Adobe Homes in Barrio Viejo Will Open for a Home Tour

March 28, 2013

by Teya Vitu

Don’t wait too long to secure tickets for the first public tour inside a half dozen adobe homes in the Barrio Viejo Neighborhood since the year 2000.

Even with 1,200 tickets available, the tour is expected to sell out, perhaps days or even a week before the Home Tour of Historic Adobes of Barrio Viejo on April 20. Seven homes will open their doors to the public from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

This adobe home on Convent Avenue is on the home tour

This adobe home on Convent Avenue is on the home tour

Tickets are $35 per person and are available online here. Tickets are also available at Hotel Congress, 311 E. Congress St.; Bon, 3022 E. Broadway; and Adobe House Antiques, 2700 N. Campbell Ave.

Barrio Viejo is the one place in Tucson where you can feel entirely detached from every other square mile of Tucson. Barrio Viejo is a world unto itself, pretty much frozen in the late 1800s, except for the paved streets, modern cars and power lines.

This is the neighborhood you find due south of the Tucson Convention Center, bounded by Cushing, Stone Avenue, 18th Street and Main Avenue.

“The streets are narrow. The scale is smaller. The houses are close together and they are unique,” said Elaine Paul, coordinator of the walking tour, which is put on by the Tucson Historic Preservation Foundation. “It’s like living in a village in the middle of a city. People know each other, socialize with each other, depend on each other.”

And when the foundation wants to put on a home tour as a fundraiser, seven homeowners were willing to open their homes to upward to a 1,000 people.

You may think you know what an adobe house is, but this tour reveals endless surprises.

“The thing about this neighborhood is you can’t tell how great the houses are from the street, especially the Sonoran style row houses that come up to the street,” Paul said. “Everything happens in the interior courtyard in the Sonoran style house. It was the interior of the houses that was important. The importance wasn’t placed in the façade in what is called street appeal. That was not a priority. Some of it was the environment. The streets were very dusty. You just wanted to close up the house.”

Even though adobe exteriors are invariably downplayed, don’t expect a Santa Fe adobe uniformity. Don’t even expect every house to have the classic adobe flat roof.

Elaine Paul is peeking into another home on the adobe home tour.

Elaine Paul is peeking into another home on the adobe home tour.

“After the railroad arrived, people started Victorianizing their adobes,” Paul said. Many 19th century Barrio Nuevo adobes started taking on hipped (slanted) roofs, pediments, porches and other Anglo features.

Barrio Viejo stands apart from all the other historic neighborhoods that circle Downtown. Armory Park, Menlo Park, Iron Horse, West University, Sam Hughes and the lot all have a common thread that does not apply to Barrio Viejo.

Barrio Viejo is the one that pre-dates the arrival of the railroad in Tucson on March 20, 1880.

“One of the biggest impacts to Tucson architecture was the railroad,” Paul said. “The railroad brought building materials and opened people to architectural styles they may not have been familiar with. It also brought people with different tastes.”

The railroad modernized Tucson, and all other historic neighborhoods primarily boast Victorian, Craftsman, Queen Anne, Bungalow, Mediterranean Revival and Spanish Colonial Revival architecture.

Enough of these influences seeped into Barrio Viejo, but at its root, this neighborhood is all 19th century. Narrow streets, homes right up to the sidewalk. It’s a place where walking on the street is easier and more natural than walking on the sidewalk.

Elaine Paul has lived in Barrio Viejo since 1979. She and her husband own what she describes as “a low style Victorian, very low style Victorian, but our guest house is adobe.” Their house, more their garden and guest house, is part of the home tour.

“I grew up in New York City, Brooklyn Heights,” Paul said. “I didn’t know what drywall was until I moved here. Most of the people who live in this neighborhood have been here as long as or almost as long as we have.”

The home tour starts at Convent Avenue and Simpson Street, where there will be tables at three corners selling tickets (if any are available), a will call table where Internet ticket holders can pick up a guide booklet, and refreshments. This is a historic intersection within a historic neighborhood.

“This is the only remaining intersection in Arizona with four flush front adobes,” Paul said. “This was the urban framework for Tucson.”

This adobe home has not been dressed up with Victorian embellishments.

This adobe home has not been dressed up with Victorian embellishments.

Six adobes dating from the 1870s and 1880s and one adobe built in the 1980s but outfitted with old doors and salvaged materials. These home’s have appeared in a number of magazines, including World on Interiors, Metropolitan Home and Phoenix Home & Garden.

All the homes are on Convent, Simpson or Kennedy Street.

“Everybody will be able to see all the houses,” Paul said. “I think you can see every house in one hour and 15 minutes.”

Parking is available at a dirt lot at Meyer and Simpson. Much of the neighborhood has permit parking only.

Many people may have driven or walked through Barrio Viejo at some time. Tour buses pass through the neighborhood “looking like cruise ships coming down the street.”

That gives people the street scene – but not what goes on behind the walls. This Home Tour gives the public a chance to see the hidden side of the adobe world.

“The scale of the rooms, they are bigger than you expect,” Paul said. “They have very high ceilings, old tiles. You’ll see period fixtures. There’s two pools on this tour. Who’d think there were pools on this tour? One home has part of the old marquee from the Fox Theatre.”

Docents will be in every home to give introductions and answer questions. The homeowners may or may not be there.