Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Tucson's Presidio brings 1700s to life (op-ed)

[Source: Bonnie Henry, Daily Star] -- Ninety years after the last vestiges of Tucson's walled fort known as San Agustín del Tucson were carted off, a portion of the presidio has now come to life Downtown. But re-creating the late 18th century in modern-day Tucson hasn't come easy. Adobe walls had to be stabilized. Uniforms had to be meticulously researched. And then there was that cannon — one that shoots out toast, rather than fire power. One can only wonder what the presidio's original inhabitants — and the Apaches they fought — would think of all this. Inside, meet some of the stalwarts determined to keep our history alive — with or without limitations.

The Transamerica Building looms to the south, sometimes blocking the sun. Across the street is a parking garage. Trains can be heard rumbling in the distance. And plunked in the middle of all this modern urbanity sits Tucson's distant past: the re-created Presidio San Agustín del Tucson. Part anachronism, all dream — particularly for Tucson architect Lewis Hall, who in 1984 helped found the Tucson Presidio Trust for Historic Preservation. Its main mission: reconstruct a portion of Tucson's long-gone fort, which dates back to the late 1770s. Hall had an even bigger dream. "He wanted the whole thing. He wanted to tear down City Hall," says another Presidio Trust founder, Sybil Needham. "It was an obsession with him." Lewis died in 1998, a year before funding to reconstruct a portion of the presidio was approved. The location: a parking lot, three acres in all, on the northeast corner of Church Avenue and Washington Street. Funded with $2.67 million in Rio Nuevo money, re-creation became reality last May, though not without its naysayers. "Some people say you can't restore," says Needham. "But the Alamo is restored. All those buildings bombed to gravel during World War II have been restored." Archaeologist and anthropologist Gayle Hartmann, who is a former president of the Presidio Trust, says, "Yes, this is a reconstruction. It used to be a parking lot. I don't think that matters. It's a glimpse of history."

[Note: To read the full article, click here. Photo source: Arizona Daily Star.]