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.
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 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.
Surrounding 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.
A 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….
Yet I enjoyed the beautiful back terrace for enjoying our delicious lunch. I loved my grilled portabella mushroom sandwich with goat cheese.
Just a few steps behind the restaurant is the entrance to the Tucson Museum of Art. After 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.
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.
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:
- In Search of El Presidio de Tucson via City of Tucson
- Presidio San Agustin del Tucson Official website
- Café á la C’Art named on Food and Wine best-of list
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.