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Monday, 3 May 1999

All Tucsonans see themselves in mural


Photos by David Sanders,
The Arizona Daily Star
Fourteen separate scenes of Tucsonans make up the mural ``Windows to the Past, Gateway to the Future'' which is the result of artist Stephen Farley and Tile Canvases' vision.

Gail Hill, Norma Felix and Irma Rendon in 1944 Tucson


Seferino Flores was ecstatic at the dedication of a street-scenes mural depicting Tucson from 1937 to 1963.
By L. Anne Newell
The Arizona Daily Star

Many people see themselves or their family members in the historic street-scenes mural along the Broadway underpass.

Some are right, some are wrong.

Artist Stephen Farley drew laughs from more than 1,000 onlookers at a weekend dedication ceremony as he relayed the many inquiries he's received since the mural went up.

``I've gotten hundreds of calls from people convinced it was them or their families up there,'' he said. ``None of them were right.''

But, he said, the calls illustrate an important point: ``People are really seeing themselves on the wall, and it makes me really happy because I was hoping all Tucson would see this as themselves.''

For a few Tucsonans, the tiled photos are a larger-than-life image.

``There are times in life that for one reason or another you feel like you're 10 feet tall,'' said Bill Cotee, who now rests permanently on the second scene from the left.

``But never did I think I'd be 18 feet tall,'' he added, to the delight of the crowd Saturday night.

One scene to the left of Cotee, Morton Tuller and his then-wife Sylvia make for a sporting couple while walking down Congress Street in 1953.

The couple had just decided to turn their jewelry and trophy store into Tuller Trophy Factory and were walking to a drugstore to celebrate their decision.

At the time, the jewelry store had lost a lot of business because of a city decision to eliminate nearby parking. As a result, the Tullers were making more money from engraving mail-order trophies than from selling jewelry, Mort Tuller recalled at the dedication ceremony.

The couple moved the store to the corner of North Fourth Avenue and Broadway, where they operated for six years before relocating to 525 N. Sixth Ave. The couple's son still runs the business from that location.

``This has enabled me to do exactly what I wanted: I've become a part of Tucson,'' Tuller said.

``I go to people's houses and see my (trophy) work or to the UA and see it there, but to be up there is just unbelievable.''

The couple met in 1947 when Sylvia went to Chicago, Mort's hometown, for a vacation. After he came to Tucson to marry her, the couple moved to Chicago and then to Hollywood for a time before returning to Tucson in 1953.

Sylvia Tuller died in 1987. Mort Tuller attended the dedication ceremony with his second wife, Verna.

The mural also has a deep meaning to Tucsonan Blanche Cordova.

She and and Joe Rodriguez, in the fifth mural from the right, were on their way to Daniel's Jewelers to buy their wedding rings in 1949 when a sidewalk photographer snapped their picture.

Cordova, who was 17 at the time and had just gained her mother's permission to marry, said her mother gasped when she saw the photo later.

``She said, `He put his arm around you? And you let him?' '' Cordova recalled.

The pair, both Tucson natives, married later that year and remained in Tucson.

Rodriguez died in 1984.

``I don't even have the words to describe how I feel,'' Cordova said before the ceremony. ``I just feel so honored that with all the people living here they chose me. I almost fainted when I heard.''

The murals have reunited long-lost friends, and rekindled memories of those who have passed on.

``During our marriage, Henry told me he believed in reincarnation,'' said Carmen Lee of her husband, who is in the third scene from the right. ``Well, I guess this is his way of doing it,'' she joked.

Henry Lee was walking around downtown to show off his rodeo duds in 1942 and couldn't resist having a photo taken, she said.

``It was rodeo time when that picture was taken,'' Carmen Lee said. ``That's why he's wearing his boots and jeans, he liked to dress up for rodeo.''

Lee, who was 19 at the time, went on to run the OK Market in Armory Park with his wife. He also served three years in World War II, Carmen Lee said.

The couple met in 1945 after he returned from military stints in North Africa and Italy. He started working at the Chinese restaurant she helped run. They married in 1949.

Henry Lee was born in China, moved to San Francisco when he was 2 and settled in Tucson when he was 9, Carmen Lee said. The couple lived in Tucson until 1952, when they moved to Los Angeles.

In 1972 they returned to Tucson, where Henry Lee died last October.

Carmen Lee still runs Allan's Market, in Barrio Hollywood.

Farley appealed to the public a year ago to bring in their historic photographs and received more than 200, most snapped downtown between 1937 and 1963.

Through a partnership of the Arizona Department of Transportation, the Tucson-Pima Arts Council and Tile Canvases, the 15,000 tiles that make up the murals went up slowly over the past few months.

``Choosing these 14 from the more than 200 I received was agonizing, but I seemed to have made all the right choices,'' Farley said.

Eleanore Morris, like most immortalized on the wall, was surprised she was chosen.

``I thought they'd put someone more important up there,'' she confided.

In 1938, a 19-year-old Morris, whose image is fourth from the left, was walking alone downtown looking for a job.

She had just left Chicago on doctor's orders, leaving behind every friend and family member she had. Doctors told her she only had a year to live because of a respiratory illness, and that Tucson's climate would be easiest on her.

Five months later she found a job - at the newly opened Walsh's Drug Store on North Campbell Avenue. Soon after, she found a husband, with whom she helped run Morris Optical for years, she said.

Morris, who moved to Litchfield Park, a Phoenix suburb, two years ago, brought her daughter and grandson, along with other family members, to the dedication ceremony.

Her family had sent in the photograph as a surprise 80th birthday present.

``It's really something to be immortalized at this age. I never dreamed it,'' she said. ``There's been a lot of happy memories here.''

The mural is just one more happy memory for some who've made Tucson their home for decades, like Seferino Flores.

Flores and friend Dolores Wichapa, pictured in the third scene from the left, had just emerged from a movie, ``Wichapa's Treat,'' at the Rialto Theatre in 1946.

Flores, who was 14, and Wichapa used to walk from downtown back to their Barrio Libre homes next to the railroad tracks, Flores said at the ceremony.

He's spent most of his life in and around Tucson, working construction jobs and leading the musical group, Los Elegantes.

The band toured the Las Vegas circuit for a time, then the Pacific Coast, traveling as far as Vietnam and Singapore to entertain U.S. troops as part of USO relief.

While the band pretty much disbanded years ago, members still play around Tucson, he said.

Two years ago, Flores became an ombudsman for the Pascua Yaqui Liogue Senior Center. He and Wichapa are still friends, both of them active in the Yaqui ceremonial structure.

Lalo Guerrero, arguably the wall's most famous member, is pictured on the far right with Goyo Escalante in 1938, when both were members of Los Carlistas, a singing group.

Guerrero's a cappella performance of a song depicting 1930s life in Tucson ended the dedication ceremony. The well-known Latino singer-songwriter concluded with a sweep of his hand, saying ``It's an honor, it's a pleasure, and we should all be up there.''

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