There will be a rare showing of Corona's works from several local collections.
Seating is limited. For reservations call 1-520-358-3660.
Ernesto "Neto" Portillo Jr. is editor of La Estrella de Tucsón. He can be reached at (520) 573-4187 or at email@example.com