Author: Grace Hees

A Casa Comes Full Circle

This northwest-side home merges family history with renovated amenities.

By Romi Carrell Wittman Photography by Robin Stancliff

trio of wrought-iron signs greets visitors to the Esparza home on Tucson’s northwest side. One has the family name, Casa Esparza; another says, “Est. 1962,” and yet another says “Re-est. 2016.” In many ways, the home, located in a small subdivision, has made a complete revolution.

A wall was removed to create this open-concept design, which is perfect for family gatherings.

The home has special meaning to Sam Esparza, who grew up there with his parents and five siblings. His parents, Leo and Connie Esparza, built the home 56 years ago and lived there until they passed in 2014 and 2016, respectively. That was when Sam and his wife Jennifer purchased it and began renovations.

“This is the family house,” Sam says. “We’ve been having holidays here with everyone for years. This has been, and will continue to be, a central meeting spot for family gatherings.”

Jennifer is no stranger to the home. She and Sam met while students at Canyon Del Oro High School and, long before they married, she became something of a family member. She loves the history and tradition of the place.

The couple’s primary goal was to update it and make it more functional without obliterating its period charm and elegance.

A classic 1960s ranch-style, the 3,200-square-foot, 5-bedroom, 3-bath home featured the sunken living spaces popular in that era, along with a semi-open layout that fused modernist lines with a casual informality. The Esparzas wanted to maintain the comfortable vibe while remodeling the home and making it more functional.

With Sam serving as the de facto general contractor and Jennifer, a Realtor, serving as the designer, the couple moved into a rental home across the street so they could supervise all aspects of the work.

Homeowners Jennifer and Sam Esparza with their dog Remy.

“That was really lucky,” Sam says, of finding a rental property so close by.

They gutted nearly everything, taking the home down to studs. “We re-plumbed the gas and water lines, replaced septic lines, installed all new systems, A/C, electrical,” says Sam. “And we did all the demo ourselves. I can still feel it in my back!”

They modified the floor plan a little bit, but kept the basic footprint. They also leveled out the floors so there’s no more going up and down as you walk through rooms. They raised the roof lines to match the higher ceilings in the dining room, which brightened the entire house and made it feel even larger. They expanded the kitchen into the space that was once an Arizona room, making a large, well-illuminated and inviting Great Room that easily can accommodate dozens of people. They added an elegant mesquite bar, which hides behind pocket doors when not in use. Skylights — some new, some original — give virtually every corner of the home a sunny warmth.

Columns in the original formal living room were removed, and a large Douglas fir beam was added to support the roof.

The dated Ionic columns on the front and back porches as well as inside the front entry were removed as were two load-bearing walls, which necessitated the installation of a 35-foot steel I-beam to support the roof weight. Sam had a 24-foot Douglas fir specially milled and stained to clad the I-beam so that it perfectly matches the original beams.

One of the biggest changes to the floorplan was the master suite located at the rear of the home. They converted that space into a guest suite with two bedrooms, a fireplace and a kitchenette. Long-term guests can very comfortably reside in this part of the home.

The new master bedroom is located toward the front of the home. They converted the smaller guest rooms into one large, elegant master with a spa-like en suite with outdoor access to a private side patio and hot tub.

To house their vehicles as well as provide a workshop for Sam, they enclosed the original carport and also built another garage. “Yes, we have his and hers garages,” Jennifer jokes. Sam, who often works from home for his education technology business, also has a large office that’s accessible from the backyard.

Two small guest rooms were combined to create an elegant en suite master bath.

One of the property’s distinctive features they kept is a 140-foot-tall Aleppo pine in the backyard. Family lore has it that it was the tree from the family’s first Christmas in the home. Its tree well is original, too. “We built it with rocks we got from the end of Magee,” Sam notes, smiling at the childhood memory.

The end result is a home that wears its history proudly while also providing modern amenities. And the extended family approves. The Esparzas’ three grown children are frequent visitors, as are Sam’s sisters, one of whom said, “You’ve kept enough of the charm, but you’ve put your own stamp on it.”

Jennifer even relocated the dining room chandelier so it hangs above the kitchen island. “I call it rustic formal,” she says with a laugh. “And I love that it’s original and something that’s been part of the family.”

“It was a labor of love for sure,” Sam says of the project, which took roughly nine months to complete. “It feels good to keep the flame going.” HG

What’s new in San Diego

Actress/producer/author Brinke Stevens recently visited one of her favorite Southern California cities, and shares her experiences.

By Brinke Stevens
Courtesy of Torrey Pines Gliderport.

I’m always excited to revisit San Diego and discover what’s new. Every month is a good time to go, because there’s really no such thing as an off-season. San Diego has a world-famous Zoo, Balboa Park and the Old Globe Theatre, the Gaslamp Quarter and Old Town, pristine beaches like Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve and La Jolla Shores, the historic Hotel Del Coronado, and Legoland. There’s truly something for everyone in “America’s Finest City.”

I’m partial to anything with an ocean view, so I like to stay in the heart of La Jolla at the Grande Colonial hotel. Originally built in 1913, it retains a classic elegance yet is thoroughly modern — and also features delicious California cuisine at NINE-TEN restaurant. Best of all, it’s nicely situated within walking distance of art galleries, boutiques and restaurants, including one of my favorites, the recently renovated George’s At The Cove. Their roof-top terrace offers casual outdoor dining with a stunning view. On the fine-dining lower level, Chef Trey Foshee’s sophisticated menu can’t be beat for inventive taste combinations and artful presentation.

One block away, La Jolla Cove is a real gem. Although the beach is small, the wildlife is plentiful. Harbor seals and sea lions bask on the rocks, and orange Garibaldi fish join swimmers in the calm water. At La Jolla Shores, Avenida De La Playa is full of kayak and paddle board rental shops, many of which offer guided tours. Just north of La Jolla, Torrey Pines State Reserve provides eight miles of hiking trails amid beautiful sandstone ravines, eroded badlands, and towering cliffs with breathtaking views of the coastline.

La Jolla. Photo by Joanne DiBona

For another spectacular view of San Diego, I like to drive to the southernmost tip of Point Loma. Here you can find a sweeping panorama of the Pacific Ocean, downtown San Diego, Coronado, and on a clear day, the mountains of Tijuana, Mexico. You can explore the Cabrillo National Monument and take a self-guided tour of the restored Old Point Loma Lighthouse. From the summit, you could continue down Cabrillo Road to study the tide pools or take a scenic walk along the bluffs.

Cabrillo National Monument. Courtesy of

Once I’ve gotten my fill of gorgeous scenery, I head to Point Loma’s Liberty Station for lunch. San Diegans quickly fell in love with the new Public Market there. Ranked one of the Top 20 food halls in the U.S., it follows a path paved by iconic markets like Seattle’s Pike Place. This lively gastro-emporium offers food and goods from 30 local artisans and chefs, including prepared foods, produce, fish, pastries, beer, wine, arts and crafts. Popular vendors include Parana Empanadas, Mastiff Sausage Company, Olala Crepes, and Venissimo Cheese. On Sunday afternoons, stop by for a free concert on the dog-friendly outside patio, where you can relax with globally inspired food and alcoholic beverages from Bottlecraft or The Mess Hall. Surrounding this foodie-heaven is a vast complex called the Arts District of Liberty Station. Formerly a Naval training center, Liberty Station is now packed with movie theaters, art galleries, and many small museums such as the Comic Art Gallery, the New Americans Museum, the Visions Art Museum, and The Women’s Museum of California. The Avocado Museum opens this summer to celebrate San Diego’s Fallbrook area as the Avocado Capital of the World. As hopping as this place is, it is only the beginning. There are future plans for The Barracks Hotel, an art-themed boutique hotel utilizing historic military buildings. And East Village’s beloved Café Chloe is opening their “Chloe at Scout” outpost at Liberty Station, an outdoor French café with a menu of pastries, quiche, cheese, charcuterie, soups and salads. Another highly anticipated new food hall debuts this summer in Little Italy, a downtown neighborhood renowned for authentic Italian fare. The Little Italy Food Hall takes up residence in the European-style Piazza della Famiglia. The interior décor pays homage to the area’s maritime past. Visitors can order freshly prepared food from six vendors, including Not Not Tacos by Sam the Cooking Guy, featuring tortillas stuffed with unconventional fillings like meatloaf, salmon, or pastrami. The Bar at Little Italy Food Hall features craft cocktails, local beer and wine. There’s also a refined Milan-style pizzeria Ambrogio15, artisanal Roast Meat & Sandwich Shop, and Wicked Maine Lobster with its New England seafood. In addition to the food hall, Piazza della Famiglia includes Frost Me Café & Bakery, wine tastings, and the occasional live cooking show.

Old Town Trolley Tour in Little Italy. Courtesy of Historic Tours of America.

Little Italy is one of San Diego’s hottest dining districts, featuring Top Chef-helmed restaurants and a thriving nightlife. On my last visit, I was delighted to discover the brand-new Born & Raised restaurant. Borrowing a bit of decadence from time-honored steakhouses of decades past, Born & Raised features swanky leather booths in a glorious art deco-style dining room, as well as a rooftop level with panoramic views. The menu features humanely raised beef and an in-house dry-aging program, not to mention tableside cart service by tuxedo-dressed servers. That said, this is not your father’s steakhouse. Far from being a stuffy formal experience, it’s a fun, happening scene on both floors.

San Diego is a sunny haven for suds lovers, with more than 100 craft breweries like Ballast Point, Green Flash, AleSmith, Stone, Port and Lost Abbey. It’s interesting to visit local production facilities, and many tasting rooms are clustered in the Miramar area. To avoid drinking and driving, you can call on San Diego Beer, Wine and Spirits Tours for tastings at local breweries, wineries and distilleries. Their guided downtown trolley tour, for example, includes beer tastings at four San Diego breweries plus lunch. If you prefer wine, there’s a chauffeured Winery Tour that includes pick-up and drop-off at your hotel, three local wineries (18 different wines), and dinner overlooking a rustic vineyard. They also offer a new five-hour chauffeured tour of local small-batch distilleries.

Courtesy of San Diego Zoo

The San Diego Zoo is widely acclaimed as the best zoo in America. Encompassing 100 acres and a vast array of animals, many of which are endangered species, the zoo steps into the future with the recent opening of “Africa Rocks.” The $68-million project incorporates the latest ideas about exhibits at a time when zoos find themselves in an ongoing debate about the treatment of animals in captivity. Designed to be more naturalistic and focused on conservation, “Africa Rocks” lets visitors walk on a meandering pathway past six distinct habitats housing flora and fauna from the African continent, including penguins, meerkats, Nubian ibex, ring-tailed lemurs, leopards, and dwarf crocodiles. Africa Rocks’ seven-story waterfall is the largest manmade waterfall in San Diego, and you can even walk behind it! Should your feet grow weary while exploring, the zoo offers a 35-minute guided bus tour of the park. There’s also the Skyfari aerial tram that transports visitors from one end of the park to the other, offering a birds-eye view of the exhibits below.

To experience wildlife from the Land Down Under and come face-to-face with kangaroos, head 30 miles north to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park in Escondido. The newly opened Walkabout Australia attraction will transport you to a faraway land. Discover meadows teeming with kangaroos, grasslands where wombats frolic, and forests filled with kookaburras and cassowaries. Elsewhere, you can view some of Africa’s most beloved animals — including lions, elephants, cheetahs, meerkats, zebras, and gorillas — roaming relatively free. True to its name, the park offers a variety of different safari tours, including an exciting zipline safari.

Courtesy of Paraná Empanadas Argentinas

Close to downtown, Balboa Park was constructed for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition. Enjoy lush gardens and trails, tiled fountains, remarkable architecture and 17 museums within this picturesque 1,200-acre city jewel. Wander around the park and admire the intricate Spanish-Renaissance architecture. The Botanical Building is a great starting point, featuring a striking collection of tropical plants and orchids. The park also features a cactus garden, rose garden, a Japanese-style garden as well as a palm tree canyon. Venture to Panama 66 to refuel with a snack and craft beer or dine alfresco at the luxurious Spanish-style Prado Restaurant. Take in a show at the Old Globe Theatre or visit the Spreckels Organ Pavilion to see one of the world’s largest outdoor pipe organs.

Liberty Public Market. Photo by Robert Benson

Be sure to stop by the Museum of Man, which is dedicated to anthropology. For the first time in 80 years, it now offers visitors a 40-minute guided tour of the landmark California Tower. You’ll proceed to a secret staircase hidden to the public, and then climb higher and higher for spectacular panoramic views of Balboa Park, downtown San Diego and beyond.

Museums are plentiful enough to suit all interests. Art lovers will enjoy the San Diego Museum of Art, the Museum of Photographic Arts, and Mingei International Museum. Science enthusiasts can explore the Fleet Science Center or the Air and Space Museum. There’s also the Model Railroad Museum, an Automotive Museum, and the Hall of Champions Sport Museum, dedicated entirely to San Diego’s sports history.

I try to come back often to revisit my old favorite digs — and to see how much San Diego has transformed. I was happy to hear about The Hopper, a new double-decker bus tour of six top sites: Old Town, Little Italy, Balboa Park, Gaslamp Quarter, Seaport Village, and the Embarcadero. The buses stop at each location every half hour, so guests can “hop on and off” whenever they like and discover San Diego at leisure without having to drive around all day. It’s just one more great way to explore this awesome city. Simply put, San Diego is inspiringly beautiful and has everything you need for a perfect getaway.

Grande Colonial Hotel, 910 Prospect St., La Jolla, CA 92037, 888.828.5498,
George’s At The Cove, 1250 Prospect St., La Jolla, CA 92037, 858.454.4244,
La Jolla Cove, 1100 Coast Blvd., La Jolla, CA 92037,
Torrey Pines State Reserve, 12600 N. Torrey Pines Road, San Diego, CA 92037, 858.755.2063,
Cabrillo National Monument, 1800 Cabrillo Memorial Drive, San Diego, CA 92106,
Liberty Public Market, 2820 Decatur Road., San Diego, CA 92106,
The Little Italy Food Hall, 550 W. Date St. at India St., San Diego, CA 92101,
Born & Raised Steakhouse, 1909 India St., San Diego, CA 92101, 619.202.4577,
San Diego Beer, Wine, and Spirits Tours, 858.551.5115,
The San Diego Zoo is located in the northwest corner of Balboa Park. 2920 Zoo Drive, San Diego, CA 92101, 619.231.0251,
San Diego Zoo Safari Park, 15500 San Pasqual Valley Road, Escondido, CA 92027, 760.747.8702,
Balboa Park, 1549 El Prado, San Diego, CA 92101, 619.239.0512,
California Tower at Museum of Man, 1350 El Prado, San Diego, CA 92101, 619.239.2001,
The Hopper Bus, 833.743.3467,

Sudden Comfort

Few things convey an immediate sense of contentment and well-being like eating a meal that evokes memories of home and hearth. Here are some local restaurants that specialize in all manner of comfort food.

By Sarah Burton Photography by Thomas Veneklasen

5 Points Market & Restaurant

The rangeland raised Criollo Beef Meatloaf at 5 Points Market & Restaurant.

For more than four years, owners of 5 Points Market & Restaurant Jasper Ludwig and Brian Haskins have offered an innovative breakfast and lunch menu. Aptly named, this brunch spot is located in a repurposed building at the historic Five Points intersection leading into downtown, surrounded by Armory Park, Barrio Viejo and Barrio Santa Rosa. The menu focuses on well-balanced offerings, sourced from as nearby as possible.

“We wanted to open a restaurant that sourced primarily from local farms, ranches, and artisans to create our food from scratch.”

In fact, 5 Points started out because the owners felt so passionately not only about food, but local food systems, and working with regional farmers and agriculture. “We wanted to open a restaurant that sourced primarily from local farms, ranches, and artisans to create our food from scratch,” explains Ludwig. “We also wanted to create an environment where creativity is honored and folks are paid a living wage to work in this industry.” On the menu this plays out deliciously in dishes like the huevos rancheros made with La Noria corn tortillas, pinto beans grown right here, house-made ranchero sauce, fresh pico de gallo, avocado, and cilantro-serrano pesto.

Other popular dishes include their smoked salmon benedict, a smoked beet sandwich, and the arugula salad. But if you’re looking to dive into comfort, look no further than the meatloaf. “Our meatloaf was the creation of our chef, Ken Julian,” Ludwig points out. “It’s made with local, free-range and grass-fed Criollo beef from 47 Ranch (Sky Island Brand), served atop house-made organic brioche, and topped with house-made poblano-tomato jam and a fennel, smoked beet, and Castelvetrano olive slaw.”

756 S. Stone Ave., 623-3888,

HiFalutin Rapid Fire Western Grill

HiFalutin’s Roasted Half Chicken.

For a bit of comfort with an extra dose of the Old West, HiFalutin serves up everything from beef stroganoff and pot roast to meatloaf and steaks. Since opening in 2002, this sister eatery to the Baggins sandwich shops has made a name for itself with generous portions and an easy-going atmosphere, down to the cowboy hats worn by staff.

“Our most popular dishes are the meatloaf, pot roast, steaks, glazed baby back pork ribs, cedar plank salmon, as well as the tacos.”

While you’re trying to decide between a traditional rib eye steak or the Cattleboss Pot Roast — slow cooked for hours until tender — try not to get too distracted by the heavenly blue corn muffins and butter placed before you. “Our most popular dishes are the meatloaf, pot roast, steaks, glazed baby back pork ribs, cedar plank salmon, as well as the tacos,” says Owner Moe Aria.

With the word grill in the restaurant’s name, it makes sense that the must-try dishes are largely those cooked over the grill. But you also can choose from salads (like Cassidy’s Mexican BBQ Chicken salad or the Pulled Chicken Cobb), sandwiches, burgers, and even several hearty pasta dishes.

6780 N. Oracle Rd., 297-0518,

Sullivan’s Eatery & Creamery

If nostalgia equals comfort in your book, a trip to this traditional ice cream parlor and restaurant should be added to your to-do list. With toy trains running on a track overhead, thick marble slab counters, thick burgers, and ice cream presented in heavy glass dishes, Sullivan’s Eatery & Creamery is sure to take you down memory lane.

This location opened originally in 1977 as one of the many Swensen’s Ice Cream Parlors in the U.S., but owners Jerry and Kathy Sullivan decided to go their own way and changed the name in 2013. What hasn’t changed is their take on the traditional ice cream shop, with a menu boasting burgers and patty melts made with fresh beef ground daily from local Dickman’s Meats, old-time sourdough grilles and sandwiches, as well as plenty of piled-high salads.

Of course, dessert is part of the full experience here, so choose carefully from the decadent options. Try one of the parfait-style sundaes, with layered scoops of ice cream, whipped cream, topped with a wafer and — of course — a cherry. Or maybe a banana split, strawberry shortcake, or a warm brownie topped with a scoop of ice cream. Needless to say, if you skip dessert here, you’re not thinking straight.

6444 N. Oracle Rd., 297-9974,

Omar’s Hi-Way Chef

The famous Deep Dish Hot Apple Pie at Omar’s Hi-Way Chef.

There’s a reason this truck stop restaurant has been featured on the Food Network (where it was awarded the title of Number 2 Truck Stop in the country), and received equally high praise from both local and national publications. The reason is simple: Since opening in 1954, they’ve stayed true to straightforward, quality food.

“This is the kind of place where if you leave hungry, it must be because you didn‘t order!”

“Our menu is one of the most extensive around,” says Manager Omar Ramirez. “Breakfast is a comfort food for many people, and our over-portioned breakfasts are available all day.” Choose from the I-10 Belly Buster for the super hungry, spicy Chorizo con Huevos, the popular Omar’s Favorite (cheese enchiladas, shredded beef, three eggs any style), huge pancakes, strawberry waffles, or biscuits with creamy gravy. After 22 years running the establishment, Ramirez points out: “This is the kind of place where if you leave hungry, it must be because you didn‘t order!”

The lunch and dinner menus boast several kinds of foods, including traditional favorites from Mexico (tacos, enchiladas, chimichangas), the American heartland (Cincinnati chili mac, chicken noodle soup, pork chops), and even Italy (spaghetti and meatballs, chicken Parmesan, fettuccini Alfredo). Sweet tip: Make sure you leave room for the restaurant’s signature Deep Dish Hot Apple Pie, mounded with soft-serve ice cream.

Omar’s Hi-Way Chef, 5451 E. Benson Hwy.,

The Fix

Can comfort food lift your spirits? The answer is a resounding yes, if you ask the owner of a restaurant dedicated (almost) solely to macaroni and cheese. Michael Lanz and his wife Sandy took over The Fix in 2013, less than a year after it first opened. Since then, they’ve continued to observe the tried-and-true connection of cheesy goodness to happiness.

“Mac ’n cheese is an American comfort food that stands the test of time,” Lanz says. The restaurant’s sizable menu is split into classic cheddar macs and creamy Alfredo macs, all dressed up with flavor combinations like lobster and Swiss cheese, cream cheese and jalapeño, bacon and chicken, as well as pulled pork with hash browns. A few of their most popular versions are Chicken Bacon Ranch, Buffalo Chicken, Caprese, ABC (Alfredo, broccoli, chicken) and, of course, the closest thing to your childhood favorite, the All American.

Besides mac ’n cheese, The Fix’s menu also has whole sections dedicated to salads, burgers and sandwiches, everything from a Cuban-style grilled cheese with ham, mozzarella, pickles, and pulled pork; to steak salad with avocado and bleu cheese dressing. And if you’re still not feeling “fixed,” perhaps a piece of the homemade fudge or Rice Krispie treat will do the trick!

943 E. University Blvd., 305-4493,

Robert’s Restaurant

If you’re looking for comfort food, you can’t go wrong at this long-standing breakfast and lunch spot. In fact, this year Robert’s Restaurant celebrated its 40th anniversary — that’s four decades of serving up meals made from scratch. “Our entire menu is what we’d call comfort food,” muses Owner Boyd Bartke, son of original owners Robert and Donna Bartke.

“We make our own pies, breads, cinnamon rolls, and also butcher our meats,” Bartke points out. “We’re not an ‘out of a box/freezer’ restaurant.” He shared that some of their most popular dishes are a bit traditional and not-so-traditional, such as the country-fried steak and biscuits topped with chorizo gravy. For breakfast, look for corned beef hash, omelets, French toast and pancakes; then, during lunch, the likes of open-faced roast beef sandwiches, patty melts, burgers, and grilled trout.

But the top sellers are the giant cinnamon rolls. These enormous confections are a must-have, no matter what else you’ve ordered — you’ll just need to make some room. They’re cut in half and toasted on the griddle before making their way to your table and served with a side of extra frosting, putting them even more over the edge. Toasty tip: Even if you’re not a huge fan of toast alongside breakfast, you’ll want to make an exception. Thick-cut, pillowy slices of bread, baked onsite, are topped with melted butter. Not to be skipped!

3301 E. Grant Rd., 795-1436,

Baja Café

Everyone’s got a notion of what qualifies as a comforting meal, but one thing that can’t be overlooked is the intense tie of comfort food to the very first meal of the day. And the owners of Baja Café specifically got into the breakfast game in 2014 with the desire to add a bit more spice to this particular meal. “We really love the flavors of the Southwest and New Mexico, Sante Fe in particular, all kinds of chiles,” says Owner Kim Scanlan.

Baja Café is known for both its Benedicts (more than a dozen to choose from) and pancakes, featuring small details that make a huge difference. On the savory side, “All of our meats are slow roasted and smoked, including the brisket, corned beef, chicken, and pork,” Scanlan explains. “Our sauces are made from scratch, including our New Mexican red chile sauce, smoked Gouda cheese sauce, and tomatillo.” Get a load of these flavors in one customer favorite in particular, the Anomaly, which consists of a mac ’n cheese waffle topped with smoked brisket machaca.

If a sweeter breakfast is more to your liking, look no further than the snickerdoodle pancake or maybe a pecan roll pancake loaded with candied pecans. Or get fancy and try one of their special Belgian-style Liege waffles, using pearl sugar brought in from Belgium, which caramelizes during the cooking process for a crunchy, golden coating. “It’s kind of a cross between a New Orleans beignet and a waffle — it’s pretty amazing,” Scanlan shares.

7002 E. Broadway Blvd., 495-4772; 2970 N. Campbell Ave., 344-7369; 3930 W. Ina, 989-9156,

Saguaro Corners

Adjacent to Saguaro National Park East, Saguaro Corners has been serving comfort food since 1956. Just look for the vintage neon sign out amid the desert landscape. As anyone who grew up in Tucson can tell you, this is the place with the windows, through which diners can soak up gorgeous views of the surrounding desert, Rincon Mountains, and all manner of wildlife. Or if alfresco is more your style, set your sights on the patio or indoor/outdoor bar.

Besides being drawn by the view and ambience, both locals and visitors flock
to Saguaro Corners’ comfort-food-focused menu. Here you’ll find old favorites like mac ’n cheese, fish and chips, prime rib dip, several burgers (the John Wayne is a must), shrimp and grits, and meatloaf right alongside less traditional American dishes.

Saguaro Corners makes a strong case for finding comfort in new favorites, such as their mini-Sonoran dogs, the quinoa kale salad with jalapeño vinaigrette, ahi poke tacos on a crunchy wonton taco shell, or spicy mac ’n cheese with smoked Gouda and Sriracha. Live music several times a week, and a rotating lineup of 22 craft beers on tap, are two of the other big draws for this old-time favorite.

3750 S. Old Spanish Trail, 886-2020, 

Re-envisioning Mid-Century Modern

As the saying goes, “Everything old is new again.” Artist Andy Burgess, whose a local exhibition starts this month, has a distinctive and fascinating way of looking at designs from our near past.

By Scott Barker

Andy Burgess sees things that most of us don’t — tiny nuances in shapes and colors. But then, that’s his job.

Andy Burgess in front of one of his artworks

A native of London, the talented and engaging visual artist grew up surrounded by deeply rooted history, and many branches of noteworthy architecture and design, all of which were worthy of detailed study.

“As a child, I was surrounded by beautiful buildings,” he reveals, explaining that he lived very close to the Hampstead area. “It’s a historic neighborhood, famous for writers and intellectuals. The Bloomsbury Set often were there, along with people like Karl Marx. It’s like a village, with wonderful old houses and buildings. And yet, in the early 20th century, there were visionaries who built modernist architecture there as well.”

Andy’s father was John Burgess, an actor who had a long career in both the theater (including with the Royal Shakespeare Company), and on the big and small screens. His mother Lana had been a secretary, and then after his parents split up, a homemaker, remarrying and raising Andy and his siblings Harvey and Paul. Although his mom was an aficionado of the theater and opera, Andy says that all the culture surrounding him didn’t lead him toward the stage or into music.

“I went to a very academic school, so I wasn’t overly encouraged to do art. In fact, I didn’t do art properly until well into my university life. When it came to choosing my subject matters at school, I ended up studying history, geography, English, Latin, but I didn’t do art or music, which is a real regret for me. But I guess I’ve made up for it now!”

His initial focus was on politics, and he attended Leeds University for a four-year poli-sci degree that included him working for a congressman on Capitol Hill for six months, and in the British House of Parliament for an additional six months. “It was a hugely competitive program to get into; they only took six people every year. That was an amazing four-year degree, which I completed, but it was only in the last year of study that I started to get completely obsessed with art and realized that maybe my heart lay not in politics, but in art.”

Subsequently while attending art school, Andy found his voice and his passion in abstract painting. But he also discovered a distinctive skill set that circled back to his fascination with man-made structures. “In abstract painting … everything has to do with lines, geometry, space and receding planes,” he comments. “It just worked out over time that using architecture as my subject was a very good way of exploring that, but still maintaining one foot in the representational world that people understand. It was kind of a convenient hook.”

Painting has not been his only medium, however. “I also do a lot of photography, and it’s very critical to what I do. It doesn’t provide the commercial success that the painting has provided, but it’s absolutely integral. My favorite thing in the world is to be in a city and walk around for hours. It doesn’t matter where I am; I will find interest anywhere. In a paving stone, mailbox, or lamppost and specifically, looking up. Most people don’t walk around on a daily basis looking up. But it’s become second nature for me. I’m walking around with a camera, and everything is potential subject matter, whether it’s a plant coming out of a brick, or a shadow over a crumbling wall. That becomes a really fun way of being in the world.”

Over time, he carved out a niche as a visual artist in his hometown. “I was doing cityscapes — aerial views and street scenes — and I had a certain degree of success in London. I was building a nice career. I also had an article in Modern Painters magazine.”

But though that part of his life was taking off, a very important area remained grounded. “I was in my 30s, and I was having a rough time of it in London for health reasons. I realized I could not function in cold, damp weather. My body was shutting down and I was ill every other week.”

Bank of America, Tucson, AZ, 2018 watercolor on paper

He had an escape plan, however, involving the Old Pueblo, a place with which he had a familial connection. “In the 1980s, the Royal Shakespeare Company sent out small groups of actors, like a troupe, to America to teach Shakespeare in American universities,” explains Andy. “My dad did one of those tours with some really great actors, and one of the places they came to was Tucson. And my dad, bless him, was quite eccentric. He loved out-of-the-way places, and hated anything pretentious. He loved it here, and he used to talk about Tucson all the time.”

Fast forward a few years, and Andy’s oldest brother Harvey and his wife moved to Tucson, where she landed a job as a nurse at St. Mary’s Hospital. The Burgess family came out on visits, and it seemed the perfect place for Andy to get out of the cold and wet.

Living in the Southwest changed his life in many ways. He married his girlfriend and they had a child, and Andy turned his attention to painting images of Mid-Century Modern buildings. “The whole interest in painting specific modernist architecture happened just before I moved to Arizona,” he says. “I was really interested in Bauhaus and European modernism. And when I moved here, the access was far more to the heir of that, which was Mid-Century Modern. Those architects who were from that tradition, like Rudolph Schindler and Richard Neutra, were émigrés. They came to the States and some of them settled in LA, and a few worked for Frank Lloyd Wright. That mixture of the Prairie style, Bauhaus and Modernism, with help from Palm Spring architects like Donald Wexler, Albert Frey and those guys, came to form a unique style of American architecture. You put all that together, and suddenly you have Bauhaus transferred to the desert. And I fell in love with that. It made perfect sense to follow through from drawing Bauhaus to drawing and painting Mid-Century, and going back and forth between the two to enjoy the connections.

Moving to America has been a boon to Andy’s career, and he notes, “This year has been my best to date. I had the Nazraeli book [Mid-Century Perspectives: Paintings by Andy Burgess and Objects of Modern Design], and the Tucson Museum of Art exhibition, followed by a sell-out show in New York. Those three things were really phenomenal.” He notes that he has been so busy that he has had to turn down requests from galleries, as well as some commissions.

Welcome Diner, Tucson, AZ, 2018 watercolor on paper

Fortunately, he found the time in his hectic schedule for a very special exhibition, which will be unveiled on Oct. 5 during Tucson Modernism Week. Titled Andy Burgess: Sunshine Mile Modern, this show at the Sunshine Shop (located in the historic former Hirsh’s Shoes store), explores the modernist buildings on the strip of Broadway between Euclid Avenue and Country Club Road. “I’m recording the Sunshine Mile, both in paintings and photography,” Andy elaborates. “I am hoping to do a photography book eventually as well. It isn’t just looking at the buildings from afar. It’s also the details — the brick and stonework and the design.”

He is unquestionably drawn to the Southwest Modernist style, and he says that his step-mother-in-law Kathy McGuire is writing a book on architect Judith Chafee, soon to be published by Princeton Architecture Press. “We’re very close,” he comments about McGuire, “and have a lot in common. She’s always loved sharing her architectural tradition with me. She was a student of Judith Chafee and worked for her.”

During any free moments, Andy likes to spend time playing with his son Jonathan, as well as swimming, practicing martial arts such as Aikido, and cooking. “A lot of time is spent thinking about food, shopping and preparing food. I love making risotto. I’ve made a few paellas as well. That’s a hobby, but I often think to myself, if I hadn’t become a painter, I’d have been a chef!”

Or maybe a writer. He did, after all, grow up in a place known for its authors, and he had to write lengthy dissertations for his degrees. With a nod to his literary side he sums up, “I started this publishing company  Dark Spring Press and that was purely out of passion and naiveté. And it’s been fun. It’s a massive learning curve, but I love analog. I love physical things.”  

TSO Turns 90!

Its ability to be highly flexible is only one of the reasons why the Tucson Symphony Orchestra is 90 and going strong.

In 1928, Herbert Hoover was the president of the United States, Walt Disney introduced the public to Mickey Mouse, and Eliot Ness and his “Untouchables” were battling organized crime in Chicago. In theaters, audiences could thrill to Greta Garbo in The Mysterious Lady; at home, a tiny percentage of the population got a first taste of something called television; and in the concert hall, they could hear Maurice Ravel’s brand-new composition, Bolero.

In the Old Pueblo, musical history of another type was about to be made. Harry Juliani, a WWI vet, lawyer, and amateur musician, convinced a group of community leaders and music aficionados to assist in forming a symphony orchestra. A group of about 60 musicians came together for practices under the baton of Camil Van Hulse, a Belgian pianist/organist/composer. The following year, the orchestra held its first concert at Tucson High School’s auditorium, performing both Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7, and Schubert’s overture for the early 19th century play Rosamunde.

Concertmaster Lauren Roth at the Tucson Symphony Center. Photo by Tom Spitz.

Fast forward nine decades and The Roaring Twenties may be long over, but the TSO roars on. Just as with its inaugural concert, there will be both Beethoven and Schubert programmed during the 2018-19 season.

Sit down for a conversation with three of the symphony’s key leaders — President and CEO Tom McKinney, Music Director José Luis Gomez, and Concertmaster Lauren Roth — and you can tell immediately that the passion that launched the TSO flows through their veins.

“I am incredibly honored to be part of a group celebrating its 90th birthday,” observes Roth. “It speaks of the excellence of the orchestra, its leadership, and all the people and parts involved in running the ship. It indicates their desire and dedication to being relevant and important in Southern Arizona.”

Maestro Gomez adds, “I think this 90 years represents what Tucson has become. There is positive energy happening around the city, and the symphony is part of it. We’re connecting more and more with the community, and I’m very happy that we’re getting wonderful feedback and results from events like the All Souls Procession, and the education programs that we have.”

Picking up on those comments, McKinney elaborates, “José loves saying that 90 years ago, somebody had a vision of building an orchestra in the desert, and succeeded. That piece is our building block for the next 90. It’s great to celebrate our past, and some of the things we’ve accomplished, but we’re really looking forward to the next step for the TSO. How do we continue to impact the community that we’re in?”

The 2018-19 season certainly offers many clues about the symphony’s plans for enlarging its musical imprint on Tucson.

“We have some projects that are ongoing in terms of repertoire, such as including a little Brahms cycle, with each year a Brahms symphony,” says Gomez. “Also performing Schubert, a composer I would love for the orchestra to explore more. We’re adding more of his symphonies. Those two composers are the ones that give me the chance to tweak the orchestra in terms of the sound and the way of playing. Part of my artistic vision is to include repertoire that for some reason hasn’t been performed. One composer that hasn’t been explored from the German Romantic repertoire is Anton Bruckner. We’re excited to be playing his Symphony No. 7 this year.”

“I look forward to opening the season with Richard Strauss’ Also sprach Zarathustra, which is an incredible piece. To start with it tells everybody in the audience, ‘This orchestra has something to say.’ The piece is huge and monumental … and turning 90 is a monumental occasion for a symphony orchestra.” — Lauren Roth

TSO’s music director also is planning to honor both his own Hispanic heritage and the history and culture of the Southwest with an expanded Latin American repertoire. This season, audiences will hear a piece by Evencio Castellanos, a Venezuelan composer, and the U.S. premiere of the violin concerto from Luis Enriquez Bacalov, the Argentine composer who became famous for his scores for Italian films.

The Classic 5 concert will feature the U.S. premiere of a trumpet concerto by Mexican composer Arturo Marquez. “We’re doing that with a very dear friend of mine who is one of the top trumpet players in the world today, Pacho Flores,” says Gomez. “The co-commission of that piece put Tucson on the map because we are commissioning together with an orchestra from Spain, the national symphony orchestra of Mexico, and an orchestra from Japan.”

Ask Concertmaster Roth what she is most excited to perform this season and she notes, “I’m certainly looking forward to performing the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto, which I consider to be one of the very hardest concertos in the violin repertoire. It’s also one of the greatest ever written, and I’m lucky that it was composed for my instrument.”

Music Director José Luis Gomez. Photo courtesy of Tucson Symphony Orchestra.

McKinney is quick to say that one of the concerts he is most eagerly awaiting is Masterworks 5, which will feature Gomez stepping away from the podium to perform the first violin part for Mozart’s Serenade No. 6 for Strings (Serenata notturna). “It’s a piece I have played with my brother many times,” says Gomez. “It’s a little bit unknown, unlike Mozart’s famous night music serenade in G major — Eine Kleine Nachtmusik — which everyone is familiar with. He wrote many serenades, and most of them have solo violin passages.”

The plans on the horizon include the possibility of a tour for the orchestra, recording pieces that are unique to the TSO, and maybe … someday … a new concert hall.

With a willingness to perform overlooked pieces, commission new works (including from alumni of the Young Composers Project), and an eagerness to feature some of the world’s finest touring performers, the TSO continually showcases its commitment to the community.

Perhaps nowhere is the TSO’s direct interface with the future more evident, however, than the Just for Kids free concerts that take place at the Tucson Symphony Center on North Sixth Avenue. For many children, who lack access to live classical music, this series opens a door to a world they never knew existed. Sums up McKinney, “Two years ago, a girl about seven years old was leaving after a Just For Kids performance and she came up to me. It was her first experience at a concert. She said, ‘This was the best day of my life.’” TL

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