When South Tucson Was Really South Of Tucson

WAS SOUTH TUCSON'S fight to survive as a town worth the struggle? Two married couples, both of whom have lived in the community for over 50 years, think it was. While they have seen the place gradually develop from a sparsely settled patch of desert into a city with over 6,000 people, they still enjoy its small-town atmosphere.

In the early 1940s, Wayne Goodman moved to South Tucson to work at his brother's South Sixth Avenue service station. He recalls that the business was one of the last places for those heading east on U.S. 80 to buy gas. Sixty years later, the Goodmans' tire store, now run by their son, is still in the same location.

After serving in World War II, Goodman returned to South Tucson with his bride Norma, and the couple lived in back of the station. A few years later, they moved to a new home on the west side of South Tucson, where they have lived ever since.

Goodman thinks creation of the town gave more people a chance to serve their community. Plus, he adds, the garbage service is "super" and whenever there is a problem, the police respond immediately.

Alfonsa and Steve McKenna agree that better local services are one advantage of living in South Tucson. Plus, Steve McKenna says, "Taxes would have been higher if we had gone into the city. That didn't stop the city from trying to annex us, but we refused. The old families here didn't want to become part of the city, and neither did the motels on Sixth Avenue."

McKenna recalls that his family would sleep outside on warm summer nights, until they purchased a swamp cooler in 1952. He also gets a big kick out of remembering the town's early volunteer fire department. "When there was a fire, everyone would run to the station to see who would drive the truck."

In 1942, the McKennas started buying property near South Tucson to build a house. They paid $5 down and $10 a month for a lot to the east of the town, and were eventually annexed. By 1947, Steve McKenna had built a tiny one-room, 14-by-16-foot frame house. Over time, and as the family grew, he kept adding on to it.

Alfonsa McKenna, who until recently had served on the South Tucson City Council for almost 20 years and is described as a "whirlwind" by her husband, says that near their home in the late '40s, "There were hardly any new houses around there then." This, combined with the lack of paved streets, meant it was very dusty.

The McKennas' daughter, Yolanda Ortiz, talks vividly of growing up in the area. She remembers Phil and Peck's Cafe was in a converted railroad dining car, and they had the best pancakes and chili beans. Next door was the Tailspin Tavern, a big place in a child's eyes. Tony and Mary Sanchez at Tony's Market gave the family credit to buy groceries, and a circus would set up in the vacant lot across the street from their house.

Yolanda Ortiz also recalls that the streets were all dirt around their house and weren't paved until about 1955. The family had an outhouse, she remembers with a laugh, but thanks to her mother's hard work it was the cleanest one in the neighborhood. It was finally replaced in 1951 or so, when sewers were installed in the area.

A community with few but friendly people is also what the Goodmans remember about the early years of South Tucson. "We were five minutes from town, five minutes from work, and out in the country," Norma Goodman says. "It was beautiful. Looking out our front window we used to say, 'We have a million-dollar view.' It was gorgeous."

Plus, the land was initially fairly undeveloped. "There were no businesses, but we had a relative on each side of us," Norma Goodman remembers. "There was no natural gas service in the area. But gas lines were extended to us because there were three houses in a row on the street.

"Across the street was a little ball park where the children could ride their tricycles. It was really lovely." Norma Goodman found the lack of sidewalks strange, however, because she was from the more aspiringly urban Mesa.

The Goodmans had a 1940 coupe. They used it to get to work and would sometimes take their children in it to climb "A" Mountain, then go buy a treat and end up in Santa Rita Park to relax.

In addition to Tony's Market, shopping in South Tucson included the United Market and other retail businesses along South Sixth Avenue. But Norma Goodman also remembers going into downtown Tucson to shop, especially on holidays. "At Christmastime all the stores--Sears on one corner, Penney's on one corner, Steinfeld's on another--would have their huge Christmas windows. The day after Thanksgiving, all of downtown would be lighted and we'd look at the store windows."

Time, and so-called progress, have affected both families. The Goodmans' house of 52 years is going to be purchased by the State of Arizona as part of its I-10/I-19 interchange project. The McKennas have to make needed repairs to their little house that grew and grew.

Despite those changes, both couples agree that South Tucson was worth fighting for.