Tucson Oddity: Local monument defines on-track

The Epes Randolph Plaza near Hi Corbett Field honors a man who was instrumental in rail development here.


Casa Blanca Plaza's copper dome has a storied past.

The dome dates back to El Conquistador Hotel, which opened on East Broadway in 1928 and was demolished 40 years later.

Tucson's first shopping mall - El Con - opened next to the posh hotel in 1960 and eventually included a new Levy's department store on the former hotel site soon after it was razed.

Developer George N. Genematas put in a bid to buy the copper dome, and family photos from Oct. 2, 1968, show a crane placing the dome of the hotel's old porte-cochere on a City Van & Storage flatbed truck.

The dome was hauled to Casa Blanca Plaza, which was developed by Genematas in the late 1960s and today is still owned and operated by his children.

Genematas, an early developer of the northwest side, died in 2010.

A family photo dated Jan. 17, 1969, shows the copper dome being installed at Casa Blanca Plaza, at North Oracle and West Rudasill roads.

Nick G. Genematas doesn't know what his father paid for the dome, but his family is aware of its prominent history.

"I'm proud to say this is a definite part of Tucson's past," he said.

The first tenant under the dome was a drugstore.

Other original tenants of Casa Blanca Plaza included an AJ Bayless grocery store and a Sprouse-Reitz variety store, Genematas said.

"Back in the day, you had to have the magic three in order to get a mortgage," he said of needing a drugstore, a grocery store and a five-and-dime to develop a shopping center.

Today, the plaza includes a bank, Guiseppe's Ristorante Italiano, Putney's sports bar and women's apparel store Eileen's of Tucson, the only original tenant still at the center.

Joel's Pottery is the most recent business to operate under the dome.

Lemon juice and every copper cleaner the family could find through the years have been used to keep the dome's shine.

The dome is illuminated at night.

After all these years, it still attracts curious spectators.

"We find people standing out there staring at it at all hours of the night," Genematas said.

Contact reporter Andrea Rivera at arivera@azstarnet.com or 807-8430.