Point of Interest
Shortly after the streetcar leaves the Mercado, it will make a left turn onto Cushing Street. As it does, look south and you will see a flat, undeveloped area and the Santa Cruz River channel. This is where the Convento was, before its ruins were bulldozed to create a landfill in the 1950's.
This is also where the Tohono O'odham village of T'Chuk-Sohn was when Father Kino "discovered" it. For thousands of years, the Santa Cruz River flood plain was farmland with a maze of irrigation canals.
Toward the end of the pioneer period, the farmlands here were owned by prominent Tucson men, such as Hiram Stevens, but worked by Chinese immigrants who had come as laborers to lay track for the Southern Pacific Railroad.
Tucson Convention Center, Music Hall, & Leo Rich Theater
Looking at the Convention Center, try to visualize a vibrant Hispanic community here ... modest adobe homes, "mom & pop shops", a blacksmith shop, a Chinese grocer, a theater. It looked very similar to the present-day neighborhood just south of the convention center that was spared. That area is now called Barrio Viejo, the old neighborhood. Many of these 19th century and early 20th century homes have been restored and re-purposed. It's worth a walkabout.
Of course, the most important place in Barrio Viejo is Cushing Street Bar and Restaurant, one of our favorites. Very good food. Delightful jazz on Friday and Saturday nights.
Urban Renewal Or Urban Removal?
In the 1960's, Tucson civic leaders were almost exclusively Anglo Americans. They had little regard for the Hispanic population that had lived here for generations. The primary concern of these Anglo leaders was "How do we revitalize Downtown Tucson using government funds and make a fortune for ourselves?"
In the latter decades of the 20th century, people stopped living Downtown and moved to the suburbs. The Downtown businesses followed their customers and became tenants in the many suburban shopping malls. Downtown became a derelict, occupied mainly by the homeless, drug addicts, and prostitutes. Downtown buildings, like the Fox Theater, were becoming ruins. Many historic commercial buildings were bulldozed. Their vacant lots remained vacant for decades.
Just south of the Streetcar stop at the south corner of Granada and Cushing Street is a memorial to the homes and shops that the City bulldozed and the people who were displaced with little warning and little to no compensation. Not Tucson's finest hour. The City fathers called it Urban Renewal. In truth, it was Urban Removal. The facilities that replaced the Barrio were never financially successful.
In the summer of 2017, La Placita, the colorful, failed commercial development just north of the Convention Center will be torn down and replace by residential units. People are finally discovering that Downtown is now a great place to live.
People Have Lived Here For At Least 12,000 Years
From the area in front of the Convention Center, turn now to face west and you will see "A" Mountain. The fertile Santa Cruz River floodplain was between you and the mountain and stretched for several miles north and south.
This was grasslands, not cactuslands. More similar to the rolling grasslands of Sonoita & Elgin. The Paleo-Indians who lived here were hunter / gatherers who may have done a little farming in the short summers.
By "hunters" I don't just mean they just killed an occasional rabbit or deer. They hunted megafauna: mammoths larger than African elephants; ancient bison (now extinct) twice the size of our American buffalo; sloths weighing 6,000 pounds. Can you imagine?
No doubt these hardy people were themselves hunted. This was also the age of big cats ... no, I mean really big cats, such as Saber-Tooth Tigers, larger than African lions.
Well into the 19th century, the local aborigines typically lived in family groups in brush arbors scattered around the desert, but always near a water & food source.
As their farming allowed for more permanent settlements, their abodes became somewhat more substantial ... as seen in this photo.
Pima, Papago, or Tohono O'odham?
Perhaps I should mention here that the historical record alternately refers to these people as (a) Pima; (b) Papago; and (c) Tohono O'odham. When Father Kino explored this area in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, he named this land Pimeria Alta, "Land of the Upper Pimas".
O'odham is a Uto-Aztecan language shared by two groups in Arizona with their own dialects. These two groups understand each other just as the Brits and Aussies can, more-or-less, understand each others' peculiar English dialects.
The Pima Indians had main two sub-groups. The Papago was one. The Spanish called them "Papago", because that is what neighboring tribes called them. "Papago" means "bean-eater" or "beaner" because they farmed tepary beans for consumption. Tepary beans are nutritious and thrive in hot, dry climates.
When the Papago people became a federally recognized American Indian Nation, the Papago changed their public name to what they had always called themselves, Tohono O'odham, meaning "Desert People".
North around present-day Phoenix, another Pima group lived along the Salt and Gila Rivers. They called themselves ... take a guess. "River People". In total, there are more than 10,000 O'odham speakers in Arizona.
Walk north a few blocks along Granada Avenue and turn right (east) when you see the sign pointing to the Sosa-Carrillo-Fremont House. Go to the front door and stop.