Take a Sneak Peak Inside the Historic Bates Mansion as it Transforms into Maker House

June 5, 2013

by Bree Collins


The Salon will greet visitors to Maker House.

Tucson is overflowing with artists, tinkers, and mad scientists. We all know someone who homesteads, brews beer, sews their own clothes, or has a knack for spinning fire. You are probably that someone. We are lucky enough to have originals like the All Souls Procession and BICAS, and the people of ArtFire, an online community for DIYers, are giving us another boost in creativity with their newest project: Maker House. Taking over the ground-level portion of the historic Bates Mansion on the corner of Stone and Toole, Maker House, with plans to launch September 14th, will “provide Tucsonans a space to get their hands dirty, spread their knowledge, and work through ideas,” according to Vanessa Ford, Executive Director of the project.

“Maker Spaces are usually meant for the youth, to fill in the gaps traditional schools leave in education,” according to Ford. But Maker House will be shaped according to public interest and feedback. People from the community can offer to teach classes, and MH will work to make that happen. And although limited space will force MH to limit the size of their classes and perhaps charge a small membership fee, they are willing to find out what the community can afford and price accordingly. “We want Tucson’s Maker House to be inclusive of the entire community,” says Ford.

There are Maker Spaces based in many of the U.S.’s larger cities, and hacker communities like Gangplank and Xerocraft already exist in Tucson. Maker House tips their hat to these local spaces and are excited to be a part of the burgeoning “Downtown tech district”, yet are driven to fill a gap these predominantly male-driven territories leave behind as there is little accessibility for women and families. Tucson’s Maker House will strive to create an all-inclusive, gender-neutral space in Tucson, where sewing machines rest alongside 3D printers and Arduino. There will be classes for robotics and modding, but also knitting, embroidery, cooking, gardening, and other traditional arts and crafts to make the space friendly for everyone.

And there is an emphasis on providing classes never held in Tucson before, such as Yo-Mosa, the class that mixes yoga with mimosas, that staff are already excited about. ArtFire’s Co-Founder Tony Ford came up with the idea for “Knit to Death” where students will first study knitting, then learn self defense skills – including defending themselves with their knitting needles. It’s an intersection of disciplines that MH Tucson is striving to achieve with every class.

The mansion’s main gates open into a courtyard, which is currently being upgraded into a lush, cool area to provide a comfortable space for outdoor classes, concerts, and other events. “It will be an oasis in the middle of Downtown,” says Ford.

Heading inside, you will be greeted in the Salon, a large, oval room ringed with white columns and accented by spiral-cut, rough-hewn beams supporting a golden dome. Everything, from the name to the aesthetics, conjures images of ancient scholars dressed in robes discussing theories of the universe. Soon it will be filled with tables, classroom-style, to serve as a meeting room and house resident lecturers – experts in their field who want to share ideas with the public and point them toward further research. They already have a resident physicist from CERN lined up who wants to discuss particle physics, the size of the universe and string theory.

RetouchThe Salon leads into the Artisan Cafe that will serve as both classroom and retail space. The close quarters will have an “industrial and funky” look, with a copper ceiling, wooden counters, and exposed brick unearthed from 7 layers of plaster and other coatings. Maker House is especially excited to restore the floors – amazing mesquite tiles brought in from a Mexican schoolhouse from the 1800s, grouted with a mixture of glue and sawdust. Students can learn latte art and coffee-brewing techniques in small, 4-5 person classes. Chalkboards will cover the walls, allowing people to map out their ideas during discussions. Maker House staff hope the future barista can put fruit from the already-existing kumquat trees in a drink or use them to teach a jam-making class.

The Corona Room will be the main classroom space, fitting 50-100 people. The room is named for its focal point – a rare and historic mural by Salvador Corona that MH Tucson is having restored. There will be large tables and the room will store all manner of materials for projects that will be supplied by Maker House. The room also features a Details Station, an area containing high-power magnifying glasses, to help anyone working on project with small details, from circuitry to embroidery. The idea came from the online ArtFire forum, a part of the “community-directed development” that will carry through to Maker House.

There will be construction events throughout the summer, allowing smalls groups of about 50-75 people to join in celebrating Maker House’s progress. The launch includes opening the old gate that faces Stone Ave., and since the gate is made with pegs – without a single nail in the whole thing – it will be an extra-special day indeed.

Keep up with renovations and check out more features on Maker House’s Facebook page to help you pass the time until Maker House opens.