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Modern design earns historic status for Tucson home by famed local architect

Modern design earns historic status for Tucson home by famed local architect

A north-side home designed and lived in by a prominent University of Arizona architecture professor is Tucson’s newest historic landmark.

The City Council on Tuesday voted to designate the 1968 concrete-block house by architect and educator W. Kirby Lockard, who lived there until 1978 and died in 2007.

“When you drive up to this house, it definitely stands out,” said Demion Clinco, CEO of the Tucson Historic Preservation Foundation. “It’s definitely a modernistic expression of architecture. It’s highly distinctive.”

The foundation nominated the property as a city landmark in February with the help and support of its then-owners, Gary and Ava Blank, who bought the place in 2011.

Ava Blank said she was drawn to the home even before she knew all of its rich history.

“I knew it was impressive. I knew it was incredibly unique. I didn’t know all the details,” she said.

Blank spent the next nine years learning about the man who designed the house as she renovated it using Lockard’s own drawings, which she said included details right down to where he planned to put the furniture.

Lockard taught at UA for more than 40 years, and published a number of books on the art and science of architectural illustration. Clinco said Lockard was well-known far beyond Tucson for his drawings.

The modern-looking two-story home he designed for himself on Lind Road, near Fort Lowell Road and Tucson Boulevard, is an example of Brutalist architecture, a postwar movement that first emerged from Great Britain in the 1950s.

The form is characterized by angular geometric shapes and bare building materials — usually exposed concrete or brick — with monochromatic colors and little adornment.

Clinco said many civic buildings were built in the Brutalist style during the middle of the 20th century, including Pima Community College’s West Campus on Anklam Road and the Mathematics Building and library at the University of Arizona.

Style goes from villain to hero

Brutalist houses are much harder to find. “I think there are just a very, very small handful of homes in Tucson that are built in this style,” Clinco said.

Brutalism eventually fell out of favor after critics labeled it as cold and soulless, even linking it to totalitarian regimes like the Soviet Union.

In the movies, Clinco said, “the supervillain’s lair is often a concrete, Brutalist structure.”

The style has enjoyed something of a renaissance in recent years, thanks in part to an effort to rebrand it as “Heroic architecture.”

Lockard’s best-known design — and a striking example of the Brutalist aesthetic in Tucson — is the Dove of Peace Lutheran Church on Rollercoaster Road just west of Oracle Road, Clinco said. Lockard “won a number of awards” for the design.

The architect’s house on Lind Road is a sort of companion piece, Clinco said. “There’s a real connection between those two properties.”

The house sits on a 1-acre lot in the Richland Heights Neighborhood, which was at the edge of town when it was subdivided in 1926. Advertisements at the time touted it as a place “to establish a country home with city conveniences.”

New designation comes with teeth

Blank said the neighborhood eventually attracted quite a few university professors, Lockard among them.

After living in his creation, Lockard sold the house in 1978 to Jack DeBartolo, another accomplished architect with whom he had collaborated. DeBartolo added his own modernist touches: a garage and a guesthouse that have since, in Clinco’s words, “achieved significance in their own right.”

Only a dozen other Tucson structures have been listed as landmarks by the city, and only a few of those are homes. Securing such a designation is “very costly and complicated,” Clinco said.

And unlike the National Register of Historic Places, which largely encourages preservation through tax abatements, city landmark status comes with a zone change and some real teeth, he said.

Any major changes to the house on Lind will now be subject to review by the Tucson-Pima County Historical Commission.

Demolition of the structure would require approval from the mayor and council, Clinco said.

The city’s designation could also help the house win national landmark status someday, if the new owners decide to pursue that.

Old house gets new owners

The Blanks recently sold the property and moved into a place on the east side that needs nothing done to it.

Ava Blank said securing historic status for the old house was a kind of parting gift to a property they poured so much work into.

“It was the most beautiful place to spend quarantine in,” she said.

The Blanks got several offers when they listed the house, including one from someone who wanted to turn it into a vacation rental and another from a developer with dreams of splitting up the large lot.

Instead, the Blanks sold to a family that had lived in a historic home before and seemed eager to preserve this one.

Blank is happy to leave the place in good hands. As far as she’s concerned, there is nothing brutal about the Kirby Lockard house.

“My family called it the magical house,” Blank said. “It’s anything but cold.”

Contact reporter Henry Brean at or 520-573 4283. On Twitter: @RefriedBrean

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