University Heights School designed by Henry Jaastad was converted to apartments many years ago

Henry Jaastad – Architect and Tucson Mayor

Last Updated on May 26, 2020 by Kim Labriola

Henry Jaastad was an important local figure in the early 20th century for 2 main reasons. One, he was a prominent Tucson architect, designing about 500 buildings in Tucson and throughout Southern Arizona, literally shaping the appearance of area. Secondly, he became influential in local politics with a long career as a Tucson Mayor and as a member of the City Council. Even after his political retirement, Jaastad remained a prominent citizen for the rest of his long life.

Art Deco facade designed by Henry Jaastad in 1936
This bungalow home in the West University neighborhood was built in 1900. Jaastad was hired in 1936 to design the Art Deco addition seen here.

About Henry Jaastad

Early Life

Henrik ‘Henry’ Olsen Jaastad was born in 1872 in Norway. He was the oldest of 7 children. Henry and his family emigrated to the United States when he was 13 years old, eventually settling in Deerfield, Wisconsin. He worked on a farm while his younger siblings went to school. After 3 years of farm work, he went to school where he learned to speak English. He spent several years working in a furniture factory and was eventually promoted to foreman in the cabinet department.

Coming to Tucson

Henry relocated to Tucson in 1902, following his sweetheart, Millie Wick, who suffered from tuberculosis and had moved to Tucson for health reasons. After his arrival, he found work in Tucson as a journeyman carpenter working on the Willard Hotel, Owl’s Club, and the Desert Botanical laboratories. He also started his own contractor business in 1903. During this time, he designed and built small homes in Armory Park, North Speedway, and West University neighborhoods. Sadly, his wife Millie died in June 1907.

Henry Jaastad designed brick row house (before 1909) in Barrio Viejo on Convent Avenue
Henry Jaastad designed brick row house (pre-1909) in Barrio Viejo on Convent Avenue. Jaastad is credited with introducing fire-clay brick to the area as a building material.

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Becoming an architect

After finishing correspondence courses in architecture, Henry Jaastad opened his architect office in late 1907. He also completed electrical engineering courses at the University of Arizona.

Jaastad started his career working on mostly small residential projects, but eventually expanded to larger projects including churches and schools. The prominent building styles over his 50-year architectural career changed and his design aesthetic changed as well. Going from minimalist and utilitarian work to Spanish Colonial Revival, Mission Revival, and other revival styles that gained popularity.

A few of the 500 buildings designed by Henry O. Jaastad:

  • Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church at 830 N 1st Ave. Tucson
  • Dunbar Elementary and John Spring Junior High Schools at 325 W 2nd St. Tucson
  • Reilly Pizza at 101 E Pennington St. Tucson
  • University Heights School at 1201 N Park Ave. Tucson
  • Saint Augustine Cathedral remodel (1929) at 192 S Stone Ave. Tucson
  • Many homes in West University and Armory Park neighborhoods

Jaastad worked with a long list of influential, well-known local clients such as Mose Drachman, Preston Jacobus, J. Ivancovich, and George Kitt.

Jaastad employed architect Annie Graham Rockfellow as lead designer from 1916 until her retirement in 1938. During those 22 years, Rockfellow produced several highly regarded projects for Jaastad including El Conquistador Hotel (demolished), Safford School in Armory Park, Desert Sanitorium (Tucson Medical Center), and the YWCA building.

Jaastad also employed other notable Tucson architects including Prentice Duell, E.D. “Ed” Herreras, and D. Burr DuBois. Toward the end of his career in 1953, Jaastad partnered with Fred Knipe to form the architecture firm Jaastad & Knipe.

“Architecture was supposed to be decorative… beautiful, rich, living.”

– Henry Jaastad, quoted at the age of 90

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Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church designed by Henry Jaastad in 1949
Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church (1949) was designed by Henry Jaastad. This project must have been especially important to Jaastad because he was a member.

Personal life

In 1912, Jaastad wed Theolina Nelson. Theolina emigrated from Sweden at the age of 19. The pair raised 2 foster sons, Nicolai Erdahl and Eric Karlsson.

Jaastad became active in several local associations and civic groups such as, YMCA, American Institute of Architects, American Association of Engineers, and the Archaeological Society of Arizona.

Saint Augustine Cathedral features a remodeled facade designed by Henry Jaastad, E.D. Herreras, and D. Burr DuBois. The remodel transformed the former Romanesque Revival style to a Spanish Colonial Revival style that was popular in 1929.

Henry Jaastad’s political career

In 1924 Jaastad started his political career after being elected to the city council. He successfully ran for mayor in 1933, a job he kept for 14 years. His mayoral term started in the middle of the Great Depression. During these years, the population of Tucson doubled, and the mileage of paved streets was tripled. He has been given credit for helping establish a more adequate city water system, establishing Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, and establishing the Tucson Municipal Airport, as well as construction of Himmel Park.

While serving as mayor, he insisted on driving his own vehicle and refused to turn in an expense account. About a year after his final year as mayor, his wife Theolina died, she was 73.

Dunbar Spring School designed by Henry Jaastad
Dunbar Spring School designed by Henry Jaastad.

Later years

Henry Jaastad spent his later years taking trips to Norway and other parts of Europe. He enjoyed visiting cathedrals from Scandinavia to Italy. Jaastad married Juliet Sexe in 1959. Juliet was a long-time friend of the family. They remained married until his death in 1965. Henry O. Jaastad lived to be 93 years old.

The Johnson House was designed by Henry Jaastad in 1916 in a Spanish Colonial Revival style.
The Johnson House was designed by Henry Jaastad in 1916 in a Spanish Colonial Revival style.

Interested in buying or selling a home in Tucson? Contact us to go over your needs. 520-975-8956 or