Last Updated on August 24, 2021 by Kim Labriola
A Short History of West University neighborhood
West University Neighborhood is a National Historic District bounded by Speedway Blvd., Park Ave., 6th St., and Stone Ave. It was developed in the late 1800s to the early 1900s and became the first major subdivision north of the Southern Pacific Railroad.
The location of West University neighborhood was convenient to both the railroad that arrived in 1880 and the University of Arizona, which opened in 1891. It developed into an area of town that attracted many community leaders in Tucson, including local politicians, store owners, educators, and architects. The Ronstadt’s and the Drachman’s were notable residents.
During the territorial period (before statehood in 1912) there was quite a bit of building and land speculation which was stimulated by the development of the streetcar that opened in 1897, connecting the downtown area with the University of Arizona (sound familiar?).
Homes for sale in West University
Architectural Styles of West University
Bungalow style homes make up about half of the neighborhood. Some other styles represented are Craftsman, Bungalow, Prairie, Mission Revival, Gothic Revival, Art Deco, Neo-Classical. Many of the homes used Basalt stone from nearby A-Mountain (Sentinel Peak). Prominent architects who worked in the neighborhood include Henry Trost, Roy Place, Henry Jaastad, David Holmes, Annie Graham Rockfellow and, Merritt Starkweather.
Early West University Architects
Henry Jaastad, who later became Tucson’s mayor, was the most prolific architect in the neighborhood, credited with designing 50 homes in West University as well several churches. Jaastad got his start working as a carpenter for Trost & Trost. After completing a correspondence course in architecture, he opened his own firm in 1908. He hired Annie Graham Rockfellow as his lead designer in 1916. Rockfellow was the first woman architect registered in Arizona and is credited with designing the El Conquistador Hotel which she considered her greatest achievement (unfortunately it was demolished to make way for the El Con Mall).
Roy Place is the architect who worked on 2 dozen University of Arizona buildings, as well as some homes in West University. Place’s most well known building is the Pima County Courthouse. Henry Trost, who was influenced by Louis Sullivan, was the architect who worked on the Ronstadt house located on 6th Avenue.
Walkability of West University
West University is very walkable having 2 major shopping/restaurant districts nearby: 4th Avenue and Main Gate. It also has a nice central community space in Catalina Park, a grassy, tree-shaded block that has a wading pool and a children’s play area. The streetcar passes right through the neighborhood making it convenient for heading to the University of Arizona or downtown in short time. The neighborhood falls within the TUSD school district with Roskruge Elementary, Mansfeld Middle, and Tucson High being the schools for the area.
Historic Preservation in West University
The neighborhood first gained entry to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. Parts of the neighborhood are also included in the “West University Historic Preservation Zone” which has stricter guidelines for any modifications on the exterior of the buildings.