Sunshine Smiles on Broadway

March 9, 2013 |

The Sunshine Mile revival started with a tour: last November, Demion Clinco from Tucson Historic Preservation Foundation found himself on Broadway Boulevard, organizing talks for the inaugural Modernist Week on the mid-Century modern architecture that populates a particular corridor of the boulevard. It was a spark of history that’s now revitalizing the business district. “This section of Broadway between Euclid and Country Club was born modern,” Clinco begins. The decades after World War II saw both an explosion in Tucson’s population and the birth of the Modernist era; the economy traveled east from downtown, using Broadway as its main thoroughfare and prominent, innovative architects in its construction. Now even in the midst of contemporary buck-saving commercial architecture, we’ve been left with so many modernist gems that the Arizona Preservation Foundation added the Sunshine Mile to its list of endangered historical places. They’re in danger of being forgotten and potentially erased by a long-standing proposal to widen the street and tear down encroaching buildings on its north side.

Clinco walked our conversation through the buildings passed by and so seldom seen. Consider the Solot Plaza Building, which now houses It’s A Blast Gallery. Designed by Nicholas Sakeller in 1957, floor to ceiling windows glaze the entire storefront, capped by a cantilevered roof extending shade over the sidewalk, with an opening for one palm tree to grow through. The iconic Hirsch’s Shoes, commissioned by Mrs. David Hirsch in 1954 and still in family hands, has angular walls set with jutting display cases and a framed canopy. “It’s a really beautiful and classic mid-Century modern commercial storefront,” Clinco explains. “I think that’s such a great emblem of the whole corridor, that you have a business that’s highly specialized and they’ve managed to survive despite the chain shoe stores all over the city.” After the Modernist Week talks, business owners along the corridor started banding together to revive and promote the Sunshine Mile again, spearheaded by Monica Cook, owner of Deco. “I love the historical aspect of it and I’m thrilled with how quickly it’s become an active and cohesive business community,” she says.

Her building is sandwiched next to the sprouting Haas Building, built in 1957 with a two-story glass facade and an open steel staircase inside. Its extending west wall now displays the Sunshine Mile mural, bright and evocative of the fifties heydays; a design conceived and painted by Jude Cook, Monica’s husband and owner of Cook & Company Signs. Jude also created a flier and printed merchant stickers with the new Sunshine Mile logo. “Since then many of the business owners have added their expertise,” Monica adds. “Jessica Shuman of Kismet wrote the press releases and serves on the Broadway Coalition and keeps in touch with the neighborhoods, Art Benavidez of Art Hair Studio created the website, Patricia Katchur of Yikes Toys developed the Facebook page, Larry Montoya of Caps and More plans to print Sunshine Mile tees. Since this area is under threat to the possibility of the widening of Broadway in the future, several business owners – Rocco of Rocco’s and Michael Butterbrough of Inglis Florists – serve on the Broadway Citizen Task Force.”

“What is most exciting is having a sense of community beyond myself and my business,” says Patricia Katchur, proprietress of Yikes Toys. “I love the idea of being in a defined area that offers a friendly approach to shoppers, bicyclists, walking, neighborhoods and history!” Fitting to its mid-Century surroundings, Katchur describes Yikes as “an eclectic blend of young, old and all in between,” a description that seems to echo down the street in other shops that are mixing vintage and contemporary. And banding together with these stores, Katchur says Yikes will “join in events to help make us a destination that has a fascinating history, past and present, and is very much a part of the Tucson community on many levels: including retail, architecture, 1950s culture and the rise of the suburbs and extension of the Tucson downtown and city limits.”

On March 2nd, this collection of merchants will kick off reclaiming their Sunshine Mile name – a title that came out of a competition in 1953 with a $1,000 prize to describe the burgeoning corridor – with a festival. The unveiling of the Sunshine Mile mural will be accompanied by a trumpet soloist from Catalina Foothills Band playing – what else? – “On Broadway.” The Tucson Barbershop Men’s Chorus will rouse the Modernist atmosphere. More than a dozen corridor businesses will be offering discounts, refreshments, and a scavenger hunt continuing through the month with prize gift certificates for winners of a drawing. Monica Cook sees the partnership unfolding into other events throughout the year: “a sunny mid-summer event,” a holiday boutique crawl, and the return of the Tucson Historical Preservation Foundation’s Modernist Week.

“That iconography and that name is tied to that modern era,” Demion Clinco says. “We’re really starting to craft and cultivate a destination to shop in the middle of the city.” He hopes people will take a fresh look at Broadway Boulevard the next time they pass through. “This isn’t just a place in Tucson that’s kind of cool; this is a regional and state-wide asset. And as a region we should be finding resources to preserve and cultivate it.”

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Category: Business, Community