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In the 1930s, the National Park Service (NPS) built modern support facilities on the site of the Tumacácori Mission, a Spanish Colonial church and Franciscan monastery erected between 1799 and 1822. With funding from the Public Works Administration, the NPS erected a restroom facility and perimeter walls in 1932–1933, but the most significant New Deal–era project is the Tumacácori Museum, a visitors’ center and exhibition space constructed between 1936 and 1939.
NPS architect Scofield DeLong designed the museum building in a Mission Revival (or Spanish Colonial Revival) style with the assistance of designers Charles D. Carter and Dick Sutton. Mission Revival, Pueblo Revival, and Territorial Style architecture was popular in this period throughout the American West and Southwest, and these modes influenced Thomas Chalmers Vint, the director of the NPS Branch of Plans and Design. The “rustic” idiom he favored for new buildings on historic sites utilized local (preferably on-site) materials, original construction techniques, with a scale and appearance that blended with the natural setting as well as historical context, creating a landscape that satisfied contemporary use while reflecting, in this case, the mission’s Hispanic architectural patrimony. The Tumacácori Museum exemplifies this design ethos, which the NPS introduced in national parks across the country in this period.
DeLong, who had worked temporarily for Vint in the late 1920s, had experience with church design and restoration, having worked with Lewis P. Hobart on San Francisco’s Gothic Revival Grace Cathedral. When President Roosevelt’s work relief programs commenced, DeLong returned to the NPS, taking the position of lead designer on the Tumacácori Museum. In 1935, DeLong accompanied a number of NPS personnel to Sonora, Mexico, to study the region’s vernacular and mission architecture and to document construction techniques and stylistic elements. Much of this field research was incorporated into the Tumacácori Museum building. Specifically, door and window surrounds as well as ornamentation were reproductions of types seen in the Kino mission chain: the main entrance’s shell motif was based on forms at the Cocospera mission church, while the carved entrance doors were copies of those adorning San Ignacio.
The Phoenix-based contractor M.M. Sundt began construction in 1937, and the building was completed in December of that year. The entire project cost was $32,000. The museum building was kept low-slung to so it would not obstruct the historic mission. With a skewed T-shape, the structure rises from a concrete foundation. Its flat parapet roof is drained by channels cut into the adobe piers. With a materiality of that mimics that of the historic mission buildings, the museum’s walls are composed of sun-dried adobe-brick coped with fired bricks. A concrete-block addition was erected at the end of the eastern wing, to the north and south of which are arcades, one of which opens onto the adobe-walled garden and the other framing views of the historic church. The western facade is marked with finials and a stepped cornice; the main entrance has an arched portal carved as a scallop shell, a symbol of Santiago de Compostela, Spain’s patron saint. The entrance doors, carved by members of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) stationed at Bandelier National Monument, exhibit a floral design found in other Kino-chain missions.
The museum has ten rooms with whitewashed walls and floors laid in a herringbone pattern with oversized bricks (exhibition and auditorium spaces have since been carpeted). Inside are ornate paneled doors, piers, and arches based on models in Caborca, while the lobby’s beamed ceiling and carved corbels were copied from Oquitoa. Also in the lobby is a corner fireplace and handmade Spanish Colonial–style furnishings. The open-air “view room,” which offers deliberately framed views of the historic church, is fitted with a groin-vault ceiling, wooden grilles, painted wainscoting, and other decorative elements commonly found at Sonoran missions. Personnel from the CCC camps at the Chiricahua and Chaco Canyon national monuments made the wooden furnishings, while a Works Progress Administration artists’ workshop in California produced the dioramas featured in the exhibition space.
The CCC developed the grounds, most notably laying out a walled patio garden in 1939, which features historic plants of the type that Franciscan friars would have grown in the eighteenth century. The plants were selected from lists prepared by historian Herbert Bolton, who based them on mission records. The symmetrical garden is divided into four parterres by channeled rivulets that converge in a central square fountain. Brick-paved paths meander through the shady garden, while adobe benches on the eastern and western walls of the fountain provide seating. A seven-foot-high adobe wall acts as both a visual screen and a security measure; it also directs visitors along prescribed paths. The wall consists of adobe bricks upon a concrete foundation, slathered in stucco; it is topped with arched copings and is punctuated by several openings in which paneled doors provide access to the patio garden or the historic mission yard. The wall merges with the exterior walls of the rectangular comfort station (constructed in 1932), located south of the museum. Built atop a concrete foundation, the comfort station’s adobe walls are finished in cement stucco.
A new, concrete-block office wing and storage facility was constructed on the eastern wing of the museum in 1959 by Krupp and Sons, a construction firm from Nogales, Arizona. Part of the NPS Mission 66 program, the building is finished with cement stucco; the addition is barely indistinguishable from the older main block. Wheelchair access ramps were added to the visitors’ complex buildings in the 1980s.
Harrison, Laura Soullière, “Tumacácori Museum,” Santa Cruz, Arizona. National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, 1986. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington D.C.
Short, C.W. and R. Stanley-Brown. Public Buildings: A Survey of Architecture of Projects Constructed by Federal and Other Governmental Bodies Between the Years 1933 and 1939, with the Assistance of the Public Works Administration. Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office, 1939.
“Tumacácori National Historical Park, Tumacácori, AZ.” The Living New Deal. Accessed November 5, 2015. http://livingnewdeal.org/.
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