Throwback City

Tucson will be thrust into flashback mode this weekend. But it has nothing to do with psychedelic experimentation.

From Thursday to Sunday, Oct. 3 to 6, the Tucson Historic Preservation Foundation is celebrating the second annual Tucson Modernism Week in commemoration of the city's rich architectural heritage. It's midcentury modern heritage, to be exact.

"Tucson transformed after World War II," said Demion Clinco, president of the foundation. According to Clinco, Tucson experienced an architectural renaissance toward the latter half of the 20th century, dropping the trends of the early 1900s in favor of an emerging new style.

"The great architecture of (the latter 20th century) and the design of that era, it's all very distinctive," Clinco said. "It was a shift from the revival style of the early 20th century to a more clean aesthetic."

Simplicity, clean lines and a Western casualness came to identify Tucson's new image. And architecture here ventured toward existing in equilibrium with the desert environment for the first time.

The results of Tucson's post-WWII movement (also called Sonoran Modern) can still be seen around the city today in the form of banks, theaters, chapels, collectible cars and classic furniture.

This is where Tucson Modernism Week comes into play. Rather than appreciate the form from afar, the foundation will hold events at many of these places of historic significance around the city. "One thing that I think is awesome about our Modernism Week that other communities really don't do (is that) we utilize our midcentury modern buildings," Clinco said. "Broadway Boulevard is one of the (places) where we're having Modernism Week; it really was the backbone of Tucson during that era. The bank on the corner of Country Club and Broadway is an icon of that time."

Modernism Week also includes a series of guest lectures about midcentury Tucson by architects who were active during the period. The series kicks off Friday with a talk by 95-year-old Edward Nelson, an architect "who was active in the '50s, '60s and '70s," Clinco said.

Nelson, a graduate of Yale's School of Architecture, started an architecture firm in Tucson in 1953. By 1961, he had formed a partnership with two other designers, and the resulting business became the premier architectural firm in Tucson for another 25 years. "His work is really indicative of the midcentury modern era. I think that'll be a really dynamic and interesting presentation," Clinco said.

Other highlights of Modernism Week include a cocktail party hosted by the Tucson Historic Preservation Society on Thursday at the home of Tucson architect Charles Cox, who was "a disciple of Frank Lloyd Wright," according to Clinco. Tickets can be purchased for $50 at

Modernism Week will have a little something for gearheads as well. A luncheon that includes a show with classic American cars will be held on Saturday at Chaffin's Diner, located in a midcentury modern building at 902 E. Broadway Blvd. The show will focus on car models from 1947 to 1972.

One of the highlights on Sunday is the Max Jules Gottschalk Furniture Exhibit. Gottschalk, a former professor of industrial design at Pima Community College, is among the designers of the post-WWII period credited with revolutionizing furniture design and incorporating modern principles. The exhibit is in the Murphy Building, 2959 E. Broadway Blvd.

"What's amazing about Modernism Week, what's really so great, is the community coming together and celebrating this moment in our history," Clinco said. He hopes that Modernism Week will help Tucson bond as a community, and appreciate the past at it builds a stronger future.

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