The Arizona Historical Society has agreed to sell a 19th century adobe house in downtown Tucson that has been in the agency’s hands since it was saved from demolition in 1971.
Society board members voted unanimously Friday to accept an offer from Rio Nuevo to buy the Sosa-Carrillo House and preserve it as an educational and cultural site.
The traditional Sonoran row house, finished in 1880, was one of only a handful of buildings to be spared when 80 acres of Tucson’s oldest Mexican-American barrio was razed to make way for construction of the Tucson Convention Center.
In recent years, the historical society was identified — but had so far been unable to fund — almost $1.3 million in renovations needed to protect the structure and improve it as a museum and events venue.
Selling the property to Tucson’s tax-supported urban improvement district will allow that work to be done.
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Under the deal, Rio Nuevo will buy the house for its appraised value of $1.05 million, but the historical society will only collect about $100,000 of that. The rest will be used to pay for restoration.
Historical Society Executive Director David Breeckner called it “a unique solution” to a “challenge of stewardship” the agency faces at its historic properties across the state.
He said he was excited to see the Sosa-Carrillo House “revitalized” under Rio Nuevo’s ownership. “AHS is not looking to profit from this whatsoever,” he said.
Breeckner added that the purchase agreement requires the house to be preserved for its current use, so “it can’t be turned into a Starbucks” someday.
Ownership of the property will revert back to the historical society in 2035, when the tax-district is slated to be dissolved.
The 19th century house was built by prominent local businessman Leopoldo Carrillo on land previously owned by the pioneering family of José María Sosa, an ensign who served in the Spanish presidios of Tucson and Tubac in the 1770s.
The residence was passed down through the Carrillo family until 1968, when the city of Tucson took the property by eminent domain.
After that, the building — then known as the Frémont House for its tenuous link to 19th century military leader and Arizona territorial governor John C. Frémont — underwent extensive renovations as some 250 homes and businesses surrounding it were bulldozed.
Construction of the convention center complex displaced more than 700 residents, many of them people of color from low-income households. For many, the Sosa-Carrillo House, wedged between the convention center and the Linda Ronstadt Music Hall, serves as a symbol of what was lost in the name of that so-called “urban renewal.”
Delicate and expensive work is now needed to restore the building’s original adobe, which has been damaged by the cement-based plaster that was applied to the bricks in the early 1970s.
The house at 151 S. Granada Ave. also needs a new roof and air-conditioning system, upgraded electrical wiring, and improvements to its 50-year-old bathrooms and kitchen so it can better host wedding receptions and other special events.
The Sosa-Carrillo House currently hosts the Mexican American Heritage and History Museum and two nonprofit tenants: Borderlands Theater and Los Descendientes del Presidio de Tucson, the heritage organization that operates the museum.
Rio Nuevo has offered both groups 5-year leases that would allow them to stay for $1 a month.
Breeckner said the historical society also plans to remain involved as a partner in the continued preservation of the house.
After Friday’s vote, historical society board president Linda Whitaker said Rio Nuevo board chairman Fletcher McCusker deserved to be acknowledged for opening the door for the discussions.
“I’m looking forward to what this next phase brings,” Whitaker said.
Photos: The Sosa-Carrillo House and urban redevelopment in Tucson