Sunday, December 30, 2007

A rough and ready hotel, a boarding house, and a masked man with a cactus in Tucson

Tucson was my grandfather's first stop after leaving Kansas in 1929. Indeed, it sounds like he got in his car in Little River, Kansas, his hometown, and didn't stop until he hit the Tucson landmark, the Willard Hotel. He writes in Pulp Writer of his arrival:

"Tucson was crowded, for the annual fiesta and rodeo would soon be held, but luckily I found a room off the patio at the old Willard Hotel, across from the library and two blocks from Congress Street. I made the place my headquarters, finding friendly people in charge (the Andersons), and installed my typewriter not far from the horsiest and cowiest lobby in Pima County. Most of the professional ropers, riders, and bulldoggers roomed there while waiting for the rodeo (pronounced ro-DAY-o in the Southwest) to get under way. In addition, ranchers and stock buyers used the Willard for a rendezvous, and it was there I met the late Ted Smith, Ed Ryan, and other well-known Tucsonians."
Tucson seems to have been a lucky place for my grandfather, for later on that year, he created his most popular character for Wild West Weekly, Sonny Tabor.
When I visited Tucson in October this year for two library presentations, I had the opportunity to meet writer Larry Cox, who wrote a fantastic column about Pulp Writer for the Tucson Citizen that appeared on October 11. Larry was gracious enough to do some preliminary detective work for me before I arrived, and tracked down my grandfather's residence on Sixth Street while living in Tucson. I had the address because it was one of many that appeared in the letters from Street & Smith, Wild West Weekly's publisher, found in Grandpa's personal papers. We also had a suspicion that the great photo of Grandpa's second wife, Mary, sitting on a stoop (it's reproduced in Pulp Writer, at the beginning of Chapter 12) was taken at that house. Larry emailed me before I arrived and said, yep, it sure looks like the same house.
Larry, by the way, is a Tucson historian and wrote a fascinating book, The Book of Tucson Firsts published by Javalina Press in 1998, a collection of the first-time events and appearances of everything in Tucson from baby carriages to the red light district. The blurb on the back of the book says that Larry is "a member of the arizon Historical Society and is the only known Democrat living north of River Road." Larry has his own hilarious story of his decision to move to Tucson: "One evening, while watching the late-night news on television in a Tucson motel, I heard a local story that changed my mind about the Old Pueblo. A drunk had robbed an adult bookstore. The masked bandit had been armed with a cactus. Where else could that have happened? I knew, after hearing that story, Tucson was, indeed, my kind of town."
So, Monday afternoon after my noontime presentation at the main Library, I wandered around old town Tucson. In what is called 'old town Tucson,' a few blocks from the main business district, a large section of what used to be the dilapidated part of town has been revitalized and there are now several restaurants, a great book store, a food co-op, among other things. I saw little evidence of chain stores or fast food outlets, which is nice.
I then drove to Sixth Street and checked out the house that we think was my grandfather's residence in 1929. It's been beautifully maintained. It's a two story home, Edwardian style, and a size that could be either a large home or small apartment building. It's hard to tell which one it was in 1929, although Larry seemed to think it might have been a boarding house at the time. In any event, I was pleased that it has been kept up. Across the street is a large Baptist church with a classic Roman facade - amazing the diverse architectural styles that cropped up during that time. People weren't as concerned then with building homes and buildings that were "in sync" with the landscape.
By the way, what ever happened to the Willard hotel? Well, my mission for the next few blogs is to find out.

1 comment:

themuse said...

Howdy Laurie Powers! I was actually trying to find a room at a boarding house and somehow reached your blog! What, exactly, is "pulp writing?" I am sorry that I missed seeing you recently in Long Beach. I live in Newport Beach, CA, and we have a nice library where writers come and speak weekly. Maybe there's a chance you will visit? If so, please email me and let me know as I would like to meet you ... you are a wealth of information. Well, gotta get back to trying to find a room. In this economy, I can no longer afford where I am staying now! Happy Thanksgiving to you, themuse