The Tucson Garden Railway Club had their annual open houses at 8 different locations around the city. I was able to visit 5 of them.
The first stop was at the Rincon Country West RV Resort. This location has over 1000 mobile homes and RV spaces, primarily for snowbirds. They also seem to have the most palm trees per square mile of anywhere in Arizona.
With all the retirees in the neighborhood they have clubs for everything, including their garden railway club. Their railway set up is permanent.
Many of the buildings were custom built.
The next stop was the Southern Arizona Transportation Museum, located on the grounds of the historic railway station.
Their small garden railway has without a doubt the most impressive railroad artifact next to it, a 157,000 pound Southern Pacific Railway locomotive dating from 1900.
Next stop was a private home in the hills west of downtown. Their backyard setup was nice, as were the views.
Their pet Schnauzer kept watch over the happenings.
The 4th railway setup was in a backyard of a home in Marana. This setup showed you don’t need a lot of space to have a nice setup.
The Grand Finale was a home in Catalina Foothills. The owner, an artist, custom built nearly everything.
In addition he is an avid cacti gardener, with the railway highlighting the vegetation, and vice versa.
The building construction was impressively intricate.
All of the presentations were nice, but this one was the most impressive.
The city of Bisbee is actually made up of the original town, plus a few of the outlying former small towns. One of those just south of the original part of Bisbee is Lowell.
The town was once like most places, with a main street shops and a few neighborhoods. Unfortunately for Lowell the massive copper mine next door wiped out all of the housing leaving only the main street, Erie Avenue.
Rather than completely die, Erie Avenue lives on thanks to a group of people who make up Lowell Americana Project.
At first glance it seems it is a ghost town where someone has parked a number of old vehicles. Closer examination shows there are a number of business that cater to the steady (but small) stream of tourists, including the very good Bisbee Breakfast Club restaurant – get the Shrimp Omelet, it is very good.
We arrived mid afternoon on a Sunday so there weren’t any tourist cars parked in the way of the photo ops with the vintage ones parked all along Erie Street.
One of many low angle views, this one of an Edsel.
Almost all of the cars and trucks parked around town are ‘rusty gold’ including this Studebaker pickup.
An old Chevy underneath the dealership sign.
This old bus has been renamed Strayhound.
There are a few open businesses to entertain you.
A couple of fully restored vehicles stand out amongst the rust.
Lowell, Arizona is one quirky stop, and literally about 1/4 mile from the Shady Dell!
Bisbee, Arizona is an eclectic little city that has for more than 100 years been a mining town. In addition for the last 40 years it has been a tourist town focused on their thriving artist community. As a result you get some really funky places like the Shady Dell.
The Shady Dell amazingly dates from 1927, when it was started as a motor court for the traffic that was going across county on U.S. 80, long before the interstates.
Today the Shady Dell is home to a number of permanently parked vintage campers that you can rent out for the night.
The Shady Dell’s environment encourages a sense of community.
If you are hungry Dot’s Diner is part of the setting for breakfast and lunch.
The trailers are scattered about, giving you a peaceful setting.
To add to the atmosphere there are a few old cars and trucks sitting around.
For a bit more luxury they offer a restored bus.
For those who love the water, this 1947 Chris Craft yacht is the ticket. Sorry no water, it’s Arizona.
The Shady Dell is truly one of those funky places that you must make a stop at. If you want to stay overnight, plan ahead, rumor has it they are booked up 6 months in advance.
Our last stop in Douglas is the historic Gadsden Hotel.
Completed during the Douglas boomtime of 1907, the hotel was destroyed by a fire in 1928 and rebuilt by the same architect who designed all the other important buildings in town, El Paso architect Henry Trost.
It is a majestic building for such a small town.
Legend has it that Pancho Villa rode his horse up these stairs, resulting in a chip in the 7th step up. How, you say, can the staircases have damage from Pancho Villa, who died in 1923, when the hotel burned in 1928.
They, along with the columns, survived the fire.
The painting at the top of the stairs is titled Cave Creek Canyon – Chiricahua Mountain by Audley Dean Nichols.
Bisbee resident Michael Page is a set designer who has done significant work in Hollywood, and has used these staircases as inspiration for a set he completed for the Oscar’s.
In addition to being inspirations, it has been featured in movies, including the Paul Newman movie The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean.
The 42′ long mural at the top of the stairs was completed by Ralph Baker – who was a Tiffany protege.
The columns have gold leafing on them.
A closer look at one of the skylights.
The hotel still uses the old school keys, waiting behind the receptionist desk.
Adding to the overall retro feel is the shoe shine stand, telephone booths and water fountain.
There are conquistador statues gracing the staircase.
The Cafe 333 is the onsite restaurant. It too has the panache to match the rest of the hotel.
In addition to the restaurant they have the Saddle and Spur Tavern.
The Gadsden Hotel is a real treasure of Southern Arizona.
The town of Douglas, Arizona was founded in 1905 as a copper smelting center. It sits directly on the border, across from Agua Prieta Sonora Mexico. For decades the two towns functioned as one.
As with most towns and cities in Southern Arizona it has a history of Native American, Mexican and European cultures.
The town very early on had an airport that attracted cross country flights, including Amelia Earhart who stopped by during a 1929 Women’s Air Derby.
It was known as the world’s first international airport since the runway crossed the border – not anymore.
The town has many historic buildings, including the former El Paso and Southwestern Railroad depot at the north end of town. It now serves as the police headquarters.
Completed in 1913 it is said to have an impressive interior, but sadly we were unable to see inside.
The Avenue Hotel consists of two buildings. The left one is made of adobe and dates from 1901. The one on the right is a 1915 brick building.
It is now a B & B.
The 1919 Grand Theater was the center of cultural events for Douglas. While it closed as a theater decades ago, it is in the process of being restored, albeit slowly. This is understandable given the significant cost for such a small town.
The Brophy Building was completed during the boom years in 1907. It was designed by famed El Paso architect Henry Trost.
It too is waiting for someone with the love, and money, to restore to it’s former glory.
This small building has had a varied history. Another Henry Trost building, it was completed in 1913 as the Airdome Theater.
It closed as a theater and became a Chevrolet dealership in the 1920s. The depression took out the dealership and it became a supermarket.
In the 1940s it became a USO canteen serving the thousands of soldiers from a nearby Army Air Corp training center. Later it became a real estate and insurance office. Today is still serves as a financial advisor’s office, and a copy center. They should call it the cat building as it seems to have had 9 lives.
Our final stop in Douglas is the Gadsden Hotel, which is featured in the next posting by itself.
Douglas is a pleasant little city with some interesting history.
For more than 40 years Jay Gammon and his wife Joann have been building structures for their old west movie set. According to IMDB more than 40 productions have filmed there, which I am certain is a low count.
Today Jay is in a nursing home and his wife Joann, with the help of others continue to maintain the set. On this day Joann unlocked the building but their dog Gus was our main tour guide, as he seemed walk around with a ‘follow me’ attitude.
There are a number of buildings that make a perfect old west town set.
The set/town includes all the required buildings including a saloon with swinging doors and an old piano. Joann told us one of the film productions said ‘we need a saloon for our filming – is it ok if we build one?’ Of course she said yes!
The town hall with a 1931 Buick parked inside, as well as a number of items celebrating the renown 1934 capture of John Dillinger in Tucson.
The building itself was once a flour mill in Safford, Arizona. It was deconstructed and brought piece by piece back to Gammons Gulch and reassembled as the town hall.
They have done a great job of collecting items for each building, like these cool old keys for the jail cells.
Once Joann had unlocked all of the buildings she gave us a brief overview and said ‘have a good time’, and off we went exploring.
This building is their Welcome Center, and they proudly note that the walls came from a building in Benson, and the large beam on the ceiling came from a 1920s ‘house of ill repute’ in Tucson.
The Mercantile Building was constructed onsite, but like all of the others is filled with items they collected over the years.
These buildings change their signs to reflect whatever each production company needs them to be. In addition they serve as the dressing rooms for the cast.
The church/school at the end of town had the gallows just outside, along with a nearby cemetery. The church/school was constructed for a 2009 movie called ‘Mattie’.
The cross is easily removed when it is supposed to be a school.
The trunks waiting on the 3:10 to Yuma.
In addition to the old car in the town hall, there are a couple of other classic rides parked around town. This backside of the main street serves as a 1920s setting.
A nearby hill provided a nice overview of the town and the surrounding area. Joann and Gus the dog are happy to have you visit, but call ahead as they often have filming occurring – they told me one of the guys from Dukes of Hazard was in town this week to film something.
With an afternoon to spend before heading to O’Hare Airport we wandered the Chicago suburbs of Oak Park and River Forest checking out the plethora of FLW works. Doing this tour in the winter, with a recent snow, gives a very different look to the area, with more of the homes exposed due to lack of leaves on the trees.
We start with the George Smith House at 404 Home Avenue in Oak Park. As an early example of his work this home is in a variation of a Queen Anne style known as Shingle. The rooflines and overall cladding gives the home an unusual look.
As we move north through Oak Park we reach the commercial Lake Street, home of Unity Temple. Home to a Unitarian Universalist Church, the building was completed in 1908. It is considered by many to be the first modern building in the world.
Unfortunately we were unable to view the interior.
There are so many FLW houses in Oak Park the neighborhood has been designated as the Frank Lloyd Wright Historic District. Our tour of this area starts at 540 Fair Oaks Avenue – the William Fricke House.
This house was completed in 1901 in a 3 story Prairie style.
Just down the street at 515 Fair Oaks Avenue is the Rollin Furbeck House. The large open porches and front tower modifies a typical foursquare looking home. The cost of the lot and home in 1897 was $8250 – less than $300,000 in today’s money – a real bargain.
The house was a wedding present to the Furbeck’s, who only lived in it for a year before selling and moving to New York.
Next stop is the William Martin House at 636 North East Avenue. When William’s brother Darwin visited from Buffalo, New York, he engaged FLW to design a number of building there.
534 North East Avenue is the Harry Goodrich House. Restoration in the 1990s returned it to it’s original look, which as an early FLW work is very different than the later Prairie style homes.
Just down the block at 520 North East Avenue is the Edward Cheney House. With only 1 level above ground, and a large brick wall, it is barely visible from the street.
Next stop is 710 Augusta Street – the Harry Adams House. Completed in 1913 it was one of his later houses build in Oak Park, thus incorporating more of his famed lineal lines. One of the features we often spot when looking for a FLW house is the large concrete planter, which is evident near the steps (being December in Illinois it is void of any flowers).
North Euclid Avenue is another street with multiple FLW homes on it. We start with 321 – the Charles Roberts House. This house was completed in 1879 with FLW remodeling it in 1896.
Dating from 1897 the George Furbeck House is at 223 North Euclid Avenue. In a somewhat unusual look for FLW the front features two octagon shapes. The rooms in front were originally an open porch that was enclosed in 1922.
FLW became infamous for abandoning his family and going to Europe with his mistress in 1909, staying there for an extended period. This home, the Oscar Balch Home at 611 North Kenilworth Avenue was the first home in Oak Park he designed upon his return, completing it in 1911.
This home was one of his first flat roofed designs.
Making our way back down to Chicago Avenue we find 1027 – The Thomas Gale House. This home, as well as two others on the same block, are known as FLW Bootleg houses as they were designed independently by FLW while he was still in the employment of Louis Sullivan – eventually being fired for doing so.
The other two bootleg houses are 1031 and 1019 Chicago Avenue. On this trip missed 1019 – below is the Walter Gale House at 1031. These homes, while not quite the classic FLW look, are very different than most of the other homes of the time, both dating from 1892.
A block away is the corner of Chicago Avenue and Forest Avenue, home to the FLW Home and Studio. The FLW foundation offers numerous tours of the location and neighborhood, so if you are in Oak Park and want a more in depth knowledge of him I recommend stopping by for one or more of the tours.
Forest Avenue has numerous FLW homes on it, starting with 333 – the Nathan Moore Home. Completed in 1895 in a Tudor Revival style, FLW never liked it but did what the client asked (something he became famous for ignoring later in life).
A fire in 1922 gave him a chance to do significant modifications more to his liking.
318 Forest Avenue shows the significant change in FLW’s design style, having been completed in 1902 as the Arthur Heurtley Home. Situated on a large lot, with large overhangs, arches and the ubiquitous planters, it is classic FLW.
Just across the street is 328 Forest Avenue – the Peter Beachy House. An extensive update to an existing cottage, the house features a gabled roof and heavy frames around the windows – very un-FLW.
Another remodel at 313 Forest Avenue is the Edward Hills House. This house has undergone numerous changes from it’s original 1883 construction as a Stick style house. FLW redesigned it in 1906, with subsequent modifications between 1912 and 1965. In 1976 there was a a major fire that destroyed much of the house, leading to a reconstruction and restore.
It does contain rooflines similar to the first house featured on this posting, the George Smith House on Home Avenue.
A small street off of Forest Avenue, Elizabeth Court, is the location of the Laura Gale House. This home was built for the widow of Thomas Gale, the owner of one of the bootleg FLW houses on Chicago Avenue.
This home is considered one of the first small home, prairie style houses that he designed.
As we move to the next suburb over, River Forest, we find the 1893 William Winslow house. As one of Wright’s early designs, it reflects the style of Louis Sullivan, his employer at the time, with the graceful arches and the overall symmetry of the design.
The Ashland Avenue home of Arthur Davenport was a result of a collaboration with another architect, Webster Tomlinson. Dating from 1901 it is a very early Prairie style.
Edgewood Place in River Forest has two FLW homes. This one is known as the Chauncey Williams Home.
Dating from 1895 it has a much higher pitched roof than most FLW designs.
It does utilize the octagon shaped front room, as well as a liberal use of large stones gathered from the nearby Des Plaines River, blending the house into the surrounding landscape.
The second home on Edgewood is the Isabel Roberts home. Ms Roberts at the time was the office manager for FLW at his studio in Oak Park.
Ms Roberts later relocated to Florida where she started an architectural practice, despite no formal training. A number of former Wright draftsmen later occupied the house.
Our last stop on this tour is the James Kibben Ingalls House at 562 Keystone Avenue in River Forest. This was one of his last designs before he took off for Europe with his mistress.
It is indicative of his later works with the clean lines and cantilevered balconies.
If you are a fan of architecture in general, or more specifically the Frank Lloyd Wright styles the Chicagoland area is the center of the universe. I have excluded the numerous other homes that were done in this style by proteges of him, as well as those of him that were located outside of Oak Park or River Forest. There are over 70 existing FLW works in Illinois.
In what seems to have become a fairly regular visit, we spent some time in Chicago around the holidays. While the majority are from 2022, a couple of the holiday photos are from previous years.
The CTA (Chicago Transit Authority) decorate an El Train for the holidays. We were fortunate enough once to be standing on the platform as it rolled through.
Always a couple of my favorite buildings are the two at Marina City. This close up shows the pattern that cause some to call them the ‘corn cob’ buildings.
The Van der Mies IBM building reflecting Marina City
The Wrigley Building – from a distance and a close up of the top.
The famed lateral bracing of the John Hancock Tower.
A riveting close up of the Dearborn Street Bridge.
A well decorated alley with those large Chicago fire escape stairs. This view is just off State Street near the theaters.
The Merchandise Mart is only 25 floors high, but with the footprint covering over 2 blocks it has 4 million square feet. When it was completed in 1930 it was the largest building in the world by square footage.
A Pink Line El Train crossing the river into the loop.
Chicago is a great city that is well worth the visit.
The very impressive Chicago Cultural Center started out life as the Main Chicago Public Library. Despite the plethora of legendary Chicago architects this building was designed in the late 1890s by the Boston architectural firm of Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge.
The details are immediately evident as you enter from the Washington Street entrance and start up the staircases.
The main circulation room when it was a library is now known as the Preston Bradley Hall. This room features the largest Tiffany glass dome in the world.
A second view looking straight up with the light in the center, changing the look and coloring of the dome.
At the north end of the building is the Grand Army of the Republic dome. This 40′ diameter dome was designed by Healy & Millet. It contains over 50,000 pieces of glass in a Renaissance pattern.
The Chicago Cultural Center has free admission and a number of exhibits, none of which are as impressive as the building itself.