Tearing Down Tucson

Buildings disappear and new ones appear.

It is hard to believe that any commercial building constructed since 1970 will achieve historic status by surviving 50 years in Tucson.

There seems to be a lifespan of commercial buildings of somewhere between 20 and 40 years.

News that the Levy’s building at the west end of El Con Mall will be torn down to make way for a Wal Mart wasn’t much of a surprise.

Commercial buildings are increasingly designed for one specific store company, and when they run out their lease and move, or fail, down goes their building to be replaced by some other store’s standard building. There are several corners where two or 3 stores have been built and torn down inside of 20 years. The lifespan of commercial property seems to be shrinking.

walgreensIf you don’t drive down main streets every day, and instead maybe pass by a particular intersection once every 4 or 5 months, you can quickly lose your bearings and landmarks because the old brick storefront building you always thought was on the SE corner of First Avenue and Fort Lowell vanished and was replaced by a gas station.

It is like the whole city is turning into an Alzheimer’s Test. Did I forget that drug store at the corner of this and that?

In some cases we see building get recycled into new uses. The old grocery store on the SE corner of Campbell and Grant was turned into a Bookmans. A definite improvement. But right behind it the second Catalina Theater awaits either new life as an art theater, or the wrecking ball so a new Walgreens can be built.

Tucson has had a fetish for tearing old buildings down and replacing them to a degree not evident in many cities. The commercial buildings that used to line Speedway and Broadway west of Swan are being systematically replaced due to street widening projects and building  obsolescence .  Go away from Tucson for 20 years, and it won’t hardly look like the same city you left. A lot of the frontage along some streets is already hosting the second round of buildings since 1950, such as the interection of Speedway and Campbell.

Broadway Village...a survivor (so far)

Broadway Village...a survivor (so far)


That’s why an old commercial building like the Broadway Village on the SW corner of Country Club and Broadway is special. Not only did it survive long enough to actually become historic, it evolved from a neighborhood center with the grocery store, bakery, barber shop and hardware store 60 years ago into a nifty little boutique center today.

If Broadway is going to be re-widened, one hopes the project will knock down all the buildings on the north side of the street west of Country Club.

Downtown was especially hit by the Tucson tear down tradition….and one wonders how long the few remaining pre 1950‘s buildings will survive.  Actually some of the newer building would be better candidates for removal and replacement.

downtowntucsonWhich downtown buildings could you live without?

Which buildings on major streets around Tucson would you want to save because they add something unique to the cityscape?

What are the worst new buildings in the city which detract from your definition of what Tucson is all about?

Would you favor a building design code that creates a distinct Tucson “theme” in areas like Santa Fe and Santa Barabara have done?




About Hugh Holub

Attorney and writer.
This entry was posted in tucson history, tucson lifestyle, tucson politics. Bookmark the permalink.

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