The Spanish Trail – Tucson ‘Eyesore’ Getting A Facelift?

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History isn’t always pretty, but it occasionally gets a second chance.

This historic structure has long been considered a blemish on the face of this otherwise dusty, hideous wasteland of a city. Over the years, dozens of complaints have been filed for The Spanish Trail motel, a deteriorating mid-century hotel held together by cracked paint and inertia. Conveniently hovering over Interstate 10 along the edge of the city of South Tucson, it gives any newcomers from the east a fairly accurate impression of Tucson. I stumbled across an article today, however, indicating that a couple of investors have purchased the property and intend to breathe some new life into it.

In it’s own time, The Spanish Trail was a well-known destination. In the 1960’s and 70’s, live music & theater – and a Hollywood clientele – drew an eclectic crowd. Professional staff lived on-site in a series of duplexes north of the resort and the property boasted luxurious amenities. Today, of course, the housing has been replaced by a steel yard; the golf course, lagoon, running track, and cactus garden are gone.

This is where movie stars like John Wayne and Michael Landon lived (and visited) while working at Old Tucson Studios. The large area that still survives, a space-aged-looking concrete rotunda, was the Dinner Show Lounge. Time, vacancy, and a structure fire have left little to appreciate.

Despite how unkind the past few decades have been, the new owners have expressed an interest in redeveloping the property into permanent affordable housing, with an emphasis on providing homes for veterans.

There’s no set timeline for the forthcoming renovations, but I’ll be curious to see what happens to the old 70-foot sign. As always, other peoples’ eyesore is, to my twisted eye, a fascinating and beautiful relic.

May 27, 2017 – Walkabout

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“It’s often about the simple things, isn’t it? Painting and photography are first about seeing, they say. Writing is about observing. Technique is secondary. Sometimes the simple is the most difficult.”
~Linda Olsson

I’ve collected a lot of portraits like this during my bike rides and walkabouts in Tucson. North Stone Avenue is rich with old barber shops, auto repairs shops, and unique private markets. In an urban and suburban landscape increasingly swallowed-up by Levittown-style housing homogeneity and glossy corporate businesses, it’s nice to see small, privately owned businesses. Sometimes the character is rustic, and many of these businesses are struggling, but they have a salt-of-the earth quality that I will always appreciate.

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May 26, 2017 – Downtown Tucson

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“Photography is simultaneously and instantaneously the recognition of a fact and the rigorous organization of visually perceived forms that express and signify that fact”
~Henri Cartier-Bresson

Originally known as the Willard Hotel, this property on South 6th Avenue – a stone’s throw away from the heart of downtown – was renamed the Pueblo Hotel in 1944. This weathered sign was installed in the 1950s. The hotel and apartments closed in 1984, when I was only one year old, and is currently home to a law office. The sign remains, though, even if it might be a little misleading. It was restored to like-new condition back in 2012 and I’m really pleased that I photographed it before the change.

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May 25, 2017 – Ideal

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“Time eventually positions most photographs, even the most amateurish, at the level of art.”
~Susan Sontag

There’s little that I could even consider writing about today’s image. Sometimes simplicity and irony speak loudly enough for themselves. This image was made before a greater part of downtown Tucson was renovated. I would have to drive down to South Sixth Avenue to confirm it for myself, but I’m assuming that this business is either something completely new or has been refurbished.

Of course, it’s always possible that nothing has changed at all.

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May 21, 2017 – Drifter

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Silver City, New Mexico is a special little town. It’s the kind of town my family would stay the night on the way from one destination to another during vacation. It’s the kind of town that begs you to get out of the car, stretch your legs, and walk around for a while, with a greasy-spoon diner and some art galleries to explore. It’s the kind of town you tell yourself “gosh, if I could only find t he excuse, I’d love to live in a place like this.”

Sadly, it is also a small town and opportunities are scarce.
Sadly, it’s the kind of town that’s easy to talk yourself out of ever moving to.

So, from time to time, I would find an excuse to spend the weekend here. A drive through the Gila National Forest with frequent stops to take photographs of the landscape and wildlife. Coffee shops and leisurely strolls downtown. I’m not sure if “The Drifter” is still there, but I’m guessing it is. I could look it up, of course, but I’d rather just find out for myself the next time I roll into town.

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May 06, 2017 – Everywhere A Sign

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“Photography is about finding out what can happen in the frame. When you put four edges around some facts, you change those facts.”
~Garry Winogrand

There’s no place I enjoy more than a back-road or alley. Old paint and little remnants from the past linger in these places. Old signs and chipped signs, reminders of a world that used to be, spark my imagination. In a culture over-obsessed with knocking down the old and building the new, disregarding legacy objects and replacing the obsolete with the shiny and new, I enjoy having the opportunity to walk where thousands have walked before and seeing what they may have seen…

And photographing it.

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May 05, 2017 – Riviera Motor Lodge

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The Riviera Motor Lodge opening at 515 W Miracle Mile Road (then called Casa Grande Road) in Tucson, Arizona back in 1953. In 2016, a fabricator was hired to refurbish the vintage sign. During a month-long process the sign’s paint scheme was redone and a red & white neon lighting pattern was added. This image was taken several years before the restoration; it was made with the palladium printing-out process to generate the golden hues and authentic vintage look.

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May 04, 2017 – The Spanish Trial

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The Spanish Trail was a famous hotel during the 1960’s and 1970’s in Tucson, Arizona. Live comedy and music shows drew an eclectic crowd. The professional staff lived on-sight in duplexes north of the main hotel and resort (an area that is currently a steel yard). In fact, most of the northern end of the resort is completely gone. There used to be a golf course, lagoon, running track, and cactus garden.

This was quite the place to see – in its day. I certainly never got to see it with my own eyes.

The Spanish trail is where movie stars often lived – and some visited – while working at Old Tucson Studios. John Wayne and Michael Landon were regulars. The large area that still survives, a space-aged-looking concrete rotunda, was the dinner show lounge. Little else of the complex remains.

In fact, the word ‘Trail’ depicted in today’s photograph is gone, too. The whole tower is just a giant frame now. It isn’t likely many people are going to ever know, or remember, the kind of glamour and grandeur that once existed on this site.

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May 03, 2017 – Enter Here

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If there’s one place you want to see old broken signs in front of defunct businesses, it’s the southwest – Tucson is a treasure trove, if you take the time to drive around and open your eyes. This sign is outside an old auto mechanic, long-abandoned with plywood for windows and newspaper blowing through the car bays like tumbleweeds in an old Spaghetti Western.

Adjacent is an old shuttered hotel – I’ve been told a hotel that was once considered a very posh, must-see place – called The Spanish Trail. This is all right off of I-10 East, five minutes from Downtown Tucson. The highway is screaming, and these creaky old buildings just sit, gathering graffiti and squatters, and an unusual amount of abandoned shopping carts.

I’m not even saying that it’s tragic. I find a beauty in these remnants. I guess the only thing really poignant, to me, is that these places are chilling reminders that things don’t ever stay the same for very long.

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May 02, 2017 – The Western

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Along the Benson Highway are several old-world motor lodges, with neon signs that date back to the 1960s and 1970s (and perhaps some even earlier than that). Not all of the old businesses survive; once the Interstate Highway system was built, the thriving motels, restaurants, and service stations (most off which were privately and family owned) began to disappear.

This here is one of the remnants. It’s a photograph I made several years ago now and I was thinking about driving back to see what kind of shape it’s in, but I’m kind of afraid that it won’t even be there anymore.

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