Tucson’s Colorful Street: How Speedway Boulevard Became Paint Row
By Carlos Lozano
Have you ever wondered why businesses end up where they do?
Keep wondering, as sometimes no one knows for sure. In the South, businesses that are open during the day prefer to be on the street's shady side. This trend is reversed in cold climates. Commercial property on the outer side of a curved road is more desirable than that on the inside because it dominates drivers’ field of view.
But no one knows why the vast majority of paint dealers in Tucson clustered along Speedway Boulevard, a street usually known for its restaurants and nightclubs.
From Tucson’s early beginnings to the end of World War II, paint was sold in dusty hardware stores and lumber yards such as Ronstadt’s or Corbett’s, located in the warehouse and commercial districts surrounding downtown. Posner's on Scott Avenue, established in the 1910s, was Tucson’s first dedicated paint dealer.
The city’s first paint manufacturer was Pioneer Paints, established in 1934 at 438 West Congress, producing paints formulated to suit the Tucson climate, and offering a greater variety of "Southwestern" colors like turquoise and pink. Pioneer was famous for its sign; a giant replica of a paint can visible for miles that, if filled, would hold 15,886 gallons of paint.
Until the 1940s, there was no store selling paint on Tucson's three major east-west arterials: Speedway Boulevard, Broadway Boulevard, and Grant Road.
During the 1940s, when Tucson’s population grew by 25 percent, paint stores began appearing on Speedway. In 1945, the first paint stores to open on Speedway were Diamond Speedway Supply, and Speedway Lumber, selling Benjamin Moore and Bondex paints. The following year, State Variety and Supply opened selling Deer-O Paints that were manufactured in Phoenix. Deer-O was one of several brands claiming formulations made for the Southwest, and offered “Exciting Tribal Colors” such as “Yaqui Yellow” and “Havasu Blue.”
Other paint dealers and their brands to open east of downtown in the late 1940s included: B & R Hardware (Glidden), Tucson Hardware Company, (Pioneer Paints), Burnett Ray Lumber (Pabco Paints), and Petty's Builder's Emporium (Liquid Raw-Hide). Speedway had seven paint dealers, Grant two, and Broadway one.
Tucson’s population grew 373 percent in the 1950s, with most development located east of downtown. Paint flooded onto East Speedway, available in newly built hardware, lumber, and glass stores, along with the first dedicated paint dealers. These local stores and their paint brands, in the order they arrived, were: Choate’s Hardware (Tru-Test), Bartell Hardware (a Devoe), Bentz’s Variety (Glidden), Romanoski’s Glass (Pratt & Lambert and Steelcote), and Zimmerman’s (Olympic).
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This article originally appeared in the bimonthly Arizona Contractor & Community magazine, Nov/Dec 2020 issue, Vol. 9, No. 6.