By the time Patti Toci and her husband bought the Julius Kruttschnitt, Jr., house in Tucson, previous owners had taken virtually everything the family had left behind. Then, one day in the 1960s, a remodeling crew opened a plaster wall and discovered a small piece of uncrumpled paper behind the lathe.
“It was a receipt,” Patti remembers, “from a department store in 1917, for $3.50 for a ‘good’ pair of shoes. That must have been a lot of money to pay for shoes back then. There were detailed instructions to deliver the shoes around the back of the house. Marie Kruttschnitt (Marie Rose Pickering) had even signed her name. That’s the way you bought goods from a department store in those days–they were delivered.”
Toci, who now operates the Julius Kruttschnitt, Jr., home as the charming El Presidio Bed and Breakfast, used to sit around with her ex-husband and try to figure out what the home was like when each of the families that occupied it lived there. The Kruttschnitt clan, including my grandmother Meanie (1908-1984), lived in the house from 1912 to 1930, for nearly 20 years. They raised four children there.
Unfortunately, before they left for Australia, the family sold nearly all their possessions, including their furniture. Toci has this on good authority–nuns who used to live across the street. Sisters in the convent organized the estate sale, and probably for a commission, though Toci doesn’t know that for sure.
“It must have been hard for Marie to part with her furniture, furnishings, and the other things she owned,” Patti surmises. “But the family was going to Mount Isa, two hours inland from the coast, and the cost of moving their possessions there would have been extremely high. It probably made more sense to start over.”
Patti and her ex-husband put the home at 297 N. Main through a major and incredibly sympathetic historic renovation in 1983-4. After careful consideration, they decided to take the house back to the way it appeared in 1886, before the Kruttschnitts lived there, but probably not a lot different from when they lived there. They went by pictures and insurance maps that they found at the Tucson Historical Society.
The house probably began life in the 1870s as a Mexican mud adobe row house, though no one is sure who built it or when it was built. The restoration uncovered flat, unadorned adobe brick walls 20 inches thick, with another 2 inches of plaster applied to the outside. It was, and still is, a spacious structure with 20-foot-high ceilings and a wide center hall known as a zaguan that leads to a rear garden. The zaguan helps circulate the air and keep the home cool during the summer.
Major improvements were no doubt made to the home after the Southern Pacific railroad arrived in the 1880s. It gave wealthy Tucsonians access to a variety of building materials, along with catalogs from the coasts that showed the latest styles in architecture and furnishings. Many homes received Victorian makeovers.
That was the case with the Kruttschnitt home, which was given a Craftsman overhaul. At some point during this period, a hipped roof was added, along with a balustrade, better known as a “widow’s walk.” A sweeping porch, which wraps around three sides, was attached, along with decorative brackets along the eaves. The co-mingling of styles–Spanish adobe, American wood frame, and Victorian decorative elements– is known as American Territorial.
The porch may not have been the most practical addition. Because the house faces west, Patti must continually refinish its floors and eaves. “The Western sun is so harsh here,” she says.
Insurance maps indicate that the Kruttschnitts had one indoor bathroom, in addition to an outhouse. A previous owner had wired the home for electricity, with knob-and-tube wiring that construction crews found in the attic. There was probably a simple heating system in the house as well. “People would chip out the adobe and put small gas appliances in the wall,” Patti says.
The maps also showed the location of several wood fireplaces within the house and on the property. One day Patti, who used to work in a dentist’s office, met a patient who delivered wood to the Kruttschnitts. As a boy, the man would go out into the desert with his father and grandfather to cut and gather mesquite, bringing it back on a donkey. Sometimes they would deliver wood twice a day. The man remembered that deliveries were always made around back.
When the Kruttschnitt’s first lived at 291 N. Main St., the simple plan had two parlors in the front, separated by an entry vestibule that led into the zaguan, which no doubt helped with air circulation in the home. Toci suspects the Kruttschnitts probably used the zaguan for dining. It was, and still is, flanked by four rooms, two to each side. One was used as a kitchen, the others as bedrooms.
Patti suspects that meals were cooked in an outbuilding. There was also a carriage house on the property at the time, where horses and hay were kept. According to the 1920 Census, the Kruttschnitts had three Mexican-Americans living with them. These servants probably lived in small building on the back corner of the property, or in the carriage house.
Based on what she discovered during the restoration process, Toci suspects that the Kruttschnitts enclosed part of the veranda on the back of the house to create a fourth bedroom, probably to make room for their youngest son, Ernest. The rest of the back veranda probably wasn’t enclosed when the Kruttschnitts lived there. It is today; it’s where Patti serves a sumptuous breakfast every morning.
Located in a Tucson neighborhood that used to be known as Snob Hall, home to the city’s wealthy and prominent, the property has a side courtyard with a garden and a fountain, which sits over a cistern.
When Toci bought the house, it had been carved up and rented as four apartments, and the backyard had been paved. She converted the backyard into a wonderful courtyard, complete with a contemporary fountain that came from Mexico, winding paths, and brick and tile accents. My grandmother Meanie was probably married in the backyard in 1930, several months before her family left for Australia.
“Julius Kruttschnitt and his friends also founded Tucson’s first country club,” Patti points out. “They wanted a place where they could entertain and play bridge. It still exists to this day.”
The 1920 Census indicates that the Kruttschitts rented the home before they bought it. Julius Kruttschnitt managed the Southwestern properties of the American Smelting and Refining Company, which remains a huge American mining concern. When the family first arrived in Tucson, he probably didn’t know how long he would stay.
It’s fun to imagine the family that lived there in 1920. My grandmother Marie Elise (Meanie) was 11, and had probably already earned her nickname. Her sister Barbara (Babsie) was 9. Julius III was 7, and Ernest was only 1. Augusta Sanchez (35), Luiza Regaldo (30), and Onesime Valdez, a four-year-old child, probably by Regaldo who had divorced, also lived here.
The Quilt Room of the El Presidio, where my wife and I were privileged to stay, may have been my grandmother Meanie’s room. A seamstress, she would have no doubt loved the way it is decorated today.