Spotlight Shines on Tucson’s Sunshine Mile
By Douglas Towne
In Tucson these days, all eyes are on Tucson’s Broadway Boulevard. The street is undergoing a major transportation improvement project, and the historic structures that line the road have been recognized as one of the nation’s most unique commercial strips. In May 2020, the impressive collection of mid-century buildings along the street were listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The inventory includes everything from a shoe store to a synagogue.
Sunshine Mile NRHP, Haas Building, 1957, Anne Rysdale
“Tucson is proud to celebrate this important historic designation,” says Tucson Mayor Regina Romero. “Our city and my office will work to ensure these architecturally significant buildings and their facades are protected and adaptively reused.” A grassroots effort led by the Tucson Historical Preservation Foundation (THPF) took eight years and thousands of volunteers to protect the corridor, even though it was one of the city's highpoints of mid-century development.
Much of the city’s mid-century expansion followed Broadway east. The boulevard was “born modern,” according to THPF. “The avenue expressed the new American optimism and post-World War II economic boom that was changing the nation, and became an important corridor with modern structures built along its edge to support new suburban neighborhoods.”
Historic Sunshine Mile NRHP, Hirsh's Shoes, 1954, Photo by Ray Manlry, THPF Collection
Broadway blossomed into a high-end shopping district, with businesses selling furniture, lighting, photographic equipment, shoes, clothes, and cars. “Glass storefronts, geometric designs, new materials, and evocative signage combined to create a vision of Tucson as a modern metropolis,” notes THPF. The district picked up a nickname when “The Sunshine Mile” was selected from more than 5,000 entries in a contest sponsored by the East Broadway Merchants in 1953.
But more than a half-century later, The Sunshine Mile was threatened by neglect and redevelopment. In 2011, THPF began researching the surviving buildings for a potential National Register listing, which occurred in 2019. “This project to document these incredible buildings and designate The Sunshine Mile on the National Register represents the commitment of our community to preserve and celebrate Tucson’s mid-century modern heritage,” Demion Clinco, THPF CEO, says.
Sunshine Mile NRHP, 1951, Architect Unknown
Buildings in the two-mile-long district include Hirsh’s Shoes, 1954; Valley National Bank (Chase Bank), 1971, Kelly Building, 1964; and Temple Emanu-El Synagogue,1949-1960; Solot Plaza, 1954-1958; and the Friedman Block, 1955-1961.
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This article originally appeared in the bimonthly Arizona Contractor & Community magazine, Nov/Dec 2020 issue, Vol. 9, No. 6.