In the latest in our series on local architects and their favorite places, Robin Shambach is drawn to the University of Arizona’s Main Gate.
As I entered through the Main Gate entrance of the University of Arizona as an 18-year-old freshman, I had no knowledge of its history. But I instinctively felt that the organization of the space, the scale and materials of the buildings, and the integration of the landscape, made this a college campus like those I had read about or seen in movies.
Main Gate and the historic West Campus district made me feel like I was on the college campus I had always imagined.
That traditional feeling was not just my imagination. The 1919 UA Master Plan by John Beattie Lyman is similar to the Thomas Jefferson plan for the University of Virginia. The secondary row of dormitories and use of curving paths and streets, in contrast to the symmetrical and classical characteristics of the buildings, are distinctly Jeffersonian.
At the same time, I felt a familiarity with the place. The grass lawns, trees like olives, pines and cypress, and the flood basin irrigation, were so reminiscent of my origins in the small community of Oak Creek in the Verde Valley in north central Arizona. There, yards and fields were irrigated by ditches and the early pioneers imported trees and plants from their eastern homes. Many of the trees located in West Campus are included in the Campus Arboretum and some, like the Chinese Pistachio, are designated Heritage Trees.
Although this part of campus has a public nature, there is also a sense of personal ownership — particular places that feel private. The arcade of orange trees between Gila and Maricopa halls is my favorite example of this. For you it might be the turtle pond, or one of the benches that line the tree-shaded path which looks out over the flood basins and the lava rock wall to the busy street life on Park Avenue.
Now that the Main Gate area has new vibrancy with restaurants, shops and the modern streetcar, the tranquility of the West Campus Historic District provides the same respite and pleasure it has for more than 100 years.