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Broadway murals offer unique window to the past

Murals feature historic photos taken in downtown Tucson from 1937 to 1963
Posted: 3:10 PM, Jun 27, 2022
Updated: 2022-06-27 21:49:42-04
Broadway Blvd. Tile Mural

TCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — Broadway Boulevard is a major entryway into Tucson's downtown.

For more than 20 years, that entrance has been flanked by murals comprised of historic photos.

"It represents who we are," said Steve Farley as he described the Broadway Tile Murals. "I think that's why it was embraced by so many people."

In 1998, while working on an historic preservation project, Farley discovered a series of remarkable photos from the middle of last century. They were taken in downtown Tucson.

He used those photos to win a nearly $200,000 arts project for the Broadway Murals.

Broadway Murals

"Windows to the past, gateway to the future," Farley said describing his concept.

There are four murals.

One is of a bus from 1969, driving through the old underpass.

Bus mural on Broadway Blvd.

Another depicts George Roskruge, the early surveyor of Tucson.

There's also the 1916 view of downtown Tucson.

They all lead to the wonderful mural depicting a series of people walking in downtown.

"That's sort of people coming into downtown and how they got to downtown," Farley said pointing to the three murals on the east side of the underpass. "This is them when they're there. Really celebrating each other and celebrating this place that brings people together."

The photos were actually taken between 1937 and 1963 by Frank Lauerman.

Broadway Murals photographer Frank Lauerman

"He had it at belt-level," explained Farley. "It'd shoot one frame at a time. He walked down the street and that's why the people look so heroic. They're shot from a low angle."

Lauerman would hand people a card and tell them to stop at Jones Drug the next day to view the negatives. People would then by prints.

"But it ended up capturing downtown, the real downtown and real people, in a way that otherwise you wouldn't get," said Farley.

Farley then put out the call for Tucsonans to share those photos with him for the mural. He only had room for 18.

"I knew this was going to be the toughest part of this whole job," remembered Farley. "First I didn't know that people would keep these things, so I didn't know how many I would get. Then I got 217. Then I had a bigger problem, how do I choose."

He spent a weekend at Hotel Congress choosing the 18 photos and deciding the order to place them.

Farely also figured out a process to transfer those photos onto tiles. The installation took about 4 months.

Broadway Murals installation in 1999

"They're all individual tiles," Farley said. "So they've got to be individually hand-glazed and fired. And there's 16,000 individual tiles between those four murals."

With all of those photos come background stories. Like 19-year-old Eleanore Morris.

According to her daughter, Eleanore moved to Tucson in 1938 for her health.

Eleanore Morris photo

"They didn't know really what was wrong with her, but they knew she needed to get out of Chicago," said Pam Samuels. "She came and the happy ending to the story is she lived to 96."

Eleanore worked in the glove department at Steinfeld's Department store.

Now, her tile photo measures 18 feet tall.

"She's immortalized," Samuels exclaimed.

Eleanore Morris mural

Farley has a story about all of those depicted in his people mural.

"The guy on the right is Mort Tuller of Tuller Trophies," said Farley. "He told me that was the day that he and his wife were celebrating their decision to go out of the jewelry business and go into the trophy business."

Tuller photo

Thousands attended the dedication ceremony on May, 1999, with many of those in the photos making speeches.

More than 20 years later, many of them are no longer with us. But they remain larger than life.

"It's so important to be able to represent everyone," said Farley. "Representation wasn't something you talked about in 1999, but I felt that was such a crucial thing."

Farley also published a book spotlighting all 217 of those amazing photos of Tucsonans walking through downtown. It's called Snapped on the Street.

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Pat Parris is an anchor and reporter for KGUN 9. He is a graduate of Sabino High School where he was the 1982 high school state track champion in the 800 meters. While in high school and college, he worked part-time in the KGUN 9 newsroom. Share your story ideas and important issues with Pat by emailing pat.parris@kgun9.com or by connecting on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.