If you want to understand Tucson’s history & rich cultural heritage, you will find these downtown museums both educational & fascinating.
The Jewish History Museum
The Jewish History Museum is housed in the old synagogue, Temple Emanu-El, built in 1910. Much of the fundraising for this Temple is attributed to the “Angel of Tucson”, Theresa Marx Ferrin, whose story is told in Jan Cleese’s book, Levi’s and Lace. It is not spacious, yet it offers serious exhibits related to the contributions of many Jews, such as the Drachman brothers, and the vitality of early Tucson. Did you know, for example, that Tucson has had 5 Jewish mayors?
Adjacent to the Jewish History Museum is the Holocaust History Center. Over two hundred and thirty Holocaust survivors from eighteen nations made Southern Arizona their home during the post-WWII era. The Holocaust History Center exhibits illuminate the history of Nazi persecution and its aftermath through the lives of those who were there.
Your understanding of Tucson history will be seriously incomplete if you are not aware of the Jewish community’s contribution to the development of our city.
Whenever the JHM is open, a docent is there to enlighten. The exhibits only tell a part of the story. The docents bring the exhibits to life.
564 South Stone, Tucson
Hours: Friday from Noon to 3 PM.
Saturday, and Sunday from 1 to 5 PM.
Admission: $7. Free to students and young children.
Tucson Museum Of Art & Historic Block
If you enjoy Southern Arizona and love art and history, you will surely appreciate our Tucson Museum of Art. The permanent exhibits in the main gallery are small, but worthwhile. However, on permanent display in the adjacent historic buildings are several treasures, including the Pavilion of Western Art in the Edward Nye Fish House, and Latin American, pre-Columbian, and Spanish Colonial era art in the Stevens/Duffield House.
The historic Romero House is where you will find students of all ages busy in the Museum’s ceramics programs working their potter’s wheels and firing their clay creations in the kilns. La Casa Cordova, one of the oldest buildings in Tucson, houses displays showing life in the Old Pueblo when it was still a small Mexican village.The J. Knox Corbett House, once home to a wealthy Tucson merchant, was built at the turn of the previous century and is filled with furnishing from that era. We have a video tour the Corbett House. To watch, click HERE.
Every few months, the Museum offers new shows from major traveling exhibits. These temporary exhibits are always visually stunning and are usually accompanied by compelling narratives, such as the recent Frida Kahlo exhibit and Scott Baxter’s amazing portraits: 100 Years – 100 Ranchers.
Dining At The Museum of Art
Another delight at Tucson Museum of Art is Cafe’ A La C’art, where you can get a fine breakfast; a fresh salad or generous sandwich for lunch (excellent burgers) or enjoy duck, scallops, lamb, or fish for dinner. They also have the best desserts.
The Museum is located on a full city block bounded by West Alameda, North Main Ave, West Washington, and North Meyer in the historic El Presidio Neighborhood located in the heart of downtown Tucson.
140 North Main Avenue.
The Spanish built a fort, or presidio, in this remote northern region of New Spain at the same time a few British colonists on the Atlantic coast of America declared their independence from the English Crown, 1776.
Originally, “El Presidio San Agustin del Tucson” was only a few scattered buildings, some behind wooden palisades. It wasn’t until 1783 that the thick adobe walls were completed, following a near-disastrous Apache attack. At it zenith, the presidio encompassed about 11 acres of what became Downtown Tucson.
This walled compound was constructed only a few city-blocks east of the Santa Cruz River on a Ho-ho-kam’ village site that had been abandoned around 900 C.E. Their descendants, the Pima and Papago (now Tohono O’odham) Indians had lived here for hundreds of years before the Spanish arrived. When the presidio was completed, the natives lived outside the walls.The presidio was still intact when the United States bought what is now the southern half of New Mexico and Arizona from Mexico in 1854. However, soon thereafter, the Americans began dismantling the massive walls to make way for their town. The last standing section of the presidio walls was destroyed in 1918.
Reconstruction of a portion of the old presidio began in 2006. Today, you can visit the presidio and its permanent exhibits & gift store, and occasional festivals, re-enactments, and official ceremonies.
To watch our interview with a 1776 Spanish soldier stationed at El Presidio San Agustin de Tucson, click HERE. To watch our video interview with a Spanish soldier’s wife as she tells us about the terrifying Apache attack of 1782 and the one thing that saved them from annihilation, click HERE.
133 W. Washington Street
The Southern Arizona Transportation is a history of train travel in Southern Arizona. For a small museum, it is quite interesting, and it’s FREE! It’s located next to the tracks in the train depot. See the link for our review of the Southern Arizona Transportation Museum.
14 N. Toole
Arguably, the newest museum downtown, and also the most jaw-dropping is the Alfie Norville Gem & Mineral Museum. It includes the history of mining in Arizona as well as a thorough, most fantastic collection of gems and minerals from all over the world, donated and on loan. You can read our review of the Mineral Museum here. Entrance to this museum is not cheap but with the Passport from the Southern Arizona Attractions Alliance, you can get a two-for-one ticket which will almost pay for itself.
115 N. Church Ave. Suite 121
To learn about more worthwhile museums in Tucson, whether art or other, see our list of the Best Museums here.