Thirdeyemom

Exploring the Barrios of Tucson: El Presidio

This is the second post in a three-part series on discovering the historic barrio neighborhoods of Tucson, Arizona. To read the previous post, click here

Tucked away discretely behind the tall buildings of Downtown Tucson lies the oldest barrio of all: El Presidio.  This neighborhood is where Tucson all began as a modern-day city. Although Tucson was established thousands of years ago by the Hohokam Indian (c. 700-900 A.D.), in the 1700’s Tucson was taken over by Spanish missionaries and soldiers establishing Tucson as an important Spanish colonial outpost.

El Presidio. Tucson, Arizona

Entrance to El Presidio Museum and site.

In 1775, Captain Hugo O’Conor who was of Irish descent but working for the Spanish army, selected a piece of land to the east side of the Santa Cruz River to build a presidio, or fortress.  The Presidio San Agustín del Tucson was built over the next eight years with adobe walls which enclosed an area to protect people inside the fort from Apache attacks.  Inside the presidio were homes, barracks and stables as well as a cemetery and several plazas. (Source: City of Tucson historical files).

El Presidio. Tucson, Arizona

Mural painting of El Presidio. Tucson, Arizona

El Presidio remained intact until 1856 when the Americans entered Tucson and it was no longer needed. Soon after, it was dismounted and the last standing wall was torn down in 1918.  Parts of the original walls of the presidio have been uncovered during various archeological digs and today a small museum remains on the site of the original presidio. ”The Old Pueblo,” as the adobe-walled Tucson Presidio became known, became one of Tucson’s beloved nicknames for the city.

El Presidio. Tucson, Arizona

El Presidio. Tucson, Arizona

El Presidio. Tucson, ArizonaSurrounding the original grounds of El Presidio lies Tucson’s first barrio (neighborhood) to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. El Presidio is where Tucson began and many of the structures date from the 1860s on after the Presidio was torn down. Homes, shops and stores line El Presidio barrio today and most remain as they were originally built in architectural styles common of that time period ranging from Spanish-Mexican, Anglo-American to Eclectic.

Walking down the streets of El Presidio reminded me of being on a street somewhere in Central America. Buildings were colored in bright hues of pinks, reds, greens and creams, and were all in various stages of disrepair which added to the charm and picturesque nature of this part of town.

El Presidio TucsonRestaurants….and art

El Presidio TucsonA must visit in the El Presidio barrio is The Tucson Museum of Art followed by lunch or dinner at the delightful, bohemian Café á la C’Art. Recently named on Food and Wine‘s list of the best museum restaurants in the country, we randomly stumbled upon this gorgeous Southwestern eatery all by chance, and what an amazing treasure of a restaurant it is!

Step inside the restaurant and you are bound to be surprised….

El Presidio Tucson

Yet I enjoyed the beautiful back terrace for enjoying our delicious lunch. El Presidio TucsonEl Presidio TucsonI loved my grilled portabella mushroom sandwich with goat cheese. El Presidio Tucson

Just a few steps behind the restaurant is the entrance to the Tucson Museum of Art. El Presidio TucsonAfter a fulfilling, savory lunch it was time to walk it off and tour El Presidio barrio. Once again, I was thrilled to see so many lovely murals and many noteworthy historical homes and mansions set from another era in time.

El Presidio Tucson

Exploring this historic barrio is fascinating as many of Tucson’s oldest homes dating from 1860 to 1920 remain. The architecture of the homes are exceptionally interesting given they were constructed in the styles prevalent of the times including Sonoran, Transformed Sonoran, Transitional Territorial, Mission Revival and Craftsman Bungalow (Source: The Tucson Historic Neighborhood Guide).   The homes are a sharp contrast from the typical Tucson home made either of stucco or adobe style which makes a visit to El Presidio barrio all the more fun.

El Presidio Tucson

El Presidio Tucson

El Presidio TucsonEl Presidio TucsonEl Presidio TucsonEl Presidio TucsonEl Presidio TucsonEl Presidio Tucson

Are you a history buff and craving more information on El Presidio’s past? If so, I found these sites with really cool historical information that I used to help write the post:

Getting there:

El Presidio Historic District is roughly bounded by W. 6th St., W. Alameda St., N. Stone Ave. and Granada Ave. in downtown Tucson, Arizona. The Tucson Museum of Art, 140 N Main Ave., offers tours of the historic block in the district on which the museum is located. Call 520-624-2333 or visit the museum’s website for further information.

Tucson Museum of Art, 140 N. Main Ave, Tucson, AZ 85701. (520) 624-2333. www.tucsonmuseumofart.org

Café á la C’Art, 140 N. Main Ave., is open from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily. Dinner is served from 5 to 9 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays.

20 comments

    • Glad you enjoyed Sally. I will be headed back to Tucson on 12/26 and be going frequently while my Dad undergoes chemo so we are exploring new parts of town when I visit.

    • Yes I love the colorful buildings along with the various cactus. I am definitely going to check out the other barrios when I return in a couple of weeks. Stay tuned!

      • Thanks Lucy! I’m playing catch up now that I finally have better internet access. I wanted to mention I watched the movie “The Impossible” on the plane about the tsunami. It was gut wrenching! What has Thailand done since that time to warm people about such disasters? It was hard to watch that film but really well acted and truly an amazing story! Hope you are well! 🙂

      • Nicole, I don’t want to watch that film. I had left living in Phuket the year before and my dad passed away the month before. I was frantically trying to get hold of my friends here and was glued to the TV watching it all for days. There are now tsunami warning signs and warning sirens at the beaches. They have memorials every year here on Dec 26 for those that lost their lives.

      • I’m sorry Lucy! I guess that was rather inconsiderate for me to ask. I can’t even imagine you watching that movie as I was horrified by it. It scared me beyond belief so I can only imagine. I just never realized it came out of nowhere like that without any warning. I had read about it but never watched any footage or heard stories like this one. Any way scary stuff.

      • No worries, Nicole. Yes, it came out of nowhere and that’s what’s so horrifying. Mother Nature is powerful and we owe her respect. I hope the signs and sirens will save lives in the future.

  1. Don Martin

    While not a true barrio, the Armory Park neighborhood is a fascinating place to walk through. It dates from about 1880 to about 1920, and nearly all the houses are from the period and have been well maintained.

    • Thanks! I am back again now here in Tucson. Unfortunately my dad isn’t feeling as well as he did last time. The chemo is getting to him so not sure if I will make it to see the other barrios. But glad I’m here!

  2. Pingback: Exploring Tucson’s Barrios: Hollywood | Thirdeyemom

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