Starr Pass Boulevard, which begins where 22nd Street and Interstate 10 meet and heads west until it ends at the JW Marriott Tucson Starr Pass Resort & Spa, was named after a toll road built in 1884 that ran nearby.
The road’s namesake was born Richard Pollock on Sept. 3, 1844, in the state of New York, the second child of Sebastian and Melinda Pollock. His father, a merchant from Europe, died in 1847 in New York, and it’s believed that Richard’s grandfather, S. Leopold Pollock, helped raise him until his mother married Thomas N. Starr in 1851 and the children adopted the Starr name.
The family sailed around Cape Horn at the bottom of South America and arrived in San Francisco, where Starr was the proprietor of a hotel. The couple would have five more children, but one would die in infancy.
Richard Starr lived in San Francisco for many years and worked as telegrapher. He was also involved in the failed Alaska-Siberia Telegraph (aka Collins’ Overland Telegraph) project in the mid-1860s.
In 1868, he was a bookkeeper in San Francisco, and two years later he was working as a telegraph operator in Humboldt County, Nevada. Around 1877, in California, he married a New Yorker named Henrietta (commonly called Hettie), and they had their first child, Seely T. Starr, on Dec. 2, 1877.
In 1880, Starr arrived in Tucson from Yountville, California, where he had worked as a telegrapher for the Southern Pacific Railroad. By the following year he was working at the Western Union Telegraph Office as a clerk and operator.
In 1882, he was working as a real estate agent, and that summer he sold Pima County Sheriff Bob Paul an adobe house at 146 E. Pennington St. for $2,900. The lawman and his wife lived in that house for 20 years.
A Jan. 15, 1884, Arizona Daily Star article described the beginnings of the original Starr Pass road: “The stockholders of the Arizona Telegraph Company, organized for the purpose of building a telegraph line from this city to the Quijotoa bonanzas (mines) ... yesterday met and elected officers and let the contract for the construction of the line.
“The contract for building and equipping the line, complete and ready for operation, was let to J.A. Browder and Richard Starr at $210 a mile. These gentleman will begin work at once, and say that they will have it in operation within sixty days if nothing happens. Mr. Starr, accompanied by Mr. Richards, civil engineer, and Samuel Hughes, C.R. Drake and Thomas Driscoll, will leave this morning to select the most practicable route.”
Three days later, Starr recorded with the Pima County Recorder’s Office a certificate and plat map in which he named the future Starr Pass “Quijotoa Toll Road.”
On April 3, 1884, the Star announced that the first telegraph from Quijotoa to Tucson had been accomplished the day before: “Quijotoa, April 2 —The Forces of nature allow the bonanza camp to salute Tucson by wire for the first time and convey to the Star the cheerful intelligence that the prospects are of the very brightest.”
It’s likely the toll road and telegraph line didn’t see much use after the boom at the Quijotoa mining district ended about 1885. Mining in that area died off around 1894.
On May 3, 1884, Richard and Hettie’s second child, Richard R. Starr Jr., was born, followed five years later by Eugene Grant Starr on Feb. 22, 1889.
In the 1897 Tucson City Directory, Starr is listed as an auctioneer living at 134 W. Pennington St. It’s likely he was still involved in real estate, because that was the profession listed the following year, with an office at 73 W. Congress St.
In 1901, the Starr family moved down the street to 194 W. Pennington and moved again the following year to 192 Court St.
On March 10, 1904, in partnership with L.W. Wakefield (likely former Pima County Sheriff Lyman W. Wakefield), Starr bought 80 acres of land for $10,000 from Ellen Lonergan. On it he built the South Park Addition, bounded by East 22nd Street to the north, East 25th Street to the south, South First Avenue (railroad tracks) to the east and South Sixth Avenue to the west. The name of the addition likely came from the city park now known as Santa Rita Park, then called South Park.
By 1906, the family was living in the South Park Addition, at the corner of 22nd Street and Second Avenue.
Richard Starr died on Feb. 28, 1916, after a long fight with chronic bronchitis. He is buried at Evergreen Cemetery.
The original Starr Pass (Quijotoa Toll Road) still exists today, known as the Starr Pass Trail.
Starr Pass Boulevard was originally part of 22nd Street, but the Tucson City Council changed its name on Aug. 2, 1993.
Note: Eugene Grant Starr, Richard Starr’s son, is the namesake of the National Audubon Society’s Starr Ranch Sanctuary in Orange County, California.