house made of mud

rescuing a sonoran row house

the house that juan pascale built

i admittedly do not yet have the full story on all of the people who’ve occupied our barrio house throughout its history. but here are a few things i can tell you.

the house was built by a man named juan pascale, who was reputedly an italian carpenter.  it’s unclear when exactly he might have built (or begun) the structure, but it was likely sometime after 1880.  we know this because one of the interior walls on the zaguan is fired brick (it’s the only wall in the house that isn’t adobe), and bricks first appeared in tucson with the advent of the railroads in 1880. it’s a little surprising, i know, that the original occupants were italian and not mexican–tucson was part of mexico until the gadsen purchase in the mid 1800s, and many mexican americans lived in tucson’s various barrios–but barrio viejo actually housed all sorts of people. which brings me to what i think is one of the most interesting aspects of our property–the chinese grocery that used to sit on its northwest corner. i don’t yet know much about it other than that it was called lee wah and co. and that the grocery is no doubt the reason we have a jujube tree in the back. the father-daughter architect team drawing our plans, as it happens, are chinese american, and told us that “everywhere the chinese were in tucson, they planted jujube trees.”

but back to juan pascale. juan, it seems, was something of an entrepreneur–we’ve been told that not only did he own our place, with it’s series of row houses for rent, but that he owned half the block and all of the other row houses on it. i need to get back down to the historical society to do more research on him and his family, but he apparently lived in the house until his death in 1936.

as yet i’ve been unable to find any historical photographs of the front facade of our house (the closest one i’ve seen shows convent avenue in the late 19th/early 20th century with what might be the house in the far distance–the “lee wah” sign is just discernible– though i can’t publish it here because the historical society made me sign something in blood saying that i wouldn’t put their photos on the internet). to give an idea, however, of what what was then called barrio libre looked like during juan’s lifetime, here are some other images readily available online. the first two likely date to before the turn of the last century, while the third is meyer street (one street over from convent) circa 1905.

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after juan passed away, his family lived on in the house for another decade (the title passes into the name of an antonia pascale–his wife?–and a john pascale–his son?). then, in the late 1940s, it passes to a couple named stanley and floy thayer. all i know about them thus far is their names. did they live in the house? i like to think they did–they owned it for the next 20 some years, until selling it in 1972 to the s.b. double-j investment company, located in toledo, ohio. (note: the double-j appears to have bought not only our house, but the entire complex of pascale buildings–three of them–that were on the half block, though or obvious reasons i am largely concerned with our portion here.)

this is the point in which the house’s history turns sad. the double-j investment company wanted to tear the place down, but was hampered by its historic status. and so the house began to wait. while it waited, it looked like this–the following photographs were taken in the 1970s as part of a survey of historic american buildings conducted by the federal government.

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some city officials weren’t exactly what you would call supportive during this era. one man in particular, james r. singleton, of the building safety division, tried very hard to get the entire house demolished. ‘since april of 1981,’ he wrote in one memo, ‘pascale adobe has deteriorated much in the manner cancer affects man,’ and further warned that pieces the corrugated metal roof were loose and that ‘the sharp-edged metal could decapitate a small child or passerby.’

small wonder then, that when the east wall of the grocery–which is the area on the corner pictured above with the awing (or toldo–one of the salient features of historic barrio buildings)–collapsed in august of 1982 after a heavy monsoon rain, the building safety division took the opportunity to bulldoze the remaining two walls of the former grocery into the cellar beneath it.

the following two photos from the 1980s show the destruction best.IMG_3167IMG_3168

a couple of years later the building safety division gave the double-j company an ultimatum: they were to either repair the structure or demolish it. they chose the latter, and the demolition order was issued.

the order was stayed when the city council moved to work with the national trust for public lands to raise funds to purchase the house from the double-j with the intent to  save the structure and come up with a restoration plan. the pascale adobe, it seemed, was saved.

what followed, however, was not quite the salvation one could hope for. though about 30,000 was spent on stabilization, the tucson barrio association that was supposed to be directing the restoration didn’t seem to be able to muster either the organization or funds to follow through. there were charges that the association misused some of the funds it had been given, and there was squabbling about who would do the work. the city cut off the funds, and the building languished some more.

next was a would-be savior named sally adolph who bought the entire complex from the trust for public lands in 1986. adolph, an ‘underwater photographer, author and nutritionist,’ had grand plans, according to a daily star article. she declared she would spend one million dollars turning the pascale adobes into offices and building a mix of new apartments and town houses. a restaurant was also in the works.

whatever came of the whole thing i have no idea, but clearly adolph did not make good. from her the house passed into the hands of a woman named marta, i believe, who kept a bunch of goats, who must have wandered about in the midst the sanford and sons style junk yard she reportedly turned the courtyard into. after her, a man named warren michaels purchased both our house and the pascale adobe adjacent to the west. micheals restored that property, though one such project was apparently enough for him. he subsequently sold the property to the rothschilds.

and then, of course, we bought it.


  1. my great grandfather was juan pascale! it’s so interesting to read all of this history that you’ve found, thank you. he left italy in 1877 and arrived in tucson in 1879, and soon after built this house. my nana was even born in the basement! my family and i love coming back to the barrio to see it, even as it’s redone now. so much history. enjoy!

    • Hello Alayna! So sorry to be ridiculously tardy about seeing this and responding, but I haven’t been paying much attention to the blog since we finished–mostly just leaving it up so folks can see it, if they want to. How great that you’re descended from Juan Pascale! Thanks so much for writing, and for your kind words about the house.

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