San Xavier: The Firm That Helped Fuel Tucson’s Mid-Century Boom
By Douglas Towne
The name “San Xavier” is synonymous with the iconic “White Dove of the Desert,” the oldest European structure in Arizona. The Mission San Xavier del Bac, located about 10 miles south of Downtown Tucson along the Santa Cruz River, was completed by 1797. The internationally-known white-stucco Moorish structure is renowned for its Easter torch-light parade by Tohono O’odham and Yaqui tribal members.
In the Arizona construction industry, San Xavier is also the name of a successful Tucson midcentury contractor and materials provider. San Xavier Rock & Sand Co.’s contracting division flourished from 1947-1966 during Tucson's postwar boom years. The company’s materials division continued to operate into the 2000s.
San Xavier's success was due to its founder, a genial businessman for whom construction was just one of many civic ventures. Edward “Eddie” O. Earl was born in San Francisco in 1895 but raised in Los Angeles. In 1916, Earl went to work for his uncles, the Oswald Brothers, who were construction and highway contractors with projects throughout the Southwest, including Arizona.
The onset of World War II dramatically changed Earl’s life. In 1941, he moved with his wife, Madelon, to Phoenix to oversee the construction of military facilities. Oswald Bros. was one of six contractors pulled together for the war effort in an entity called Arizona Constructors. The other companies were Pearson & Dickerson, J.A. Casson, Lee Moor, Phoenix Tempe Stone, and Arizona Sand & Rock. Arizona Constructors built the Navajo Army Depot in Bellemont and Marana Army Air Field.
In late 1941, Earl became a partner in a merger that included Pearson & Dickerson, Oswald Bros., and J.A. Casson, called PDOC. The company expanded Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson and built Dateland Army Airfield.
Earl moved to Tucson in 1945, and two years later gained a controlling interest in PDOC, which he reorganized into San Xavier Rock & Sand Co. The company was located on 11 acres at 601 West 22nd Street. A roundhouse formerly used for servicing locomotives for the El Paso & Southwestern Railroad served as the circular office.
San Xavier initially performed contracting work but expanded to become a significant materials supplier for southern Arizona. The company operated three ready-mix concrete plants, an aggregate plant, and a scoria basalt mine near Douglas. Their products included ready-mix concrete, building block, sand and rock, Lite-Wate Building Block, and specialized floor and roofing materials, according to an Arizona Daily Star article in 1966.
The contracting division brought innovations to the industry, including in 1950 when they were the first in the state to use a concrete cutting machine, a Di-Met built by Felker Manufacturing. San Xavier constructed many Tucson facilities, including the Midway Drive-In Theatre, which opened with an 850-car capacity in 1948. The venue operated for 31 years.
In 1952, San Xavier teamed up with Del Webb to construct a two-mile-long runway so U.S. Air Force Boeing B-47 Stratojets could land at Tucson Municipal Airport. According to Arizona Builder & Contractor, the runway was the longest of any municipal airport west of the Mississippi River. It could handle the newest commercial airliners, such as the Douglas DC-7. Airport construction included a fuel-testing center, electronics building, and flight ramps.
U.S. Air Force B-47.
The following year, San Xavier and three other Tucson contractors, M.M. Sundt Construction Co., Pioneer Constructors, and L.M. White Contracting Co., donated their services to build Tucson Derby Downs. The Soap Box Derby racing track was located on the east side of Tucson Municipal Airport.
San Xavier constructed Arizona's first cloverleaf interchange at U.S. Highways 80 and 89 in 1954. This transportation achievement landed them on the cover of Arizona Builder & Contractor.
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This article originally appeared in the bimonthly Arizona Contractor & Community magazine, Nov/Dec 2020 issue, Vol. 9, No. 6.