Generous Tradition

This weekend's Armory Park Home Tour spotlights Tucson architecture and helps residents assist their neighbors in need

In the tidy kitchen of St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, the Rev. Jefferson Bailey is placing a sprig of parsley just so. His prep area is a checkerboard of little boxed lunches--potato, broccoli, roast beef--precisely arranged inside Styrofoam containers. When collective perfection is achieved, each box is snapped shut and hustled off to the coolers.

Those gleaming coolers, recently donated, can store a week's worth of meals, which eventually are dispersed to shut-ins and other hungry folks scattered among downtown's Armory Park Neighborhood.

While the need for Bailey's efforts seems obvious, that wasn't always true. In this seemingly middle-class enclave, hunger is surprisingly hidden; a government friend told him that 40 percent of Armory residents live below the federal poverty level, Bailey notes.

"To me, it was a big eye-opener," he says. "If so, who were they?"

Beginning in 2007, volunteers pounded the pavement, looking for folks who'd fallen through the cracks. They also visited the Armory Park Senior Center, retrieving the names of those who had stopped dropping by for meals. "We identified about 14 people who were no longer mobile enough to get there," Bailey says. "And that's how we got started."

Today, his Neighbors Feeding Neighbors program provides meals for about 10 residents who are elderly or disabled. It does so without any government assistance, relying solely on donations. "And the only bureaucracy," Bailey chuckles, "is inside my head." Rotating volunteer teams put in three-hour kitchen shifts, while another team distributes meals along with packages of yogurt, bread and fruit.

Bailey says it's all just part of his job description as a church deacon. "That's what a deacon does. We feed people."

This small but proficient program is limited to the confines of Armory Park. But its generous spirit goes community-wide this Saturday, with the annual Armory Park Home Tour. The self-guided stroll will take in eight homes ranging from historic to modern, and several gardens. Proceeds go to Neighbors Feeding Neighbors.

The obvious symbiosis between a neighborhood and its neediest residents reveals the kinder side of our fair city. It also bares our roots: This old downtown neighborhood dates back to the railroad era, and highlights Tucson's triumphant architecture, ranging from Queen Anne and Victorian to California bungalow and green revival.

Those styles were popularized by railroad officials, who looked down their noses at the traditional adobes then dominating the town. But such snobbery came at a cost, says Tucson historian Ken Scoville. "They used double brick and a lot of material that was largely imported. It was the pressure of fashion, with people scorning adobe, but as a result, their homes were colder in the winter and hotter in summer."

He says Armory was also among the first parts of Tucson to be laid out on a grid. "And today, unlike other downtown districts, such as the barrios, which were chipped away, Armory Park is pretty much intact."

Taking its name from Armory Park, located on Sixth Avenue at the site of a former military plaza, the neighborhood initially spread up Third and Fourth avenues, and by 1900 had reached all the way south to 18th Street.

As noted by Scoville, traditional Spanish and Mexican designs were giving way to Anglo styles in this boom, and even existing adobe homes were retrofitted--ergo Anglicized--with wooden porches and roofs.

Ultimately, home designs flourishing during that period still make Armory Park's architecture distinctive. This area is also known for a style called Anglo-territorial, with pyramidal roofs and broad porches.

"It's not the barrio style, and it's not (downtown's) El Presidio Neighborhood," says Chris Stebe, an Armory Park resident and organizer of this year's home tour. "Armory has its own feel and character. The homes on the home tour are really just a catalyst to get people to come down and see what's going on in Armory Park."

This tour will include Bailey's lovely square house, built from salvaged railroad-car lumber in the late 1880s by Southern Pacific engineer Charles Codd. Two blocks west is a circa-1890s English colonial revival, with a gabled-hip roof and a porch supported by tapered stone columns. On Fourth Avenue, a Queen Anne cottage-style house--pictured in early photos with a hitching post out front--today boasts a medium offset, cross-gabled roof and arch voussoirs. Another home, dating from 1898, bears Louisiana stylings in its central hall, roofline and symmetric floor plan.

The neighborhood's newer additions are highlighted in Armory Park del Sol, combining traditional styles and a new urbanism streetscape with solar-powered homes and thermal mass construction.

Eclectic as it is, Armory remains a lively, old-fashioned neighborhood where people truly seem committed to helping one another. That's precisely why the tour's proceeds will end up in the St. Andrew's kitchen, where Bailey is now readying another menu, while volunteers Wilma Rogers, Marcel Davis, Pat Davis and her mother, Emogene, wash dishes and stack pans.

Bailey has long been affiliated with the Southern Arizona AIDS Foundation, which, among other things, provides meals to AIDS patients. That got him thinking.

"If we were feeding people with HIV and AIDS, why weren't we feeding people who the St. Andrew's Church assists?" he says. "And why weren't we feeding people who are our neighbors?"

St. Andrew's "was looking to do outreach, and gave us initial funding. The Arizona (Episcopal) organization also gave us money, as did the national church. Then I went to the neighborhood and said, 'I think this is a great idea, and fits in with your mission.' They agreed with me. Later on, we decided that we needed to raise funds, and we restarted the home tour, which had been discontinued for several years."

The rest is history. "It's just people living in the neighborhood, delivering food to people in the neighborhood," Bailey says, as he reaches for more Styrofoam boxes to be arranged just so.