Several elements of this stop remind us of what life was like in Mexican culture circa 1880. The gazebo is a replica of the original bandstand. Close your eyes and imagine listening to the music, hearing people greeting one another in the plaza and feeling the sun on your face. The grassy area surrounding the plaza seems a bit out of place but is soothing to present day eyes. On one side is the color block plaza, La Placita, a conglomeration of businesses and offices built around the 1970s, right after the destruction of the neighborhood to facilitate urban renewal projects. La Placita’s nomenclature was once connected to the San Agustín Cathedral.
After the Gadsden Purchase in 1854, this site was the terminus of the wagon road which joined Tucson to the territorial capital at Mesilla, New Mexico. Wagons and stagecoaches also came here from San Diego. It must have been exciting for people to see the wagons stop here to unload their goods or to wait for the arrival of loved ones.
The driver would take the wagon on the old Camino Real or the Royal Road. Any road under control of the Spanish crown and its viceroys was called a camino real. These roads ran between settlements throughout Spain and its colonies in New Spain. When Mexico won independence from Spain, the name was rarely used until the Mission Revival movement of the early 20th century.
La Placita, before it was as we see it today, was used mostly by the Mexican and Mexican-American residents of Tucson from the 1860s to the 1960s. A committee of mostly women saved this piece of the plaza from being razed during the urban renewal of the 1960s.
The Society for the Preservation of Tucson’s Plaza de la Mesilla was formed in 1967. Members were mostly women and a few men. This group had the foresight to challenge the downtown urban renewal which destroyed Tucson’s oldest barrio and commercial area. Residents were being relocated while their homes and businesses were torn down. The committee wanted to save what they could of their Mexican heritage that had been in place for over 100 years.
Alva Bustmante Torres, a fourth-generation Tucsonian, is a community activist who spearheaded the drive in the early 1970’s to preserve La Plaza de la Mesilla. Initial plans had Broadway running through La Placita. Anything old, if it was preserved, required the La Placita committee to shoulder the cost for bringing it up to code. This proved impossible. The best compromise at the time was this small piece of land preserved that we see before us on Stop #7.
Looking at this space, one can only feel gratitude for those who stood up to save it for future generations. Newer isn’t necessarily better.
Let’s continue to the next attraction which is the Francisco Pancho Villa statue.