February 2, 2023
Borderlands Theater and Los Descendientes de Tucson receive new landlords in Rio Nuevo at historic adobe
Tucson, AZ On January 27, 2023, the Arizona Historical Society Board of Directors unanimously approved the sale of the Sosa-Carrillo House to Rio Nuevo. The historic, 1880s home on the Tucson Convention Center Campus is one of three original adobes that survived 1960s Urban Renewal when 80-acres of the most densely populated and walked area in the Southwest was leveled to make way for the TCC. AHS has stewarded the house since its donation by the City of Tucson in 1971, the year it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. AHS Executive Director, Dr. David Breeckner will sign a purchase agreement with Rio Nuevo that shifts ownership of the house.
Breeckner approached the house’s tenants, Borderlands Theater and Los Descendientes de Tucson, with the possibility of a sale shortly after taking the reins of AHS in December 2021; he has proven to be an active ally to the nonprofits’ visions and long-term goals. Breeckner came into a situation where the Sosa-Carrillo House needed over $1 million in TLC, understood the fiscal realities of the state, and served as a wonderful liaison between Rio Nuevo, Borderlands Theater, and Los Descendientes. “From the onset, this has been a conversation about stewardship and the responsibility of care for the only surviving testament to downtown Tucson’s lost Mexican barrio,” Breeckner said.
Negotiations between AHS and Rio Nuevo included input from the tenants, which resulted in the purchase agreement having deed restrictions, among other protections, ensuring the building can only be used as a cultural and educational space, not for commercial ventures. The home will be sold for $1.05 million, of which AHS will receive $100,000. The remaining funds will be applied toward the restoration of the home — a project cost totaling an estimated $1.28 million. After Rio Nuevo sunsets in 2035, the house will return to AHS.
Los Descendientes de Tucson, the nonprofit organization that runs the Mexican American Heritage and History Museum at the Sosa-Carrillo House, is hopeful that Rio Nuevo will follow the community’s lead. “We are thankful to have AHS and Rio Nuevo as our partners and for their willingness and ability to let Los Descendientes and Borderlands lead this important process,” shares Rikki Riojas, Los Descendientes Board President. “Through the guidance of our past president Michael Lopez and AHS Executive Director David Breeckner, the process has remained inclusive throughout its various steps.” According to Riojas, “Los Descendientes will continue to reactivate the TCC area by creating a welcoming and equitable space in the Sosa Carrillo House for the Mexican [Americans] and other minorities who were forcibly removed during Urban Renewal 60 years ago.” Riojas understands the responsibility of ensuring the historical accuracy of a space whose history was intentionally erased: “Through partnerships with similar organizations and community outreach, we will use the remodel to ensure greater access to the histories of the barrio, the way it should have always been.”
Rio Nuevo Board President Fletcher McCusker met with leadership from Borderlands Theater and Los Descendientes prior to the sale and assured them that Rio Nuevo is committed to working with them to create their visions. McCusker, a second-generation Tucsonan, recognizes the error of past city officials’ and developers’ desires to mold Tucson into something it is not. The tenants are grateful to McCusker and Rio Nuevo for agreeing to follow the community’s lead by working collaboratively to populate the TCC Campus with historical signage, digital displays, and virtual reality platforms. Rio Nuevo will be charging each organization rent at $1 per month for the next five years to provide them the financial freedom to spend organizational money on community education and cultural engagement.
McCusker’s words show reflection and commitment, “Rio Nuevo is thrilled to help the Sosa Carrillo House flourish as a surviving adobe home, now a museum, that could have fallen victim to mid-century urban renewal. Even with the ironic investments we have made to the surrounding Tucson Convention Center complex, the 19th century roots of Tucson’s story need to be told and retold. We believe there is a unique balance in Tucson between economic growth and historic preservation that differentiates us from many southwestern cities. There is not a property downtown more deserving of renovation and cultural relevance than the Sosa-Carrillo home.”
Borderlands Theater is encouraged by the investment in culture, history, and community that this sale and the extensive and much needed improvements that come with it represent. “We have seen the potential of this important site since our first Barrio Stories project in 2016 animated the TCC with history and culture. With the proper support from stakeholders and the community big things are happening,” said Marc Pinate, Borderlands Theater’s Producing Artistic Director.
The evening of the vote, the UArizona Confluence Center hosted a panel at the Sosa-Carrillo House with author Dr. Lydia Otero, the museum’s founder Betty Villegas, and Mayor Regina Romero to discuss “Re-Activating Tucson’s Downtown History.” Otero walked the audience through a 50-year legacy of Tucson’s Mexican American / Chicanx community desiring a cultural center, pointing out Arizona has never had a publicly funded space whose purpose is celebrating Latinx culture and contributions. Villegas discussed the national movement to save places meaningful to the Latinx community, noting the nonprofit Latinxs in Heritage Conservation began in Tucson in 2015. She played a video of late District 5 Supervisor Richard Elías explaining preservation is not just about old buildings and notable people; preservation is also bringing to life our language, culture, and aesthetics. Panel moderator Raul Aguirre reminded the audience that we come from generations of Tucsonense culture and resilience.
Mayor Regina Romero surprised the audience by officially apologizing on behalf of the City of Tucson to the people displaced from 1960s Urban Renewal. Mayor Romero’s efforts paved the way for TCC locales to bear the names of two Mexican American women from Tucson: Alva Bustamante Torres Plaza and Linda Ronstadt Music Hall. These symbolic gestures will hopefully aid in healing generational wounds and inequity that La Calle’s destruction initiated. The mayor then shared a dicho (saying) her dad would tell her: “You have to know where you come from to know where you’re going.”
“Capitalistic dreams, cultural arrogance, and racism enabled the leveling of 80 acres in a barrio comprised of Mexican, African, Native, Chinese, and Jewish Americans in my hometown. I didn’t know this until I went to college. There is a deep wound for Tucsonenses and Mexican Americans who didn’t grow up learning their history, and I am excited to work with our new community partners to educate about the past, to heal the present, and build for the future,” dreams Vasquez. With the interest in reactivating Tucson’s downtown history, coupled with Rio Nuevo’s commitments to conservation and correcting historical erasure, the future of the Sosa Carrillo House looks bright.
The MexAm Museum will be holding community gatherings later in 2023 so that multiple perspectives are included in a community vision for the SCH. Borderlands Theater will be holding West Side Stories over eight performances April 20-23 and April 27-30.
Visit the museum Thursdays from 10am-7pm or by appointment.
Follow the museum on Facebook and Instagram @MexAmHistoryMuseum
For more info on Borderlands Theater: www.BorderlandsTheater.org
Learn more about Los Descendientes at: www.Descendientes.org