(Villa Catalina article updated January 3, 2020)
Villa Catalina: Mid-Century Modern Condos
Villa Catalina Apartments are one of the most recognizable communities in Tucson. They’re a wonderful example of mid-century modern architecture with a broad linear roof line, floor to ceiling expanses of glass, and the unique circle-within-square railing motif. The development was designed for patio apartment living, which gained popularity in the post-war era and was promoted as ‘Tucson’s first own-your-own apartment homes’.
The units were constructed in 2 phases between 1957 – 1961 in what was eastern edge of town at the time. After several decades of growth in Tucson, Villa Catalina is now conveniently located in the middle of town, at 6th Street and Country Club, at the eastern edge of the Sam Hughes neighborhood. The western border of Villa Catalina abuts another condo community, El Encanto Condominiums (an Art Brown designed project), which is also listed on the National Historic Register.
“Every palatial sliding plate glass door and window frames a serene and delightful vista… only a step into your own moonlit lanai… to one of the two cooling, emerald pools… in the breathtaking beauty of sun and shade in Tucson’s stimulating, invigorating out-of-doors.”– Villa Catalina sales brochure, 1957
Villa Catalina developer, Lionel V. Mayell
Villa Catalina was developed by Lionel Mayell, who also built condominium communities in Long Beach, Los Angeles, Pasadena, Palo Alto, Santa Barbara, La Jolla, Phoenix, and many cities in Florida. He was the first to construct cooperative apartment buildings west of Chicago and by the 1960s he was dubbed the ‘Condo Pioneer’.
Lionel Mayell had an interesting history. He was born in 1897 in London, Ontario (about halfway between Detroit and Buffalo). At age 12, Mayell moved to Los Angeles with his family. He graduated from Occidental College and went on to attend law school at USC and Stanford.
During this time, he was fascinated with the idea of apartment homes that could be owned by individuals. He got his start with The Artaban in Long Beach, California in 1920. He went on to help develop the Cooper Arms(1924), and Villa Riviera (1929) until the Great Depression hit.
His daughter described him as going broke during the depression. “By age 39, he had made and lost a fortune, failed at two marriages, and was convinced the naysayers were right.” During the 1930s Mayell traveled in Spain promoting cooperative apartments and producing a musical variety show in towns along the Mississippi River. In the 40’s he became deeply involved in his church, where he invited 25-year old Billy Graham to speak at a church conference in Los Angeles.
In the post-war years, he got a $1,000 loan. After donating half to a Christian evangelical group, he used the other half of the loan to start Lionel Mayell Enterprises. His company designed or built at least 18 cooperative apartment developments over the next 20 years. These projects were in Southern California, Arizona, and Florida.Villa Catalina Sat, Jan 11, 1958 – 40 · () · Newspapers.com
He built other condos similar to Villa Catalina. In Pasadena there is a nearly identical development called Villa San Pasqual (selling at five-times the price of Tucson’s Villa Catalina!) The Villa del Coronado development in Phoenix is very similar to Villa Catalina.
Lionel Mayell Enterprises went bankrupt in 1966, after which Mayell left the building industry to start a new career working for the Campus Crusade for Christ in San Bernadino, California. Lionel Mayell died in San Bernadino in 1978 at the age of 81.
Villa Catalina Neighborhood Amenities
Villa Catalina consists of 20 buildings arranged in a rectangle, with a total of 79 units. The units vary in size from 1000 – 3000 sf, with 1 – 3 bedrooms and each unit has a garage space. There are 2 pools within the lush interior courtyard, as well as a putting green, built in barbecue grills, and shuffleboard courts.
In 1992, Villa Catalina was converted to a 55+ community. Which means one resident must be at least 55, and no residents under the age of 18 are allowed. Pets are also not allowed in the community.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places
Villa Catalina was recently listed on the National Register of Historic Places in December 2009, which offers significant tax savings. Many of Mayell’s other condo developments are also listed on the historic register.
5 things I love about this neighborhood
- The contrast between the seafoam green railings and the brick exterior.
- The convenient location at the eastern edge of Sam Hughes neighborhood.
- The meticulously manicured landscaping.
- Not 1, but 2 pools for cooling off.
- All those huge windows and sliding glass doors for indoor/outdoor living.