Digital Storytelling and Visitor Analytics for City and Cultural Institutions
From the streetcar stop on Granada, look east across the Convention Center parking lot, and try to visualize a vibrant Hispanic community here ... modest adobe homes, "mom & pop shops" including a blacksmith shop, a Chinese grocer, and 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 these19th-century and early 20th-century homes have been restored and repurposed.
Of course, the most important place in Barrio Viejo is Cushing Street Bar & Restaurant, one of our favorites. This local favorite is known for delightful jazz on Friday and Saturday nights.
In the 1960s, 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 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.
From the area in front of the Convention Center, turn now to face southwest 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 area has been occupied by humans for at least 12,000 years.
Back then, this was not a desert. The climate was much colder and wetter than today. Where you are standing was grasslands, not cactus lands. 'Twas more similar to the rolling grasslands of Sonoita & Elgin about 60 miles southeast of Tucson.
The Paleo-Indians who lived here were hunters and gatherers who may have done a little farming in the short summers. They hunted now-extinct megafauna including mammoths larger than African elephants, ancient bison twice the size of our American buffalo, and sloths weighing 6,000 pounds.
Cover photo: Smendez25 via Wikimedia Commons.