TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — Old Tucson once had a mayor. It is part of the long-forgotten history of the movie location and Wild West theme park.
"Really, Nick C. Hall is the reason we have Old Tucson Studios," said Tucson Historian David Leighton.
Leighton gives credit where credit is due. Nick C. Hall is the reason Old Tucson exists.
Plenty of credit still needs to go to the late Bob Shelton, who turned Old Tucson into the Wild West theme park.
But there would be no Old Tucson if it were not for Nick C. Hall.
According to Leighton's research, Hall came to Tucson in 1934 as part of a group that bought the Santa Rita Hotel in downtown.
He began enticing Hollywood studios to come film westerns in Tucson, and have the crews and actors stay at the Santa Rita Hotel.
"He was a 'one-man chamber of commerce,' they would call him in the newspaper," Leighton said.
Because of Hall, several films were shot around Tucson in the 1930s.
Then in 1939, Hall made another trip to Hollywood to talk to Columbia Pictures.
"He convinces them that they need to film the movie Arizona, based on Clarence Budington Kelland's book Arizona, here in Tucson to make it authentic," said Leighton. "Finally, they say ok this is a good idea and of course they're going to stay at his hotel, the Santa Rita Hotel. So he benefits that way."
Columbia Pictures then used local labor to construct the movie town of Tucson circa 1861. Some of the adobe buildings still stand today.
Nick Hall was ever-present during construction.
"The cast and crew was so appreciative of his work, they actually voted him the mayor of Old Tucson," Leighton said. "Nick C. Hall is the only mayor I know ever elected in Old Tucson."
Once filming was done, and the mid-November 1940 premiere approached, the Tucson Junior Chamber of Commerce came up with an idea.
"They worked with two local banks and they created what was known as Old Tucson script or Old Tucson Money," said Leighton. "The design is actually based on money that was actually produced in Tubac, Ariz. in the 1850s and 1960s."
The Old Tucson script came in multiple denominations, with various scenes from the movie Arizona on the back. It had to be spent at local merchants by November 19, 1940.
Also as the movie premiere approached, Old Tucson had a working post office.
Tucsonans could have their mail stamped "Old Tucson" and sent anywhere in the world. It was open for nine months.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or by connecting on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.