Don’t bulldoze Tucson’s charm

After dozens of detours, hordes of headaches and folks finding themselves stuck at a dead end, the Fourth Avenue underpass is reopening with hoopla, hype and a brand new look.

Kitschy stuff makes Tucson charming/Ryn Gargulinski

Kitschy stuff, even when misspelled on a Reid Park garbage can, makes Tucson charming/Ryn Gargulinski

Some may say hip-hip and hooray but I have another thing to say: I liked the old one.

I am in no way downing the renovation or the fact that the new underpass is safer, more practical and – yaay! – finally getting rid of that dead end.

Nor am I trying to throw a wet towel on the celebration, which sounds like a gas.

I am simply lamenting the passing of another chunk, albeit crumbling, of Tucson’s past.

I fell in love with Fourth Avenue’s creepy, cavernous underpass during one All Souls Procession, when the masked and bone-clad creatures frolicked out of its mouth like a throng of glorious souls from the depths of the Earth.

Our Logical Lizard blogger, Geoffrey Notkin, agrees. In fact, I think he’s the one who pointed out that phenomenon at the event.

Frolicking out of shiny new tile just won’t have the same effect.

Sure, the previous underpass may have been ready to crumble and was so low it may have possibly behead someone, but it was also quite charming.

Part of what drew me to Old Pueblo was its ancient buildings and dilapidated underpasses. Let’s call it Tucson charm.

Not that I’m against progress – some things need updating. But it would be wise to ensure we keep that primitive feel that makes Tucson so alluring.

"Progress" on the desert patch/Ryn Gargulinski

"Progress" in action on the desert patch/Ryn Gargulinski

Other “progress” around town includes new construction tall enough to block mountain views in Feldman’s Historic Neighborhood, as outlined in a letter by resident Kathleen Williamson.

A fine rambling patch of desert near the Rillito River along my daily dog walk was once haven to coyotes, lizards, rabbits and twisted debris that made for great art supplies.

Now it’s a parking lot.

While my dogs do enjoy the water fountain the parking lot came with, I’m still wondering if it will ever house more cars than the usual zero to three I see there.

I’m also still wondering why an open-topped, concrete garbage can that gets stuffed with dog doo was placed mere inches from the water fountain.

See, sometimes “progress” can really stink.

What do you think?

Should developers try to retain Tucson’s kitschy charm?

Should all the old stuff be razed to make way for newfangled buildings?

Should we all just move to Phoenix?


About Rynski

Writer, artist, performer who specializes in the weird, wacky and sometimes creepy. Learn more at
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28 Responses to Don’t bulldoze Tucson’s charm

  1. azmouse says:

    I would never move to Phoenix!!! Yuck!
    I do hate to see cool, old houses and buildings torn down. What I don’t get is there will be a ton of vacant places for businesses to set up shop, but they’ll have to put up a new building for their latest Walgreen’s. I get that some of those spaces may be a bit to dilapidated, but why can’t they tear it down and rebuild in the same spot as apposed to leaving that building alone and building in a desert area across the street?
    I also don’t like all the housing developments that sprung up in the housing boom…the ones that are all two story, and they all look the same. (cookie cutter) I loved waling my dogs along the Pantano wash off of Golf Links and Camino Seco until they put a bunch of those houses alon the edge of the wash. They’re an eye sore.

    Happy Wednesday!

    • Rynski says:

      Happy Wednesday, AZMouse – yes, i agree the cookie cutter crap is crap (but i also ended up in a cookie cutter house as it had a/c and a garage at a reasonable price)…sure that, too, plays a part – at least it did for me. the older houses are SO full of charm…but also often full of needed repairs, unless they are revamped and going for some $300,000-plus.
      p.s. it is a short, fat house so it doesn’t block any views…haha
      p.p.s. did your newfangled dog route come with a drinking fountain at least?

      • azmouse says:

        I looked at allot of those houses myself and don’t dislike the single story ones. The two story usually block mountain views, and it would seem, since hot air rises, impractical to cool those two story ones here in the desert. My house was built in the seventies and had been updated quite a bit. I also like that I have a/c and an evaporated cooler, plus mature fruit trees and rose bushes….oh, and the big backyard with a massive roman shaped pool helped make up my mind too! LOL

        There are drinking fountains when I take the dogs to the park. At the end of my street is Lakeside Park and the dogs love the path that goes around the lake so they can check out the ducks.

      • Rynski says:

        think the roman pool would do it for me, too! and lakeside is great for dogs. i’ve seen dogs actually go swimming in it, much to the annoyance of the fisherpeople and their lines…

    • Jennatoolz says:

      Hehe…isn’t it Thursday today? Or are we going back in time? =P

      I only visited the ol’ 4th Ave underpass once or twice a couple years ago. I always thought it was kinda neato.

      Ditto about the cookie-cutter house boom. My parents live near Queen Creek, AZ and that place is LOADED with those neighborhoods. But, I wouldn’t mind living in one…it would be better than my tiny 1-bedroom, stove-less guesthouse I’m currently living in, haha. =)

  2. radmax says:

    Mornin’ Rynski! While I agree that some of the older sructures in ‘Tuson’ are worth the effort and money to preserve them, that underpass had way too many problems to be saved. More than once we had to backtrack in our company vehicles because some fool tried to get an 11 foot truck in a 10 foot opening. BTW- downtown is always under constuction, but it never seems to get any better!(except the Rialto)

    • Rynski says:

      Morlnin’ RadMax – yeah, i suppose the underpass had many reasons to go…..or it would have stayed, no? i noted, too, downtown is always under construction, especially when some lane shuttled me 22 miles out of my way when all i needed was bway and 6th yesterday…the rialto rocks, as does the fox…there are some other cool – and even haunted – structures down there that should also be preserved.

  3. Marie says:

    Oh dear.  Yes, the old underpass may have had its own kind of charm but as pedestrian who used it regularly, I believe  it had to go.   Parts of the safety “fence’, for lack of another term, that kept pedestrians from falling into the roadway itself were gone.  The walls had small chunks of concrete gone and one could easily see the metal whatever-it-is-called that kept the stucco on the walls itself.    The roof of the tunnel that the pedestrians used was riddled with cracks and crumblings.     The underpass had become a dark, dank hole. 

  4. leftfield says:

    The biggest loss was the destruction of the old barrios to build the TCC.  Without effort to preserve, one city ends up looking like any other.

    • radmax says:

      My grandmothers’ house was one that got bulldozed for the TCC, I miss that old neighborhood too.

    • Rynski says:

      and sadly that look is often strip malls and fast food joints…sorry about your gma’s house, radmax. too many memories get turned to rubble.

    • sechem says:

      lefty …………. you and i have found some common ground

      i agree.

      i was in nogales yesterday and the old western border town look is still around in some parts.

      if you want some taste of the border town english/spanish, mexican/american blend, nogales (even with its issues) is a nice change.

      • Elizabeth "Bjay" Woolley says:

        Sechem, I love driving around the neighborhoods of Nogales and just looking at the houses.  True they are old and run down, but that is what makes them charming.  Nogales itself is pretty charming and I often get tempted to move there (was born there)…but of course I remember the violence spilling over and I put that thought on a shelf.  Too bad.

  5. A.Farley says:

    Well we still have the 6th ave underpass, we could party there while the party is at the fourth.

  6. Elizabeth "Bjay" Woolley says:

    I’ll miss it too.  I’ll miss the traditional honk while driving through.

  7. Elizabeth "Bjay" Woolley says:

    Ryn, speaking of Nogales and how your blog often points out oddities and things of interest, you should check out the Nogales cemetery sometime.
    It’s not like the cemeteries here…it’s more like a free-for-all.  You are given your little plot of dirt and you can do whatever the hell you want with it.  There are some that are giant toy boxes, some look like something from a minature golf course, etc.
    It is really something to see on the Day of the Dead too.  My grandparent’s graves are pretty plain but you can often see me there on that day leaving Arbys on their graves.

    • Marie says:

      Bijay – That sounds similar to the cemetary I’ve seen on the Tohono reservation, it’s just a bit west of the San Xavier Mission itself.    While many of the graves are modestly and simply adorned for most of the year, the graves seemingly come along during the time leading up to the Day of the Dead.   Many of the graves become spectacular celebrations of the life and times of the deceased.   They truly are something to see and appreciate.     I 

      • Elizabeth "Bjay" Woolley says:

        I look at the one by the mission often (I love the mission), it’s really cool.  The Nogales one is different.  It reminds me a lot of the cemeteries in New Orleans.  You wouldn’t believe some of the stuff people do to the graves – I can spend the whole day there just going from grave to gave looking at the creativity and the momentous stuff the living create for their dead loved ones.
        If you enter from one of the southeast side entrances there is a child’s grave that will blow you away.  The plot itself is loaded up with toys and notes and candles.  There is stuff attached to the tree next to the plot (large stuffed animals like Eeyore and Winnie the Poo).  Hanging down from the tree, over the plot are wind chimes and sun catchers and other stuff.  It really touches my heart for these greiving parents.
        I found this little pic of a part of it.  It looks like the newer part.  I like the older part better.  Anyway, it almost looks like a little town or city, but it’s a graveyard:


    • Rynski says:

      I’m definitely in – thanks! that sounds terrific, as does the one near the SX mission…thanks, both.

  8. Marie says:

    (smacking head on desk)   the graves seemingly come ALIVE during the …..    

    oy vey…

  9. mike_brewer says:

    Radmax,  there are a few of us out here who do remember the development of TCC.  What one called “Urban Renewal” others called “Mexican Removal”.  It was indeed done without much sensitivity or compassion during the eminent domain process.  Some of those former City Officials are still at the helm of the Tucson Downtown Partnership, and many indigenous families have clear recall.  The only 3 buildings in La Placita that are historical, but not on the Registry, because of too many alterations, are the old Samaniego House, The Stables, and where the  Visitors Bureau is now, which was the original El Charo, and the Flinn family lived upstairs.  They say the ghost of Monica Flinn still roams in La Placita!
    As far as some of the new homes in Tucson, I will quote my brother who lives in Austin.  “Those KB homes look like big self storage units for humans”

    • radmax says:

      I agree Mike, some of the ‘tract’ housing in Tucson makes me ashamed to be affiliatedwith the construction industry. Too bad there is no feasible economic way to incorporate the style and feel of the older homes, or so I am told anyway. They sure are awe inspiring when restored properly. The craftsmanship and detail are sadly lacking in todays homes, in my opinion.

  10. Pretty nice post. I just came by your blog and wanted to say that the biggest loss was the destruction of the old barrios to build the TCC. I am eagerly waiting for your response.

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