Yesterday I went to a party at one of the most beautiful Joesler homes I've ever seen. I walked around speechless for the first 20 minutes. And when I finally came-to, I talked with quite a few people who are into Joesler's, love the old foothills, and are concerned about the preservation of this area.
It made me think of this piece, which I had posted last year, and it inspired me to re-edit it, to try and make it better, and more focused - so I could post it again. I'm not sure I accomplished that, but I love looking at pictures of great Joesler's and they remain untouched from the last version.
John Murphey, the founder and developer of the Catalina Foothills Estates, in partnership with the architect Josias Joesler, were visionaries in the development of the Tucson Foothills, which until they came along, was a remote and undeveloped area of Tucson.
Their vision was to create a lifestyle that would be attractive to wealthy mid-western and eastern families seeking a winter refuge in a desert environment. Tucson's first second home owners.
And the homes designed by Joesler,while meant to evoke a romantic association with the desert, were often large homes on sprawling hilly lots that were surrounded by the beauty and privacy of the natural desert.
Many of those Joesler's survive to this day, and quite a few have been carefully maintained and renovated to provide modern comforts and conveniences, while maintaining the essence and character of Joesler & Murphey's vision. When they're done right, they're incredibly beautiful.
However many (most really) of the original sprawling hilly lots, which ran from ten to fifteen acres or more, have by now been subdivided and whittled down to nearly the size of your typical new Mc Mansion lot, to make way for more homes. There's virtually no other build-able land available, particularly in the Old Foothills, and as R. Brooks Jeffery said in A Guide to Tucson Architecture - "Today, much of the original rural character of the Catalina Foothills has been lost - an ironic consequence of its success". That book was published in 2002, and since then, builders have become even more creative and relentless about squeezing homes onto lots that until recently would not have even been considered. And the effects of that in-fill development have not been positively received by most people in this area, myself included.
The original Catalina Foothills Estates is ideally located in the center of what we now call 'the old Foothills'. It's bordered by Skyline Dr on the north, River Rd on the south, and extends about a third of a mile east and west of Campbell Ave.
Here we're looking north on Campbell Ave from River Rd, which cuts right thru the original Catalina Foothills Estates.
Up here on the left is Calle La Vela -
it's the best street in the Old Foothills for Joesler estates.
I count 9 Joesler's within about a 1/2 mile of this intersection, including the Lee Marvin residence on 12.2 acres.
In the following pictures, you'll see that these homes are very privately located, up on top of a hill or tucked back and away from the street, behind gates and desert foliage.
Like this one
there's a really great Joesler on top of this hill
and another is tucked back there behind those cypress trees.
It was on about 4.5 acres, but not anymore. Last year it was whittled down to about 1 acre, with three new homes built on
the lots that were carved off.
Turning north on Calle Ladero, there's a Joesler behind this entry gate.
Here's a closer look at some of the homes behind those gates and on top of those hills -
these pictures are from 4 different Joesler homes
Clay Tile roofs, thick adobe walls, arches, lots of private outdoor areas for recreation and relaxation, all Joesler signatures
Joesler used deep overhanging roofs on the south side to shield the house from the sun
This is the front entrance to this house, and though you can't see it, this large front patio is enclosed by an adobe wall. The big windows are in the living and dining rooms, and look north to the Catalina's
Tall Timber beamed ceilings, prominent fireplaces, scored concrete floors, and large windows in the living areas for mountain and city views are all indicative of Joesler's work
Above, is an Arizona Room- a porch really, another signature.
AZ rooms were not heated or cooled and often had screened windows for an indoor/outdoor experience, notice the fireplace
behind the plant. This one has been converted to year round living space, it's heated and cooled, and closed off from the outdoors.
I don't think you can tell from these pictures, but all the interior walls are built of thick adobe- these homes are fortresses
This is a bedroom- with a fireplace, wood beamed cathedral ceiling, and stained concrete floors
A kitchen patio with brick flooring,
While many of these homes have been maintained, or carefully updated and renovated over the years, not all of them have been done as carefully and as well as the homes you see here.
I've seen some disasters that are all but unrecognizable as Joesler's, which is very sad if you're a fan of his work.
And then occasionally I'll come across a more or less vintage Joesler that hasn't been touched in decades, and with those, while the
good bones adage is generally true, you also get to see the quirks of a Joesler.
He built these homes as winter retreats for wealthy families, and it was typical for them to have a cook on staff to prepare meals - these people didn't hang out and entertain friends in the kitchen as we do today. Or they would dine out regularly, and so the kitchens in many of these Joesler's are tiny, really tiny - particularly in relation to the size of the home.
Ok, that's understandable, but the closets are also very tiny.
And my vision of that era is of steamer trunks full of clothes with a variety of outfits for every occasion, from lawn tennis to an evening at the symphony. Where'd they put it all.
Nevertheless, Joesler's legacy in Tucson remains without parallel.
70+ years later and his homes remain the prized possessions of their proud owners and a source of inspiration for his followers and imitation by those trying to capitalize on his legacy.
I frequently see homes listed for sale that are described as;
'Joesler-esque', 'Joesler inspired', 'a hint of Joesler' or
the clumsy 'Joesler-like-feel'.
And as this new residential development proclaims-
A Joesler Inspired Neighborhood. Yeah sure.
For last I've saved the mother of all Joesler's,
Eleven Arches, a.ka. Grace Mansion.
In 1937 Louise N. Grace, heiress to the The Grace Shipping Lines fortune, decided to build a 15,000 sq. ft. house in Tucson, just for herself. It was to be designed by Josias Joesler and built by John Murphey. The story goes, that in order to assure her desire for privacy, John Murphey had her stand on the hilltop where her home was to be built while two workmen walked south carrying poles with pieces of white sheet attached. When she could no longer see the white sheets in the desert, and therefore her privacy assured, that would be the boundary for her land. As a result, Eleven Arches was built on 200 acres of prime Foothills land.
(the information about standing on the hilltop, the workmen and the sheets, comes from an article by Ken Scoville, Privacy in the Catalina Foothills Estates)
This is a picture taken in 2004 from the house, that may approximate what Ms. Grace saw back then - minus all the city lights
The front view of Eleven Arches
Above is the living room of Eleven Arches
In addition to being very wealthy, Ms. Grace was very well connected socially, and Eleven Arches was a popular gathering place for soirees attended by politicians, movie stars, ambassadors and the like.
After Louise Grace died, Eleven Arches changed hands again and again over the years, and with each new owner some of the acreage was sold off and the house slipped further and further into a state of disrepair. Until 1976, when it was purchased for $275,000 along with the approximately 50 acres of remaining land. At that time it was extensively renovated, to the tune of $1,000,000.
And then it sold again in 2000, this time for $2,800,000, with only 19 acres remaining. Someone made a fat profit on that deal.
But this new owner didn't stay very long, because in early 2004 it was again listed for sale, now for $3,490,000, and with just 5 acres of land remaining.
After languishing on the market for more than a year, the property was turned over to an auction house who ended up selling it 2 days before the auction for $2,200,000, with the 5 acres remaining.
If you drive by Eleven arches today, it's hemmed in on all sides by new multi-million $$ homes built on land that used to belong to Eleven Arches, as it cowers in shame at the top of the hill.
**Much of what I've learned about the history of John Murphey, Josias Joesler and the development of the Catalina Foothills, has come from the writings of R. Brooks Jeffery, an invaluable source.
R. Brooks Jeffery is Associate Dean of the College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, University of Arizona and Coordinator of its multi-disciplinary graduate program in Preservation Studies.
**if you'd like to see more of what I've written on Joesler click Josias Joesler under CATEGORIES in the left hand column, and you'll see it all
see my web site thefoothillsToday.com
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