house made of mud

rescuing a sonoran row house

Month: September 2014

we were just LOOKING.

i confess i’d had my eye on our barrio house for a good year or so before we ever visited it. when we first moved to tucson in 2011, we’d rejected the neighborhood as being both too close to the I-10 and, well, as a little too scary seeming. but my interest in barrio viejo had been growing (helped along by a tour of historic barrio houses put on by the tucson historic preservation foundation, as well as an american institute of architects tour i’d been on shortly after we’d moved that featured two barrio houses, albeit ones that were new construction).  soon enough i found myself perusing properties online and cruising the roads between Cushing Street and 22nd.

how could anyone not be intrigued by the big, white, falling-down place at the corner of 17th Street and Convent? it was true that from the outside it looked like a warehouse (nearly everything in the barrio does), but i knew enough by then not to be fooled. it was very possible something fabulous lurked behind that blank, crumbling exterior.

then again, it was very possible the entire place would be a bust. on the southern end of the property i could glimpse the back yard through a chain link gate–enough to see that there was a gigantic tree in one corner–and that was about it. still, it was enough to make me want to see more.

even so, i hesitated. first of all, there was the asking price on the house. when i checked it on zillow, i laughed. there was no way in hell we were paying what they wanted. plus, we’d already bought a house–a really great, 1963, MidCentury Modern ranch near tucson’s iconic Arizona Inn. we’d put in a new master bathroom and a pool, and though those were small projects compared with what we’d done in our previous house (i’m an incurable remodeler) they’d still taken up quite enough energy and money.  moving would be silly. we’d just gotten settled in.

but (there’s always a but, isn’t there?) the thing of it was: great as our new digs were, somehow they just didn’t speak to us. it felt–and continues to feel–like a transition house. i really can’t explain it, because i know someone else would be madly in love with the place. but that someone, for whatever reason, isn’t us.

and so we began “looking” (even though i really ought to know by now that when it comes to houses, i’m incapable of just looking).  i told myself it would be a good exercise to see things i wanted and let them go–after all there’s always another house coming up that might be even more perfect. we have friends who are like this, who have been known to wait for years before actually buying. i was going to be like them.

all of that lasted right up until the moment we turned the corner into the back courtyard of the barrio house and saw this (also the current header image, though easier to see here without the text covering it up).  that’s when i realized we were goners.

because, you know, it was fabulous.



every life needs a little bit of crazy, right?

“you bought a warehouse?” this is what one of our friends said when, chris, my partner showed him a picture of the outside of our recently purchased abode.


no, chris assured him, it wasn’t a warehouse.  it was a house–specifically a sonoran row house in the barrio viejo district of tucson, arizona–and not only had we bought it, we intended to live there.

before that can happen, though, it’s true the place is going to need, shall we say, a bit of sprucing up.  at the moment, all of the doors and windows on the front elevation are boarded up, and most of the ones on the back sides of the house are either missing or broken.  everywhere you look the plaster is crumbling off and the mud brick walls are eroding, both inside and out. pigeons are roosting in several rooms; their droppings streak the walls and litter the floors and they make a sort of growling noise at you when you enter their domain. there’s some graffiti on the front, but even more of it inside, no doubt from kids who’ve broken in on dares over the years. at least one stray cat lives in a hole that leads to the cellar (it scared the crap out of me recently one day when i was there by erupting out of the floor). there’s also a tunnel like hole in the walls of what will be the living room (it’s anyone’s guess what might be hiding in there). some of the floors are wood boards laid directly on the dirt; others are just plain dirt. there’s one small, sad bathroom, fed by a make-shift solar hot water heater in the back yard.  what little electricity there had once been in the house is no longer hooked up to anything: the junction box for the main power supply line is empty.  there’s no heat other than a disused wood burning stove with broken glass doors in what we guess must have been the kitchen, since there’s a sink in there, though no fridge or oven.

the house, in short, has suffered from years of neglect. other than the homeless guy the previous owners let live there for a time in an effort to keep the school kids out, no one has inhabited the house for decades.  no one, really, even can inhabit it in its current state.

and yet.  we’re in love.  we’re in love with our falling down warehouse. we’re going to do what we can to save it.


Photo Feb 03, 1 41 18 PM Photo Feb 03, 1 41 48 PM Photo Mar 23, 4 43 29 PM Photo Feb 12, 4 56 24 PM Photo Mar 23, 4 43 04 PM Photo Mar 23, 4 42 38 PM



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