Wednesday, 29 April 1998

Downtown characters

Eduardo ``Lalo'' Guerrero, right, and an unidentified friend were snapped strolling downtown by a street photographer.

Bruce McClelland,
The Arizona Daily Star
Farley displays a tile enlargement of Guerrero's head as it would look in his mural

Farley's digitized rendering of street scene with George Roskruge at Broadway and Stone, circa 1920


Old city photos will serve as basis for huge tile murals on Broadway underpass walls

By Raina Wagner
The Arizona Daily Star

Artist Stephen Farley would love to see downtown become a bustling center of commerce, art and entertainment, a place filled with character and characters.

Just like it used to be.

Farley and Tile Canvases will give us a peek into that thriving downtown with his new project - the art component of the Barraza-Aviation Parkway interchange at East Broadway.

Called ``Windows to the Past, Gateway to the Future,'' the project encompasses four walls of the new Broadway underpass, just west of Euclid Avenue. It will be the topic of the next Downtown Forum, set for tomorrow at the Tucson-Pima Main Library.

``I really want to see downtown thrive again,'' says Farley, a graphic artist. Although he's only lived in Tucson for three years, Farley feels more at home here than any other place he's lived.

``I feel like I'm doing something for Tucson,'' he says.

In January, a Tucson/Pima Arts Council panel awarded Farley the commission to create tile murals for each wall. They will be embellished with black-and-white images derived from historical photos depicting downtown from the 1920s through the '60s.

For three of the walls, Farley has already chosen their photos. One will be a street-scape, looking west on Congress Street, circa 1920. The base of Tumamoc Hill is visible in the distance, and the left side shows the building that would eventually become Chicago Store.

Another photo mural will show George Roskruge, the city's first civil engineer, standing at the corner of Broadway and Stone, also circa 1920.

The third wall will have a later image, as a city bus moves out of the old and now-demolished Broadway underpass in 1969.

They are most excited about the fourth and longest wall, which will be filled with 13 street pictures taken between 1930 and 1960.

On his computer, Farley calls up an image of a sample street shot. Two young Hispanic men walk down the street, oblivious that their photo is being taken. Years later, the man on the right - Eduardo ``Lalo'' Guerrero - would be called the most important singer and songwriter of his generation of Chicanos.

Thousands of similar photos were taken on the streets of downtown in those years, and Farley is sure many of those images are stashed in old photo albums and cluttered desk drawers.

He is asking Tucsonans to scout around for old street photos of themselves or their family members and submit them to be considered for the fourth wall. Details on submitting photos will be given at the library forum tomorrow.

Farley's research has led him to suspect that these street photos were all taken by the same man: Arthur ``Art'' Otero.

A downtown barbershop shoeshine man in those years, Otero made an extra buck by snapping unsuspecting folks' pictures, then selling them for 50 cents.

In a 1960 Arizona Daily Star article, Otero answered questions about the changes in shining shoes over the previous 40 years. Only at the end does the humble shiner mention that he takes pictures, too.

``He certainly didn't consider himself an artist,'' Farley says of Otero. ``To me, it's supreme art.''

People who frequented downtown in its heyday say the photographer was a part of the milieu.

Charlie Stoddard was a Southern Pacific railroad machinist whose job often brought him downtown. ``I remember someone who usually set up on Congress Street.'' Otero worked at a barbershop at 103 1/2 W. Congress St.

``He was there all through the '40s and '50s,'' says Stoddard, now an 81-year-old retiree living in Oro Valley.

The former railroad man is sure he was snapped many times when he was downtown to cash his paycheck or grab a meal, but he doesn't remember ever going to the drugstore to purchase one of the pictures off a contact sheet. That's how the street photographer sold his work.

Stoddard confirms that downtown was a lively place when he worked for the railroad between 1937 and 1952.

``You couldn't walk down the street without seeing six people you knew.''

He adds that the street photographer was someone everyone was accustomed to seeing, just like the man known only as ``Pepper,'' the unofficial town crier.

``He was crippled with polio, I believe,'' Stoddard says. ``He had a great big megaphone and he'd head down the street and advertise for the businesses.''

Today's downtown is characterized more by nondescript government buildings and empty storefronts, though a revitalization through the Tucson Arts District is more apparent every day.

Farley's project is another piece of the Arts District, adding to the murals that already dot Congress, Broadway and other streets.

The black-and-white photos won't be merely reprinted on the tiles, explains Farley. Each 6-by-6-inch tile will hold but a fraction of the photos that will be enlarged up to 18 feet vertically. Up close, the tiles will look like abstract art in 10 shades of gray, each shade separated by a thin line that will allow a bit of the terra-cotta-toned tile to show through.

Farley said the amount of tile color will be too minimal to add the rusty tone to the photos, but it will give the mural some depth and warmth.

This is Farley's first foray into public art, after seven years of working in graphic arts. His background also includes a stint as a photojournalist.

The 35-year-old says his computer background has been useful as he scans in and blows up the photos, then separates the gray tones on approximately 15,000 tiles.

The commission is the largest ever awarded by T/PAC, yet all parties agree that Farley and Tile Canvases won't make much from it. The commission won't pay for much more than the tiles and the fabrication of tiles, being done by local tile masters Rick Young and Tom Galloway of Tile Canvases.

Farley says he doesn't care too much about his earnings, though he would like to make some money from the nearly two-year project.

``I'm more excited for the city,'' he says, ``and hanging this up for the people who are in the pictures.''

After installation, Farley's not sure what will happen to the photos he collects. Every donated photo will be returned to the donor, unless the giver decides the original picture is worth more in a collection than in a box in the hall closet.

Regardless, Farley says they will keep digital copies of all of them. He's looking into the idea of self-publishing a book with reprints of the street photos. The book would also tell the stories of who the people were - people who, in his opinion, built Tucson.

``We don't have a monument to the people. I want people to be able to look up at something and say, `There's my nana,' or `That's my tata.' ''

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