This Old House

A home figuring in the birth of the Tucson Symphony gets a new life.

For decades, musical notes floated like feathers from the small house and studio near the big intersection of Speedway Boulevard and Euclid Avenue.

In a few months, after an absence of many years, they will once again be heard.

When he moved to Tucson in 1923, Belgium-born Camil Van Hulse didn't know how much longer he had to live. Gassed as a soldier in World War I, and also suffering from tuberculosis, he sought the clean, warm desert air for his health.

The next year, Van Hulse married Augusta and became organist at All Saints Catholic Church. In 1928, he was asked by local attorney Harry Juliani to become the first conductor of the fledgling Tucson Symphony. On Jan. 13, 1929, the 60-member group's first performance was held in the auditorium of Tucson High School. Tickets cost 50 cents. The place was only half-full, but the next afternoon's Tucson Daily Citizen proclaimed, "Orchestra Scores Triumph in Its Initial Concert."

A few years later, the family bought the bungalow home at 1029 N. Euclid, and Camil would give music lessons in the front room. Eventually, he had a small studio built in the backyard, and he transferred his work there.

Not only did he teach students on the piano; he also taught his oldest daughter, Lesghinka. He wasn't a stickler for the classics, and she remembers he loved to play ragtime.

In addition to his instructions, Van Hulse composed hundreds of works, mostly for church music. One of his pieces, "Sinfonia Maya," premiered as part of the Tucson Symphony's 50th anniversary season in 1978. Another, "The Beatitudes," a cantata for church choir and organ, is his daughter's favorite, and they played it together at its premiere at All Saints during World War II.

In an 1987 interview, Van Hulse remembered that piece was written on a rainy day when a family picnic had to be canceled. Lesghinka recalls that about once a month, her father would arise at 2 a.m. and walk the more than 10 miles to Sabino Canyon. The family would drive out later to meet him and take along a picnic breakfast.

From her California home, she also remembers a 1930s childhood spent in a nice neighborhood and living on a street which wasn't paved. "We had a lot of fun," she says, "playing baseball and flying kites in a vacant lot next door, where the First Christian Church is now located. A week or so after Christmas, people would bring their trees to the lot for a bonfire to roast marshmallows."

While his father devoted himself to his music, Lesghinka's mother was a housewife. After the outbreak of World War II, though, she took a job at a store on Congress Street downtown.

In the 1950s, Van Hulse retired from his work as organist at St. Peter and Paul's Church to devote more time to his compositions. Gov. Bruce Babbitt awarded him "Artist of the Year" honors in 1984, and he continued to compose almost until his death in 1988. The man who had come to the desert in 1923 in poor health had lived another 65 years.

The family home had also begun to decline by the 1980s, and over the next decade, it would fall into a state of disrepair. But Van Hulse's grandson, Bruce Lincoln, had plans to restore the house and studio, and a few years ago, he received an $80,000 grant from Arizona State Parks to help accomplish that goal.

"We want to tie the property in with its music legacy," he says, "by making it a small cultural and community center and developing alliances with local and regional musical groups." Lincoln hopes to attract music teachers to give lessons in the studio, while performances could be held either in the main house or the outdoor patio area, which can seat up to 50 people.

The $250,000 restoration project is well underway, and the exterior should be completed by the end of September. Next will come a few months of work on the inside, and a March grand opening is anticipated.

Not only will the home's interior be refurbished, but Lincoln says it will be decorated in the style of the 1930s. When his grandparents purchased the property, the furnishings came with it, and those heirlooms, including a Victrola, have been saved by the family and will be placed back into the house.

At its initial concert, the Tucson Symphony under Van Hulse's leadership played an ambitious program, including the "Unfinished" symphony. Now, 75 years later, because of the efforts of his grandson, the musical heritage that Camil Van Hulse brought to the little house on Euclid Avenue will be returned--and an important historic rehabilitation project completed.

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