Chew On This

Tucson Museum Of Art Director Robert Yassin Seems Hungry For Trouble.
By Jeff Smith

ONE OF MY favorite scenes in cinema is the part in The Godfather where Mikey takes Abe Vigoda out to have him garroted with piano wire and explains--real nice, because this guy has been like his Dutch uncle--hey, nothing personal: This is just business.

Smith I think there's a lesson here for all of us: We may disagree, but we don't have to be disagreeable about it. Civility and opposable thumbs are what set us apart from the lower orders.

Some of this seems to have been lost on Bob Yassin. I assume the director of the Tucson Museum of Art has opposable thumbs, because we've seen his signature on official documents. Yet Yassin is still being a dick about this pissing match over Janos' bar and grill.

You've no doubt read by now where the board of the art museum called an emergency meeting and voted as one to tell the mayor and council to take its 700 large and shove it up the old dirt road. This was the last, best and--in this columnist's opinion--quite reasonable and statesmanlike offer to resolve the dispute over how to have a world-class restaurant operating out of a bush-league art museum, all within a block of buildings owned-but-leased-out by the City of Tucson. The Cliff's Notes version of the b.s. goes:

The TMA has a long-term lease on the historic Stevens House which Janos Wilder has been sub-leasing for his hotshot eatery. Museum director Yassin wants Janos out of there so the museum can expand into the old house and show off a lot of kitschy regional folk-art. Janos and most of the city council and most of the community want the restaurant to stay where it is because, after all, it is the only cool thing in the whole TMA compound, and one of a handful of nighttime draws to the downtown area. It came down to an obvious grudge match between Yassin and Wilder and Yassin and the city council, with everybody but Yassin trying to be reasonable, and offering larger-and-larger sums of money to guarantee the museum got its rent money and enough to more than match the space it sought for expansion, while maintaining a fine hash-house and tourist attraction. Yassin and his 34-member board of directors finally held a last-minute secret meeting and essentially told the City to eat shit and die.

Which effectively ends the saga of the Stevens House, because the TMA is going to turn it into another of about 17 pioneer period theme parks, with walls hung in tourist-class pre-Columbian art. Which means that This Old House has witnessed the last lively event in its long and colorful history.


As far as Bob Yassin, Janos Wilder, Janos Wilder's restaurant, Mayor George Miller, the Tucson City Council, and even The Weekly are concerned, history may still be in the making. Remember what I said about Yassin's apparent victory over Janos and the Mayor and Council?

Well, as my daddy used to say, "The sun don't shine up one cat's ass all the time, without burning it."

Bob Yassin would be wise to invest in some ass-bestos undies.

Not that any of his vanquished foes might match his level of incivility, but regardez:

• Mayor Miller and I chatted after we all saw the news release from the TMA board, announcing its rejection of the $700,000, and its unilateral refusal to negotiate. Pretty arrogant, huh? he said. They've given us the finger, is what they've done.

When you're the City's tenant, and you get 86 grand per annum in operating money from city coffers, it isn't smart to give the Mayor the finger.

• Tucson, while an okay community patron-of-the-arts-wise, is barely lukewarm to the Tucson Museum of Art. Some of this is attributable to the ugliness and inutility of the museum building. This huge and stupid ramp heading downhill uses up most of the potential wall space, so what should have been open and airy, providing long vistas, is merely a cold, dungeon-like stairwell. It's not the sort of place that invites you in. Whereas the old Stevens House, warm and cozy and redolent of Janos Wilder's great grits, drew diners like flies, from all over the world.

• And then there's the little matter of the right of the American people to freedom of the press and freedom of speech.

After The Weekly ran Margaret Regan's story outlining the sordid history of the scuffle--excluding the past month's developments and the abrupt conclusion of hostilities--Yassin got his panties in a bunch and decided to cease doing business with The Weekly. Now I neither know nor care how much annual ad revenue this rag derives from the TMA, but it always offends--and amuses--me when advertisers decide to destroy the free press because it prints news they don't want to read. Offends, because I believe in free expression. Amuses, because I know about people who buy their ink by the barrel.

I called Bob Yassin before writing this, to ask whether he's decided to relent. I told the receptionist who I was and where I was from and what I wanted to talk to Bob about, and said that since he probably wouldn't call back if he knew all that, to please just tell him Robert Redford phoned and would he please return the call immediately on account of I was up against deadline. Yassin never rang back.

I think the boy's future is largely behind him. TW

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