Schomac Corp., founded by entrepreneurs Michael Schoff and David Mackstaller, purchased numerous parcels of land in 1984-85 to form a large block of about 110 acres.
Their intention was to create Arizona’s first auto mall.
The land was located in Pima County and bounded by the Rillito Wash to the north, Wetmore Road to the south, Fairview Avenue to the west and an area just west of Oracle Road to the east. Of the approximately 110 acres, 72.5 acres was intended for the auto mall and the remaining land was being considered for a car wash, an auto maintenance and service center, tire suppliers, a body shop, as well as banks, restaurants and a shuttle service.
The land was in an unincorporated area, but the developers — along with Jim Click, a leading local auto dealer who had committed to the project — considered it more desirable for the auto mall to be in the city of Tucson. So Mackstaller and Click, a one-time Oklahoma State University football player, partnered to gain support from neighbors for annexation of the land.
In a single day, the dynamic duo visited 50 to 75 homes near the proposed auto mall, doing whatever it took to gain support for the project — Mackstaller at one house bringing in groceries and Click, at another, spending time with an elderly woman who had pulled out a photo album to show pictures of relatives and explain what they were up to.
In October 1985, the Tucson City Council unanimously approved the annexation of the area, known at one point as the Rillito Ranch Estates Annexation District, and later the land was rezoned to allow car dealerships.
By the end of the year, about 80 structures including houses, mobile homes, a water tank and Amphitheater School District’s Alternative Program school had been demolished or moved elsewhere to clear the way for construction of the auto mall.
In June 1986, the groundbreaking for the first car dealership, Holmes Tuttle Hyundai, took place. The automobile lot would open several months later, offering its featured vehicle, the Hyundai Excel, for about $5,000. It is now known as Jim Click Hyundai.
During construction of the general site of the auto mall, workers ran into a potentially explosive problem. As construction workers were digging a trench west of Oracle Road, a backhoe uncovered the remains of 100 to 120 discarded dynamite sticks.
The 8-inch dynamite tubes were found in the front yard of a white, wood-framed house at 503 W. Rillito Lane (now 503 W. Auto Mall Drive).
It was learned that the residents of the home in the 1950s had been miners, used the explosives in their mining operations and may have kept the sticks buried until needed. After the discovery, the unused sticks were placed in a 5-foot-deep pit and burned with diesel fuel by police, and none of the old dynamite exploded.
Construction also changed or wiped out several street names on the property. Rillito Avenue/Lane was changed from a straight east/west alignment to a curved street called Auto Mall Drive. Anna Park Drive, Kerland Avenue and Felisa Avenue disappeared, and a section of Allegheny Street was eliminated.
Other street names were established, although not always in the same place: Sport Road, Auto Sprint Road, Competition Road, Circuit Road and Turbo Road. The street Old Oracle Road that exists on the property was the old alignment of Oracle Road when it curved to the left to meet the old Rillito Bridge, formerly located to the west of the current bridge over the Rillito Wash.
By New Year’s Day 1987, Dobbs Honda had opened its doors at the corner of Auto Mall Drive and Wetmore Road, offering sales and service. It derived its name from a Memphis, Tennessee, family that ran Dobbs Management Service. The dealership was on four acres that had been acquired by the Schomac Corp. the previous year. It later became AutoNation Honda.
Jim Click Nissan, which had been at 2001 N. Stone Ave, relocated in September 1987 to the lot just west of the Hyundai car lot. A second dealership located across from the Nissan dealership would also open as Jim Click Jeep/Eagle.
The year 1988 would see more growth for the Tucson Auto Mall as one of its anchor dealerships, Holmes Tuttle Ford, moved there in January from its long-time location on Broadway.
Its namesake, Holmes P. Tuttle, Click’s great uncle, was born in 1905 in Tuttle, Oklahoma, which was named for his father, James H. Tuttle.
Holmes Tuttle arrived in Los Angeles by freight train in the mid-1920s and soon went to work in a local Ford dealership. By 1946, he owned his own dealership, Holmes Tuttle Inc., which over time increased into 14 auto dealerships in California and Arizona.
One of those car lots was originally Monte Mansfield’s Ford dealership, which had begun around 1915-16 and relocated to 800 E. Broadway a few years after World War II ended. When Mansfield became ill, he sold his auto dealership to Tuttle.
In 1946, Tuttle sold actor Ronald Reagan an automobile. But it wasn’t until years later, after Tuttle became involved in politics, helping on several presidential campaigns including Arizonan Barry Goldwater’s run for the presidency, that they crossed paths again.
In 1965, Tuttle was one of three California businessmen who pushed Reagan to run for governor of California and, after the election, assisted in screening candidates for Cabinet posts, a task Tuttle also carried out after Reagan was elected president in 1980.
On Jan. 25, 1988, the grand opening was held for Holmes Tuttle Ford at the auto mall, with about 400 local business and civic leaders in attendance. Tuttle explained why he and likely the other dealers had set up shop or relocated their dealerships to the auto mall: “Tucson is just like most major cities. The downtown grows away from you,” said the 82-year-old Tuttle. “People move out here to the suburbs. They build homes out here. The big shopping centers are out here.”
Holmes Tuttle is also the namesake of the Holmes Tuttle Clubhouse of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Tucson at 2585 E. 36th St.
In May 1988, Karl Watson relocated his Watson Chevrolet dealership from 22nd Street and Park Avenue to a 14-acre piece of property along Auto Mall Drive.
Early 1989 saw an addition to the Jim Click Automotive Group when it purchased the former Matthews Northwest Dodge dealership and moved it to the auto mall.
By October of that year, Tucson Chrysler/Plymouth had relocated from East Broadway and Park Avenue to the auto mall, making it the eighth dealership to open there.
In the mid-1990, Holmes Tuttle purchased Performance Mazda, which was located at 3030 E. Speedway and moved it to the auto mall, opening what is believed to be the first dual dealership with Holmes Tuttle Hyundai in the auto mall.
The Tucson Auto Mall has had its ups and downs through the years. Many dealerships have changed hands and changed names since the early years, but it continues to be a popular location for many Tucsonans to view and purchase new and used vehicles.
Special thanks to Liz Zepeda of the Arizona Historical Society for research assistance on many articles. For a list of other sources, see this article online at tucson.com David Leighton is a historian and author of the book “The History of the Hughes Missile Plant in Tucson, 1947-1960.” If you have a street to suggest or a story to share contact him at Streetsmarts@tucson.com