See also: Origin of Potter Place – Arizona Daily Star, October 26, 2015.
History of Our Square Mile
By Alice Roe
(information taken from the Blenman Elm National Historic District Nomination, Tucson Post WWII Residential Subdivision Development, personal stories)
History of BENA Square Mile – download this history as a pdf.
Blenman Elm is representative of much of the development of the City of Tucson, including issues of land speculation and growth, encroaching density, zoning and land use planning.
Blenman Elm Neighborhood is the ¾ square mile bounded by: Speedway, Campbell to Elm west of Tucson Blvd., to Grant east of Tucson Blvd. and Country Club Road.
The neighborhood was cobbled from three distinct quadrants that reflect their separate histories of annexation and land use patterns. The 4th quadrant of our square mile is the Catalina Vista Neighborhood.
The SW quadrant is the oldest. Originally this quadrant was patented by grant from US Government for cash payment by Andrew Olsen in 1892, for the 160 acres (1/4 sq mi.) Olsen then laid out the streets and lots on a plat in 1903. The oldest home in this quadrant is at the NE corner of Helen and Plumer. This was the Olsen residence of Olsen Addition. This home was built in the early 1900’s, renovated in 1928. The stump of a Eucalyptus planted for the 1928 renovation is still visible in the front yard. There are many homes from the twenties including some designed by architect Josias Joesler. Parts of this quadrant were annexed by the City in 1922 and 1924. For a time the City Limits were at Tucson Blvd. When Isabella Greenway was planning the Arizona Inn, she chose a location within the City limits; she wanted City Water service rather than to maintain wells.
The SE quadrant covers Tucson to Country Club, Elm to Speedway. This was homesteaded by Charles Blenman in 1903, the same year that Andrew Olsen platted the Olsen Addition. Charles Blenman was born in England in 1861. He must have been a land speculator extraordinaire. He also owned Nob Hill, SW of Speedway and Campbell. Blenman was a London trained lawyer who arrived in Tucson 1891 and was active in the community until his death in 1936. Blenman School is named for him. The school opened for classes in September 1942. This quadrant consists of Blenman Addition, the area south of Adams St. platted in 1926, annexed by the City in 1948. North of Adams was part of the original Blenman homestead area, and was platted with New Deal Acres (north of Elm) and became City in 1955.
The NE quadrant was both patented and sold to Charles Blenman in 1904. The area was platted with New Deal Acres in 1934 after Blenman sold it to J. W. Angle. Charles Blenman and his wife Louise had made a practice of selling off whole blocks of the platted land to a buyer who would then sell off the lots as the buyer wished. Blenman Annex, (north of Elm, east of Treat, south of Seneca) was platted by Angle in 1939. Land use patterns north of Seneca were not separately platted into lots, but instead were sold off to individuals as large blocks, that then individuals subdivided as needed. Again, Angle followed the same pattern of selling off a whole block to a single buyer. The NE quadrant did not become part of the City until the massive annexation of 1959 when the City annexed all the area east of the City to Kolb and north to Roger Road, 45 sq. mi. in all.
Catalina Vista did not come into being until 1940. The NW part of our square mile had been homesteaded by Calvert Wilson in 1891 and was sold in 1907 to J W Wheeler for a ranch. Wheeler reportedly built the first swimming pool in Tucson at his ranch. In 1924 the property was purchased by Leighton Kramer of Philadelphia. He built the substantial home with the green tile roof called Rancho Santa Catalina. In addition he and his buddies started the Fiesta de los Vaqueros, the Tucson Rodeo on the property. Kramer died in 1930. It took 10 years to settle his estate due to complexities of his will and the number of codicils. In 1940 Dickinson and Sue Potter bought the Rancho Santa Catalina mansion for use for a girls school that they ran until 1953. The Catalina Vista subdivision was part of the City Beautiful movement, curvy streets and minimum sizes and costs for the homes.
The Arizona Inn: Isabella Greenway built her house in 1928 (on Olsen at Elm). The Arizona Inn opened in December 1930 and expanded in 1937. There had been talk of the need for tourist accommodations. Leighton Kramer had offered the City Rancho Santa Catalina for a hotel site. The City declined, but private developers then built the El Conquistador Hotel where El Con is now. Mrs. Greenway had been supporting the WWI vets through a furniture making business called The Hut. With the depression, there was no market for the wares. The story is that she built a hotel to use the furniture. The Inn was designed by architect M H Starkweather. In addition he was the architect for El Encanto Estates and other buildings in Tucson. His personal residence was at the NE corner of Adams and Olsen and has quite a distinctive Art Deco facade. Arizona Inn pink, the tale goes, was the color of Mrs. Greenway’s rouge in the setting sun. She tapped her cheek and said this is the color.
Build Out: Our square mile was pretty much built out by 1960. There have been a few more recent residences, like the town homes on the Elm St. curve and the homes between Mabel and Drachman, Wilson and Plumer. That was a property held by the UA for a potential well sites, but the UA decided in the late 1970’s to sell off the scattered lots it had held for wells.
History – by Gabrielle Fimbres, Arizona Daily Star Article, Jan. 13, 2012
The roots of the Blenman Elm neighborhood, designated as one of Tucson’s historic districts, date to 1900, when early developer Andrew Olsen built a home at the northeast corner of Helen Street and Plumer Avenue – far east of town at the time.
Development grew slowly over the next 35 years, as Tucson emerged as a health and tourist destination with a growing university. The boom started in 1936, with construction reaching its peak in 1955. By 1960, the neighborhood, for the most part, was built.
Blenman Elm sits on the better part of a square mile just east of University of Arizona Medical Center. The neighborhood features 17 styles of homes that were popular between the 1920s and the 1950s, and is said to be the “vanguard” of the ranch-style home in Tucson. Included in the neighborhood are 21 homes built by Swiss-born Tucson architect Josias Joesler.
Blenman Elm is seen as architecturally significant. Although early land speculators envisioned a neighborhood of bungalows and revival-style cottages, development from the late 1930s through the mid-1950s made it one of Tucson’s earliest ranch-style residential neighborhoods.
Among the earliest developers were Calvert Wilson and Andrew Olsen, who have streets named after them, and Charles and Louise Blenman – the neighborhood school is named after Charles Blenman.
Blenman Elm contains examples of 17 styles of architecture, but is characterized by its ranch style houses with Spanish eclectic influences. This style was inspired by Sonoran-style adobe row houses in Tucson’s barrio, as well as the Army-built structures of Fort Lowell, according to documentation.
Among the most significant contributors to this style was architect Josias Joesler.
Joesler was “attuned to both the high style and vernacular architecture of Spain and of the Latin American countries. He understood the context in which Tucson’s barrio row houses were created. He borrowed from the architectural heritage of the Hispanic culture to develop a local flavor to nationally popular high styles,” according to documentation.
Historical landmarks dot the Blenman Elm landscape, including the Arizona Inn, which opened in 1930; SS. Peter and Paul Catholic Church and School, which opened in 1931; and Blenman Elementary School, which rang its bells for the first time in 1942.