The mid-1920s in Tucson were a time when someone living near the corner of what is now Elm Street and Campbell Avenue might say, “I think I’ll start a rodeo.”
And then actually do it.
The Tucson rodeo and parade, one of Tucson’s longest standing traditions, was the brainchild of Frederick Leighton Kramer, who cleared a field on his property in 1925 in what is now the historic Catalina Vista neighborhood, put up bleachers for 3,000 spectators, and offered $6,650 in prize money to the cowboys of the day.
Back in that day, the rodeo site was on the very outskirts of Tucson, northeast of where the University of Arizona put its footprint. Catalina Vista, now officially designated as a National Register Historic District, lies between Grant Road and Elm Street, and Campbell Avenue and Tucson Boulevard.
Kramer passed away in 1930, but the rodeo — now in another part of town — and his legacy remain. When the neighborhood was developed as Catalina Vista Estates and streets were named, the main street heading north from Elm Street leading to the trademark circular park on Waverly Street was named after him.
Even today, residents are preserving what’s left of his presence in the neighborhood.
Last year, his home on Elm Street — which at points in its existence was a school for girls and a kindergarten run by Catholic nuns — was demolished to make way for a new housing development. The home had been empty and in disrepair for more than a decade when it was torn down, never having made it into the National Register of Historic Places that would have prevented its demise. But neighbors raised money to salvage hundreds of the distinctive green porcelain roof tiles from the home and used them to roof a ramada in Tahoe Park, a place in the neighborhood where residents always have and still can enjoy some solitude or time in the sun.
“That’s what’s good about this neighborhood,” said Alison Hughes, president of the Catalina Vista Neighborhood Association. “It pulled together to raise the money to put that ramada up.”
Other portions of Kramer’s 170-acre spread in the neighborhood were split up over the years to make way for the neighborhood development in the 1940s and later. The stables and other buildings have been converted to homes, including one that is painted bright blue and stands as a symbol of the neighborhood’s history. What is said to be Tucson’s first built-in swimming pool remains in use on the property.
Through the years, residents have come and many have stayed.
Elda DuPont is 93 years old and has lived in Catalina Vista since 1953 when she moved in with her husband, Bill, a little more than a dozen years after the area was planned for development, named and advertised as a neighborhood “scientifically planned to conform with the Tucson of tomorrow.” As homes were being built and residents were moving in, the neighborhood was annexed into the city of Tucson in 1946.
Given the chance, DuPont can recall street by street and house by house who lived where, how many kids were in those families and who worked where. Her home was literally the edge of town at the time.
“My husband was in the fire department and you had to live in the city,” DuPont recalled. “That was as far as you could go. There were no roads just kind of a path that was all dirt.”
DuPont’s uncle, Al Hubbard, built her home, one of an estimated 20 he built in the neighborhood which features the work of some of Tucson’s most prominent architects and homebuilders including Josias Joesler and Arthur Brown. The homes are an array of Tucson architecture with a significant number of adobe houses, pitched roofs, some tiled, some not. The homes range in size. Some even have basements, not a common trait of the architecture of today.
Like many of Tucson’s historic neighborhoods, present and past residents are of the “who’s who” of Tucson history with names like Drachman, Jacome, Estes, Mansfield and Kinerk. There were mayors and prominent business people, some famous just in Tucson and some beyond.
A book, “Tucson’s Catalina Vista: The Neighborhood and Some of Its People” by Bill and Kay Bigglestone, chronicles the neighborhood’s history.
Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood and a long-time advocate of women’s rights lived in the neighborhood from 1950 until she died in 1966. Her son, Stuart, lived next door. The book quotes a Tucson Citizen news story in which Sanger was quoted as saying “Arthur Brown did the perfect house for me — I do not care for boxes or square rooms. And when I look out the windows, I do not want to see the ground. I want to see sky and trees and flowers.”
One of Tucson’s most notorious residents, Joseph Bonanno, took up residence in Catalina Vista in 1974, which brought a level of curiosity to the neighborhood. Residents knew he was there. They knew his reputation as a Mafia crime boss. They witnessed law enforcement agents rummaging through his trash looking for evidence to convict him of a crime.
But to them, Bonanno was just a charming neighbor.
“If you didn’t know his reputation and you met him, you wouldn’t think anything about it,” said Dave Sunderman, who was 10 years old when his family moved there in 1948. He still lives in the home where he grew up.
Bonanno’s presence at Saints Peter and Paul Roman Catholic Church, which sits just south of the neighborhood on Campbell Avenue across from the UA medical school, was just a part of going to church, Sunderman said.
“The ushers would always sit in the back and Joe would sit in a section on the edge with his arm over the edge of the pew,” Sunderman said. “That was his spot. And his guards would be in the back with the ushers.”
“He was a very handsome man, very charming,” DuPont recalled.
Suzi Deurloo grew up in Tucson and knew of the neighborhood. Attending nearby Salpointe Catholic High School meant she would hang out with friends at Tahoe Park, which is at the southeast corner of Norris Avenue and Edison Street, a block south of Grant Road and a block east of Campbell.
“All the Salpointe kids used to play hooky and have lunch here,” Deurloo said. “They’d go to ‘The Bone’ and get something to eat and bring it here,” she said, referencing the nearby Lucky Wishbone fried chicken establishment.
When the opportunity presented itself, her family bought an adobe home in the center of the neighborhood.
Even before moving in, her family had history in Catalina Vista. She said her grandfather, Jim Kane, was the champion all-around cowboy in the 1927 rodeo held on the Kramer property.
“Because of where my house is, we always get a kick out of saying that grandpa won the rodeo,” Deurloo said. Her home backs up to where the rodeo was held.
Deurloo happened upon her future home when she stopped by during an estate sale 22 years ago.
“I walked in the house and started shaking really hard. I think I was shaking because I was meant to be there,” she said. “There was no ‘for sale” sign or anything but I asked them if they wanted to sell the house.”
The owner said he was planning to list it for sale, but she talked him out of it and her family bought the home.
It was built by architect Henry Jaastad who would be Tucson’s mayor from 1933 to 1947, and whose architectural work includes the façade of St. Augustine’s Cathedral, the old El Conquistador Hotel, what is now Safford Middle School, Dunbar School and some of the buildings at Tucson Medical Center.
For the most part, the house maintains its original structure with the exception of the ceramic tile the Deurloos have installed. There’s been a remodel of the kitchen. The beamed ceilings, tiles over the fireplace and the mission doors at the entrance are Jaastad originals.
“Our house was at the end of his career and we think he was pretty smart,” Deurloo said.
But it’s not just the homes that keep Deurloo and others in the neighborhood. It’s the people.
“People stay. They live here a long time. That’s what we like,” Deurloo said. “It’s not a very transient neighborhood. I’m sure people have to move sometimes, but for the most part, it seems to me people love their homes and want to be here for as long as they can.”
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