Sustainable and Modern: Tucson’s Historic Ball-Paylore House
By Douglas Towne
For most of us, living in an architectural masterpiece is something we can only dream about. Not so with the Ball-Paylore House, which was declared one of the state’s five most important architectural works by the Arizona Daily Star in 2011. The meticulously restored mid-century modern house in Tucson is available for overnight stays as an Airbnb rental.
The listing invites guests to step back in time to Tucson in the 1950s and “spend easy afternoons reclined in a chaise lounge on the ‘revolving terrace.’” Reviewers give their stays a perfect 5.0 rating. The house is close to numerous amenities, but that is irrelevant according to a guest named Carrie, who commented, “Why would we ever want to leave the Ball-Paylore House; it was gorgeous.” How did this landmark building recently become available for the public to enjoy so intimately?
The story dates to 1952 when Phyllis Ball and Patrica Paylore commissioned local architect Arthur T. Brown, FAIA to “design a bespoke, one-of-a-kind home that embraced the tenets of the American modern movement, responded to the environmental conditions of the Sonoran Desert, and offered both beauty and function,” according to the Tucson Historical Preservation Foundation (THPF).
Both women worked for the University of Arizona, Ball as a librarian, and Paylore as assistant director of the Office of Arid Lands Studies.
Brown, who was also a fine art painter, moved to Tucson in 1936 during the Great Depression. He had graduated with an architecture degree from Ohio State University and worked in Chicago for seven years. The architect, who some credit with bringing modern architecture to the Old Pueblo, helped design more than 300 projects in southern Arizona.
The architect was an early advocate for developing passive solar heating and cooling. Brown believed in the simplicity of design and thought that applying a style to a building was tantamount to dishonesty. His architecture wasn’t ornate or symbolic and didn’t borrow motifs from history or its neighbors, according to a Tucson Citizen article in 1985. “Its power, which may not be understood by everyone, is in the purity of its dedication to function.”
The Ball-Paylore House, located in the historic Catalina Vista neighborhood near Tucson and Grand roads, is considered one of the most important works of Brown’s architectural career. “The forward-thinking project embraced geometry and siting to create a pioneering and early passive solar home,” notes THPF.
The 1,200 square-foot hexagonal-shaped house has two-bedrooms and one bathroom. Airbnb’s description reads, "Bold original colors are punctuated by pale wood finishes and earth-toned polished concrete floors. The primary living areas radiate out from the central fireplace – like the petals of a flower.” The home retains most of its original modernist furniture designed by George Nelson for Herman Miller and custom Tucson furniture-maker John Kelso.
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This article originally appeared in the bimonthly Arizona Contractor & Community magazine, Nov/Dec 2020 issue, Vol. 9, No. 6.