February 06 – Mission San Xavier del Bac

02-06 San Xavier postOn the Tohono O’odham Indian Reservation, about ten miles south of downtown Tucson, rests “the pearl of the Sonoran desert.” San Xavier del Bac is a Spanish Catholic mission, erected between 1783-1797 near a natural water spring fed by the Santa Cruz River. It’s the oldest European structure in Arizona, considered by many to be one of the greatest specimens of Spanish Colonial architecture. The natural spring no longer exists, and this stretch of the Santa Cruz only runs for part of the year.

This is one of my favorite places in the world. There’s no way I could every take an original photograph of it – it has been photographed countless times by tourists, photo enthusiasts, and professionals. Most famously, Ansel Adams turned his lens to the beautiful structure; the images reside at The Center for Creative photography on the University of Arizona campus.

This particular image was made in the Spring of 2001. This is one of the earliest visit I’d made to San Xavier, although I would make the drive out on a regular basis during my tenure at the University of Arziona. Up on the hilltop, in the background, is where I would often sit and listen to the wind. It’s the most peaceful, magical place. A wonderful site to clear one’s head.


February 01 – San Pedro Chapel

02-01 San Pedro post

Film is not dead! It’s only kinda, sorta, half-way, a little bit, almost dead.

February over here at LenseBender Design is going to be the month of film. Every single day I’ll be contributing a new film-based photograph made exclusively with one of my vintage film cameras. I have an extensive collection of old cameras – and even some vintage film stock – so this should be a pretty fun ride.

The first photograph of the month was made using a little-known camera known as the Fujica Half. For more information on this nifty little hand-held miracle machine, you can read about it here.

The San Pedro Chapel (pictured above) is located in the historic Fort Lowell neighborhood near the Rillito River north of Tucson. The neighborhood is named after the military outpost that once stood nearby. Fort Lowell was an Army outpost active from 1873 to 1891 and was intentionally placed on the outskirts of Tucson at the confluence of the Tanque Verde and Pantano Creeks. Year-round water at the mouth of the Rillito River made this area prime real-estate for a camp.

Once the fort was decommissioned, the Department of the Interior put the fort’s lumber, windows, doors, and other salvageable items up for sale; the fort was quickly dismantled and hauled off. The old adobe structures were already disintegrating back into the desert by the turn of the Twentieth Century, when immigrant families from Sonora, Mexico began to settle into the territory.

The migrants occupied the remaining fort structures and replaced the missing windows, roofs, and doors. The enclave eventually became known as El Fuerte. The community mainly raised livestock and sold lumber to residents in the town of Tucson.

The community developed strong roots. They built new houses in the Sonora Ranch style, dug wells (finding water at less than thirty feet), built a school house, and established a cemetery and built a church. The first church on this site was just large enough for the Carmelite Fathers to stand in while serving mass; the congregation would gather under the mesquite trees outside.

A more permanent structure was built in either 1915 or 1917 (the records are not clear on this), but was destroyed by a tornado in 1929. The San Pedro Chapel that survives today was built directly over the ruins of the previous chapel in the Mission Revival Style and dedicated in 1932.

In the 1940s, as Tucson was growing, the Church and general store of the El Fuerte community made this area a de facto town center. Mexicans living in the east of the territory would travel to El Fuerte to attend mass & school as well asĀ  enjoy family parties, baptisms, and other social events. The Chapel is still in use today, as it was then, for baptisms and weddings. At its height, the community was only about three-hundred people, and this building is one of the few reminders of what once existed here.

And I just happened to stumble across San Pedro Chapel on a bike ride.
Pretty darn neat.