80 YEARS YOUNG: Joanne Stuhr, curator at the Tucson Museum of Art, once dwelled in Hinchcliffe Court, the downtown bungalow community in the El Presidio neighborhood.
"I lived there for two years in the early '80s," Stuhr says. "It was wonderful. Everything is in miniature, but everything is there."
Right now the tiny historic houses, which will celebrate their 80th birthday next year, have been rehabbed and gussied up by teams of interior decorators intent on transforming them into the museum's benefit Designer Showhouse 1995. The 10 ingeniously crafted bungalows have had their plumbing and wiring systems updated and bathrooms and kitchens revamped. Some of the decorators have respected the cottages' straightforward, functional Arts and Crafts style, but many more have almost overwhelmed them with cascades of designer fabric and look-at-me colors on the walls.
In the last few decades, the charming bungalows on Granada Avenue were on the edge of hip poverty, inhabited, as Stuhr says, by "young, alternatively oriented people" who paid cheap rents. But if the current owners entice prosperous young professionals to move into the renovated property once the Showhouse is over, the houses will have come full circle. The bungalows, in fact, have mirrored the history of Tucson's downtown neighborhoods, moving through cycles of wealth and fashion, through near-poverty and on to rehab and gentrification.
One Charles Hinchcliffe built the bungalows in 1916 in the hoity-toity neighborhood then known as Snob Hollow, according to an interesting article in the Showhouse program written by Carol Freundlich. Hinchcliffe had lived in California and evidently was influenced by the popular California bungalow style, whose dominant aesthetic could be described as less-is-more. Each snug cottage was given one bedroom (a few have two), a sunroom, living room with fireplace, dining room with elaborate wooden built-in cabinets and shelves, bathroom, porch and a tiny backyard. To save space, there were no hallways, and each had an ingenious cabinet for rollaway beds.
Hinchcliffe ran the bungalows as a resort for well-heeled winter visitors. These tourists, mostly Californians, doubtlessly delighted not only in their charming natural wood fittings but in their emphasis on the relationship between indoors and out.
Such a modest resort clearly was not destined to last. As the downtown deteriorated, the tourists moved on to more trendy turf, signing on at the Arizona Inn and later the ultra-expensive brand-name resorts in the foothills. The bungalows turned into high-turnover rentals.
The Franklin and Carroll families, a related oligarchy of downtown property owners who had owned the land before Hinchcliffe, bought up the court in 1961. These families began the era of genteel landlordship that Stuhr remembers so vividly. The two landladies, Gladys Carroll and sister-in-law Marietta Franklin, lived next door in the Franklin house. They insisted on knowing all the tenants, and Stuhr says, "had us come over to pay our rent. They would serve us tea."
Rents were cheap in those days. Stuhr paid $225 a month for her one-bedroom cottage. An artist, like many of the other renters, Stuhr used the tiny sunroom as a studio for her ceramics. The layout of the court--the cottages are arranged in a horseshoe around a central court--fostered a sense of neighborliness.
"One person had multiple sclerosis and was in a wheelchair," Stuhr remembers. "We all pitched in and helped him out with things like grocery shopping."
Gladys Carroll, affectionately remembered as a supporter of the downtown arts, died five years ago. A year or two ago, the court's tenants were asked to leave, to make way for renovation, the Designer Showhouse, and, doubtless, higher rents. One downtown homeowner estimated that future rents could easily come in at $800 a month. It's a pity that gentrification--and the eviction of poorer residents--ends up as the single route to historic preservation in Tucson, as in most American cities.
A new generation of Carrolls--Gladys' son John and daughter-in-law Georgiann--owns the place now. The refurbished bungalow court seems ready to take advantage of the comeback of the surrounding neighborhood, populated with meticulously restored historic mansions. A couple of landscape designers, including the noted Mary Rose Duffield, Gladys' daughter, have turned the central court into an exemplary desert oasis, with a grass lawn surrounded by orange trees and showy, low-water-use desert plants. A ramada, similar to the destroyed original, has been constructed at the east end. The tiny backyards have been transformed into private gardens that offer an easy balance between public and private domains.
If the rebirth of the court is somewhat tarnished by the notion that lower-income people have to be replaced, the court's houses and landscaping still stand as a model for intelligent urban design. They could teach contemporary builders and home buyers infatuated by houses of ever more grandiose size a thing or two about thoughtful use of space and economy of scale. And they're perfect examples of an architecture that instead of simply walling off people from each other actually fosters community.
Designer Showhouse 1995 continues through Sunday, April 2, in Hinchcliffe Court, 405 N. Granada Avenue, at the corner of Granada and Franklin. For more information call 6242333.
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