Colonia Solana Residential Historic District

Tucson City, Pima County, AZ

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Landscape architect Stephen Child, who studied with Frederick Law Olmstead, designed Colonia Solana in 1928 incorporating natural elements such as the Arroyo Chico, a lush desert riparian habitat for birds and wildlife. The neighborhood is designed around five small triangular parks and intersecting curvilinear streets featuring homes located on large desert-landscaped lots. Architectural styles range from Spanish Colonial Revival to post World War II Ranch houses designed by prominent architects such as Roy Place and Arthur T. Brown. [1]

The Colonia Solana Residential Historic District [2] was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1989.

Located in the central part of Tucson, Arizona, the Colonia Solana Residential Historic District (1928-1941) is made up of 111 distinctive single family residences which are excellent examples of Period Revival and Contemporary styles within a unique and outstanding subdivision plan. The informal, non-geometric subdivision plat is one of the first in Arizona to incorporate a non-symmetrical, curvilinear layout. The plat includes a natural arroyo which runs diagonally across the southern portion and which becomes an integral part of the district. The subdivision is clearly defined by rectilinear boundary avenues which contain the gently arcing small-scale subdivision streets. Native desert plant materials are used in an unusual, naturalistic fashion in specific areas to unify the district and provide an open desert atmosphere within the city. The implementation of early deed restrictions and architectural review controlled construction, prevented nonconforming uses, and helped insure a constant use of the land throughout the area. The community plan, landscaping character, and architecturally significant residential structures combine to create a precise, cohesive historic district and visible sense of time and place.

The single most outstanding factor to the cohesiveness of the Colonia Solana Neighborhood is its historic subdivision plan. The age and architectural character of its older residences lend additional validity to its historical character. Development within the district generally has been uniform since 1929, with pauses in construction during the Depression and during WWII. Later houses are considered to be contributing, although they are not yet 50 years old, because of their architectural integrity and their contribution to the cohesion of the neighborhood. [note: this was written in 1988] These houses are stylistically similar to the older houses. The era in which all of these houses were built ended in 1941 with the start of World War II.

The community plan, the landscape architecture, and most residential properties are significantly intact and display a high degree of integrity. Additionally, the condition of the properties is good and careful maintenance over the years has helped preserve the appearance and unique sense of place within the district boundaries.

The subdivision plat for Colonia Solana was approved by the City of Tucson and by Pima County in 1928. At that time, the planned subdivision was located in the desert east of the Tucson city limits and a little southwest of the El Conquistador Resort Hotel construction site. (The hotel was opened November 22, 1928 but was razed in the 1960's to make way for a shopping center.) Tucson has since grown around and far beyond the neighborhood. Arterial streets on two sides and two streets adjacent to Reid Park (previously named Randolf Park) on the other two sides give strong definition to the district boundaries. Moreover, El Encanto Estates and El Con Shopping Center to the north and Reid Park to the east and south provide a strong permanent buffer. Neighborhood development exists only to the west. Colonia Solana retains a unique sense of privacy and place. This is due to the stability of the surrounding area, the strength of the community plan and the subdivision layout, the preservation of the original desert landscaping the retention of well defined deed restrictions for fifty years and architectural review during much of that period.

In addition, the recent development of a comprehensive neighborhood plan will serve to help preserve and protect this unique subdivision in the future. However, Broadway to the north is one of the major traffic arteries in Tucson and is destined to become a wider and more developed thoroughfare which will influence the development of the remaining vacant lots along its frontage. This is the one threat to the integrity of Colonia Solana. On entering Colonia Solana one finds many curving streets; large lots, most covered with desert vegetation; small patches of desert at street intersections; and Arroyo Chico, a desert riparian zone, or tree-lined stream bed, which snakes through the southern half of the district.

Access to the district is not particularly limited, although through traffic within the neighborhood is not a problem because of the presence of Reid Park and because no street is a through connector. Arroyo Chico also serves as an internal buffer. Three streets terminate at the feeder streets on either side, but no street runs directly through the subdivision from one side to the other. Via Palos Verdes, Via Golondrina, Via Guadalupe, and Via Esperanza curve through the neighborhood and terminate at boundary streets running 90 degrees from their streets of origin. Avenida de Palmas, Calle Chaparita, and Arroyo Chico terminate within the district. While auto traffic is limited, there are some pedestrians and bike riders from the park. (Actually, the neighborhood is used by runners, hikers, and bike riders as an extension of the park.)

The Colonia Solana Residential Historic District is approximately in the center of the City of Tucson (population 600,000) which lies in the Santa Cruz Valley, sixty-five miles north of the Mexican border. Four mountain ranges surround the City which is about 2,400 feet above sea level. The historic district boundaries are formed by two major arterial streets—Broadway Boulevard to the north and Country Club Road to the West, and two smaller streets, Randolph Way to the east and Camino Campestre to the south. Excluded from the district are two lots directly at the northeast corner, which were not a part of the original subdivision and were not subject to the deed restrictions although at first were zoned for single family residences. In 1965, the zoning was changed to permit construction of commercial property only on these lots. A third lot, just south of the above lots, also was not included in the original subdivision and now contains apartments. However, since a historic water tower had been built within its boundaries, it is being included in the historic district. Except for these excluded lots, the district boundaries are the same as the original subdivision plan of the neighborhood plotted in 1928. The district boundaries include approximately 150 acres of land with single family residential development of low density.

The district boundaries (except for the two northeast lots previously discussed), were chosen because they reflect the original and unchanged subdivision plat filed in 1928, and because the district remains an unchanged and clearly defined entity. Two major arterials bound the district on the north and west and effectively isolate it from nearby commercial and residential areas. On the east and south, two low traffic access streets separate the district from Reid Park. Colonia Solana maintains a distinct visual sense of time and place.

The planned but informal curving narrow streets, the harmony of landscaped lots which create a uniform context within the subdivision, the presence of native desert vegetation throughout the district, and the compatibility of the architecture throughout, all lend a consistent, unified atmosphere to this neighborhood in contrast to the other nearby residential areas. The curvilinear streets throughout, and the east to west bisection of the subdivision by the Arroyo Chico with its natural desert vegetation, create visual interest and an intimate, yet inviting, setting which reflect the splendor of this subdivision.

Colonia Solana is a rare island of wilderness within an urban landscape. El Encanto Estates to the north across Broadway is a low density but more formal planned subdivision. To the west across Country Club is a conventional Tucson residential neighborhood. To the east and south across Randolph Way and Camino Campestre stretches Reid Park, a green oasis designed for recreational use with a much different character.

In 1928, Country Club Realty Co. owned the land on which the Colonia Solana subdivision now stands. The first house constructed there was a grand spec house built by George B. Echols. In 1929, construction in this area was active with five houses being built, and between 1930 and 1931, six more homes were completed. The Depression, however, showed its negative effect and drastically slowed construction between 1931 and 1932 with only two houses being built. Later between 1933-1934, no homes were constructed in Colonia Solana. In 1935, however, construction began to pick up with two houses being built, and by 1937, six more were constructed. The period just prior to WWII, 1939 to 1941, was the most active with ten homes being constructed. The advent of WWII caused a complete halt to all building here, and from 1942 to 1945, not a single house was built in the neighborhood. Development began again in 1946 and continued at a relatively constant pace until the early sixties when, due to fewer lots, the rate of building became sporadic, with the last residences being built in the early 1980's.

Development of Styles in the District During the historic period, the Spanish Colonial Revival style was the dominant style in Colonia Solana. Of the 32 homes constructed during this era, all but seven were of the Spanish Colonial Revival style. However, during the post WWII period, the predominant choice was the Ranch style. After 1941, only seven Spanish Colonial Revival houses were built, as opposed to 59 Ranch Style, nine Modern, one International Style and one Neo-eclectic style residences.

  1. Blenman-Elm Neighborhood Association in conjunction with University Medical Center, A Guide to Tucson's Historic Neighborhoods,, accessed December, 2015.
  2. Ralph Comey, Project Manager, Ralph Comey Architects, Colonia Solana Residential Historic District, Pima County, AZ, nomination document, 1988, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Street Names
Arroyo Chico East • Avenida de Palmas South • Broadway Boulevard East • Calle Chaparita South • Camino Campestre East • Country Club Road South • Luna Linda • Placita Colonia Solana South • Via Esperanza East • Via Esperanza South • Via Golondrina East • Via Golondrina South • Via Guadalupe East • Via Guadalupe South • Via Palos Verdes East

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