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Best Historical Site

San Xavier Mission del Bac
1950 W. San Xavier Road

READERS' PICK: Father Kino founded the San Xavier Mission in the late 1600s, and here at the passage of the present structure bicentennial year, the old church is looking better than ever. Long considered by our readers to be the best architectural legacy in the Old Pueblo, it was rebuilt in the Spanish Baroque style between 1776 and 1797. Intensive restoration between 1989 and 1997 has restored the mission to much of its original splendor, with thanks owed to local architect and historical preservationist Bob Vint (for his painstaking repair and refinishing of the structure's exterior), and the non-profit Patronato San Xavier (which raised funds and hired a world-class team of experts, including Paul Schwartzbaum, chief conservator of the Guggenheim Museum, to restore and care for the paintings and detail work on the interior). Four local, Native American apprentices were hired and trained by the experts in these state-of-the-art preservation techniques (the same used in the restoration of the Sistine Chapel), and they'll become part of the mission's permanent caretaking staff following this project's completion (which was slated for spring of this year). In addition to the intimate chapel, the mission these days supports a wonderful gift shop and one of the best places around to eat fry bread, at the cantina just across the way.

READERS' POLL RUNNER-UP: The genesis of the Fort Lowell Historic Neighborhood came when then-Camp Lowell moved to the current Fort Lowell park site, 2900 N. Craycroft Road, in 1873. It provided a bulwark in that era's ongoing Apache Wars, acquired by the U.S. along with the Gadsden Purchase. It became Fort Lowell in 1879, and was abandoned (five years after the surrender of Geronimo) in 1891. The ditch in Fort Lowell Park, a part of one of the original acequias, and the replanted Cottonwood Lane are remnants of the old Fort.

The surrounding neighborhood, known as El Fuerte, was primarily Hispanic, and, along with the nearby Mormon community of Binghampton, began growing around the turn of the century. The San Pedro Chapel (still standing today) was built in 1929, after the first one was destroyed by a cyclone. It was built by local residents like Isidro and Ricardo Ochoa in their spare time, and was closed in 1948. The view from the front of the chapel down towards the Rillito and the foothills is gorgeous, and was even more so before land rape took its toll.

The chapel got a boost in recognition when much-loved local musician Rainer Ptácek recorded his stunning instrumental album Nocturnes within its walls. It was also on this site that Rainer's family offered a beautifully moving memorial service when he passed away last year, adding one more legend to the chapel's staid walls.

The old El Fuerte Cemetery at Fort Lowell and Laurel served the local community. The graves there, from modern carved stones to simple concrete and wooden crosses, date from the early 1920s and attest to the simple lives and modest means of the residents. The cemetery is still active, the most recent addition coming in 1997 as one of the remaining ancianos of El Fuerte Neighborhood chose to be buried there. Gentrification began after WWII, and the Old El Fuerte neighborhood receded. It was designated an Historic District in 1979, and is a reminder of our hard-scrabble agrarian past, and our close ties to Mexico.

CLUE IN: No place captures the essence of the real Old Pueblo as perfectly as the modest El Tiradito shrine, right next to El Minuto Café downtown. The local folklore has it that back in the late 1800s, a philandering railroad worker was caught by a cuckolded husband and was chopped to pieces for his indiscretion. To add insult to injury, the husband then scattered those pieces along the Southern Pacific tracks leading to Mexico, so that the poor pleasure-seeker's ghost could never rest. Thus the name El Tiradito, "the little castaway," and thus the only shrine devoted to a sinner in the entire Southwest. Light a candle there on a windswept night, and you might just catch a glimpse of that unlucky fellow--or at least a piece or two of him.

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