The Skinny

HISTORY LESSON: Tucson looks mighty purty in the June issue of hoity-toity Architectural Digest, a glossy devoted to the sumptuous manses of the rich. A seven-page full-color spread ("On the Trail in Tucson: Stephen Shadley Tracks Down Southwestern Treasures") recounts the peregrinations of actress Diane Keaton's interior decorator through the city's most glamorous galleries, including purveyors of fine Indian arts. Keaton, who owns a getaway ranch south of town, is a photographer and photography collector who likes to dip into Tucson's art treasure troves.

Downtown's own Terry Etherton, pictured spiffily in tie and white shirt, gets most flattering mention for his "incredible inventory of nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century work by artists like Edward S. Curtis and John Hillers." Etherton himself, Shadley notes, is "a reigning expert, even nationally, in terms of the work he shows and collects."

Michael D. Higgins, likewise, of Higgins Antique Indian Art, is praised as "the guy who got it started." Also cited are Eric Firestone, Colonial Frontiers, Spanish Cross Trading Co., Primitive Arts Gallery and Medicine Man Gallery. As favorable as the magazine's attention to Tucson's arts scene is, its praise of historic preservation bears an even more important message for this region's bulldozing powers-that-be. What gets the writer's attention? Tucson's authentic old buildings, the fast-disappearing places that give the city its sense of place.

"Of the many emporiums in Tucson," notes writer Ann Landi, "(Shadley) has chosen those that set the place apart from other shopping meccas."

Bulletin to Mayor Bob Walkup and the cement heads on City Council and the county Board of Supervisors: that's not Home Depot and Wal-mart Landi is talking about here.

Not by a long shot. She's talking about Tucson's innovatively restored older buildings, buildings that resonate with Southwest history. Coming in for special attention are the numerous galleries occupying Josias Joesler buildings. Of Primitive Arts Gallery, set in the venerable Joesler-designed Broadway Village, the writer enthuses, "The store is in a complex of charming--there's no other word for it--buildings designed by Josias Joesler, a Swiss-trained architect who eventually settled in Tucson and built some of the area's most distinctive structures between 1928 and his death in 1956."

She praises Firestone Gallery's new location in an old Joesler house at Joesler Village at River and Campbell. "It still displays elements of the architect's works, including red-clay Saltillo tiles on the floors and mesquite lintels over the doorways and fireplace. The overall atmosphere is warm (particularly with a fire going on a chilly afternoon) and complements the wares for sale."

Joesler Village is a historic preservation success story. The developer originally intended to bulldoze the original Joesler studio on the site, as well as the adjoining Joesler house, and build a standard butt-ugly shopping center. Lobbied by local preservations, he eventually saw the light. Not only did he keep the Joesler originals, but with no little irony named the place for the architect and even had the new buildings designed in Joesler style. His efforts have won him toney tenants like Firestone, Higgins and Etherton, who will open a second location in the Joesler studio. And now, attention in a national magazine. As the old saw goes, that's the kind of publicity money can't buy.

Tucson being Tucson, the lovely Joesler plaza at St. Phillip's Church across the street is scheduled to be sliced off any time now, for the unworthy purpose of making room for more lanes for more cars on River Road. If local government authorities can't bring themselves to save Tucson's architectural heritage because it's the right thing to do, then maybe, just maybe, they could get it into their thick skulls that it's the economic thing to do. It's not only locals who love their town's sense of place. Tourists and art buyers do too. They don't come here to see Target. And you may be sure that Architectural Digest plans no pretty picture stories highlighting the widening of River Road into a multi-lane speedway, or a photo essay on that fine new Home Depot soon to be marring the center of town.

SUPER CELEBRATION: TUSD's shortimer Superintendent George F. Garcia, woefully weak in his nine years at the helm of the state's second largest school district, recently had what he calls a "great week."

In his weekly communiqué with the TUSD Board, Garcia was giddy about a special treat from the 4th R Board, a business group that was supposed to help TUSD, but functioned more as one of Garcia's PR machines, with little help for kids.

"The 4th R Board treated me to a surprise breakfast celebration where I was picked up in a limousine at the office and taken to the gathering," Garcia wrote. "I received many wonderful accolades and several plaques and mementos from the 4th R Board, the Greater Tucson Economic Development Council (not its correct name), and staff."

Garcia, headed to Colorado and the school system in the Republic of Boulder, also told of his appearance at Sabino High for graduation. "It was a beautiful ceremony," Garcia reported. "I received a standing ovation and a beautiful print from the Class of 2000 for my service as superintendent."

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