Magazine article Sunset

Mexico's Colors Come North to Tucson's Barrio Historico

Magazine article Sunset

Mexico's Colors Come North to Tucson's Barrio Historico

Article excerpt

WITH THE FLAMBOYANCE reflected in its street-scape T-shirt, Tucson's Barrio Historico has donned a mantle of color. And nowhere in this inner-city neighborhood does color appear more vividly than in the houses touched by the trowel, brush, and sponge of artist-builder John Lovegrove. While renovating historic adobes and erecting historically compatible new in-fill houses, he has developed easy techniques for applying both subtle and saturated color (see page 132).

As a geologist on field trips to Mexico, Lovegrove was fascinated by the lively hues of buildings there. He recalled the images when a career switch brought him to the Barrio's ripening restoration scene. Self-effacing in the extreme, he lets his joyous color--and his neighbors--do the talking for him. One gently ribs him about his experiment with powdered stucco pigment, sprinkled, triple strength, onto a freshly poured concrete floor and troweled in. (Don't try it--the color rubbed off.)

Lovegrove is one among a dedicated band of people at work reviving the Barrio. Their spirit of camaraderie in shared adventure spills from house to house. Drop by any structure where work is complete or under way, and within minutes you'll be guided next door, around the corner, or blocks away, to check on progress at other properties.

You'll meet owners shoring up crumbling adobe walls, replacing long-gone roofs with recycled timbers, or trading recipes for authentic lime stucco.

Community action is also behind the color. In 1978, when the Barrio's two dozen blocks of adobes and brick houses (dating from the 1840s through the 1920s) were designated a historic district on the National Register, they came under the protection of historic zone ordinances, which in most cases strongly controlled use of color. (Explorations into old layers of plaster and paint revealed that whitewash--the classic mix of lime, water, salt, and sometimes the juice of nopal, the prickly pear cactus--was the commonest original treatment, occasionally tinted with laundry bluing. …

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