John W. Murphey was born in Tucson on July 20, 1898 to Walter E. and Elizabeth (Bivens) Murphey. He grew up in a Spanish-speaking neighborhood and as a result became fluent in the language. He attended Tucson High School and then served in the military during World War I.
In 1918, he began a construction company and began to develop homes and commercial buildings in the central part of the city.
He graduated from the University of Arizona in 1920 with a degree in geology and the same year married Helen Geyer, whom he had met while she was an employee in the mining school office. They had three children: Robert born in 1930, Patricia in 1931 and John in 1932.
Murphey built a home at 2230 E. Speedway around 1920 and the family lived there for many years. The house would later become the Ronald McDonald House in the 1980s.
By 1927, the John Murphey Building Co. had built more than 200 houses in Tucson. The same year the company brought Swiss-born architect Josias Joesler to Tucson to help design homes.
In 1929, Murphey built the Hacienda del Sol School for Girls, now a guest ranch. In 1939, he built the Joesler-designed Broadway Village Shopping Center, Tucson’s first shopping center, at East Broadway and Country Club.
In 1939, Murphey sold 2.2 acres of land, to be used for a public school, to the Catalina Foothills School District for $10. Joesler designed the small school, called River Road School, which is now the Murphey Administration Center at 2101 E. River Road. The Murpheys commissioned Juan Worner y Bas, a Mexican architect, to build them a house on land they had reserved in the Catalina Foothills for this purpose and, in 1961, Casa Juan Paisano (roughly translated as, “the house of my countryman John”) was built. The home still exists today at 3300 E. Camino Juan Paisano. The street Camino Juan Paisano (roughly translated as, “the road of my countryman John”) appears to have been named in 1961 also.
Murphey spent 50 years in the building trade but is most famous for being the person — along with Joesler and Murphy’s wife Helen — who envisioned and built (starting in 1935) the Catalina Foothills Estates. He died in 1977.
Note: It’s believed that Via Elena, which is close to Camino Juan Paisano, is named for his wife Helen. Helen translated to Spanish is Elena.