Spanish Colonial Mission Church Revival Architecture: St. Philip's in the Hills


Narrative Description

Location - Context
Summary Description
St. Philip's In The Hills Church
Statement of Significance
Bibliographical References

Statement of Significance

CRITERION A. Property associated with historic trend in community development. The Murpheys’ and Joesler’s marketing concept of creating a church and plaza as a landmark community center for their residential development in the foothills of the Catalina Mountains.

In 1928, John and Helen Murphey bought at public auction 7000 acres of undeveloped land overlooking the Tucson Valley in the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains. During the years 1928 to 1936, the concept of the Plaza and church of St. Philip's In The Hills as a landmark for the Catalina Foothills Estates built on that land was being formed by John and Helen Murphey and Josias Joesler as they worked on other building projects in Tucson together.

The beginnings of their long collaboration can still be seen in the Blenman-Elm neighborhood in central Tucson. In the 1930s this area was located on the fringes of the city, on the south side of Elm from the large Kramer Ranch, which extended north toward the mountains. Guests at the Arizona Inn, built by Isabella greenway in 1930, rode horses from the Kramer Ranch. Polo was a popular sport at the University at the time, and the Kramer Ranch became the place where rodeos were held. Tucson’s still-popular Fiesta de los Vaqueros (Festival of the Cowboys) began here with a mounted parade and rodeo.

The individual small houses they built on the southeast side of Elm Street were bungalows, ranch style homes with a few built in the Spanish Colonial style. These were, however, laid out in the same grid pattern of the streets and lots used in Tucson from the Spanish Colonial and Mexican period.

To the west of Elm Street and Campbell Avenue Joesler and the Murpheys worked on the Murphey-owned Old World Addition development (now the site of the Arizona Medical Center, three miles south of the Catalina Foothills Estates and St. Philip's In The Hills church and Plaza). The houses in this, the Murpheys’ and Joesler’s first planned development, were periods of revivals of historic styles. In 1928, at the same time the Murpheys and Joesler were developing the Old World Addition, they were building houses in two new subdivisions that marked a complete change from the typical residential subdivisions at the time.

The two new subdivisions, El Encanto, meaning “enchanting”, and Colonia Solana (“Sunny Settlement”) built on the northeastern edges of the Tucson changed the configuration of the neighborhoods by purposely avoiding neatly laid out rectinlinear and small standard-sized lots. El Encanto had a more formal layout and landscaping but the houses were sited on large and irregular lots. Colonia Solana followed the more irregular contours of the land and the home sites retained dense natural vegetation.

The Murpheys and Joesler built houses in both of these developments but were working principally on the Murpheys’ Old World Addition. “ Old World” referred to European revival styles that required an architect with both a knowledge of history and extensive building experience. While working there Joesler and the Murpheys were developing the concept of the Catalina Foothills Estates as a Spanish Colonial style hacienda resort community similar to those of La Jolla and Santa Barbara in California.

With Catalina Foothills Estates the Murpheys and Joesler intended to build an elite residential community limited to 355 small estates or haciendas, on three to six acre lots each with spectacular views of mountains and valleys. This would be the first of its kind community development in the Tucson area. Their custom-designed Spanish Colonial style offices built along the west side of the plaza introduced buyers of the Catalina Foothills Estates to Joesler’s and the Murpheys’ uniquely characteristic hacienda style of building.

The plaza in the new development called for the church to be built first, as was customary in a new Spanish Colonial settlement. It was to occupy one side of the square opposite the Plaza. Next to be built was El Merendero Tea Room, a place to eat in the country serving local specialties, with a gift shop for small purchases. It was built in 1937 as a low fired adobe brick one-story Sonoran type hacienda, facing broadside to the Plaza from an open porch, and topped by a red tiled roof similar to that in the arcade of the cloister gardens around the church – this tile was not typical in Tucson but added color.

The Murpheys’ development of the area now known as St. Philip’s Church and Plaza and the Catalina Foothills Estates together as a new community in a Spanish Colonial village square created a visually defined open area for the use of the public as a meeting place and to serve the business and social needs of the residents. On the streets facing the plaza there were to be shops and offices, a country eating place and gift shop – El Merendero – and traditionally most important, the church occupying the north side of the block facing the central plaza with a direct relation to the walls and fountains. This Plaza is a demonstration of the way John Murphey’s marketing skills and Joesler’s architectural abilities contributed to their success.

The Catalina Foothills Estates planning and development was and still is a credit to Joesler and the Murpheys’ vision of a community of small estates in the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains. Its distinction comes from its sense of time and place, and the way in which it takes advantage of the natural contours of the land.

CRITERION B. The Murphey Contributions to Tucson.The Murpheys’ architectural, cultural and humanitarian contributions to Tucson.

Over the years, the Murpheys’ financial success was reinvested in the city of Tucson. In 1936 the Murpheys donated the land and Joesler his services and built St. PhilipsIn The Hills church at North Campbell Avenue and East River Road. The congregation paid only the costs of the construction. The Murpheys and Joesler also played parts in the design and construction of an Episcopal chapel on the University of Arizona campus (since destroyed) and St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church on North Wilmot Road, a Pueblo style church similar to those in New Mexico.

The couple also contributed very generously to the construction of the University of Arizona Medical Center and the Salvation Army’s downtown Hospitality House.

The Murpheys’ interest in education can be seen in several of their projects. Near to the land they developed as the Catalina Foothills Estates community, there were several large ranches in the region, some smaller ones and a number of ranch-style prep schools for boys, who were mostly from prominent Eastern families. Besides academic studies, they were intended to develop independence, self-reliance and responsibility working on the ranch, and riding and caring for a horse.

In 1929 the Murpheys started work on a pueblo style building called Hacienda del Sol, the first ranch school for young ladies in Arizona. Mornings were spent in outdoor activities and academics, and afternoons in art, music and drama. Classes were supervised by University of Arizona instructors. The Murpheys also petitioned the State of Arizona to create Catalina Foothills School District No. 16 and built the district’s first school, Catalina Foothills School, now the district’s administrative center on River Road. The couple’s three adopted children were among the district’s first students.

Helen Murphey also provided scholarship money so that dozens of young people would be able to attend college. She paid $300,000 to purchase a home for the Junior League and donated $500,000 to help build the University of Arizona Cancer Center. She was also instrumental in helping to organize the Tucson Symphony Orchestra and the Tucson Museum of Art.

It was on one of the couple’s many trips to Mexico for recreation, inspiration and items to add to their collections that Helen Murphey made sketches of a charming village that generated the design of Tucson’s first shopping center, Broadway Village, at East Broadway and North Country Club Road, which opened in 1939.

As an artist, art historian and collector, Helen Murphey’s contribution to her husband’s and Joesler’s building projects was her understanding of decoration, which supported their buildings’ sense of history. Pieces from the Murpheys’ collections of art and artifacts relating to Arizona’s history were donated by them to the Arizona Historical Society Museum.

The Murpheys’ financial success, travels and collections of artifacts contributed greatly to the quality and originality of their work, which is shown in both the haciendas and St. Philip's In The Hills church and plaza.

CRITERION C. Architecture. St. Philip’s Church and Plaza is significant because this property is considered to be one of the most greatly admired buildings of its architect, Josias Thomas Joesler.

Joesler designed buildings with a sense of antiquity that reflected his classical European education. Born in Zurich in 1896, he grew up in Arosa, Switzerland where his father was an architect and also the mayor. Joesler studied architecture in Bern, engineering in Heidelberg, and history and drawing in Paris at the Sorbonne. This was followed by extensive travel in Europe, North Africa, Cuba, and finally to Los Angeles, where Joesler and his Spanish wife Natividad Lorenzo met the Murpheys. Their collaboration began in 1927 with the development of the Old World Addition featuring European revival styles and leading to their development of the hacienda style used in the Catalina Foothills Estates.

Built in 1936, St. Philip's In The Hills Episcopal Church is considered to be one of Joesler’s most admired buildings. It is in the shape of an early Christian basilica, a two-story rectangle that has been the favored form for liturgical churches in western Europe since the Roman Emperor Constantine built the first in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome in the 4 th century. Currently, St. Philip’s Church is a Tucson landmark and considered to be one of the 12 most beautiful Episcopal churches in the United States and a sight that visitors to Tucson are urged to see.

Joesler built St. Philip’s of adobe blocks dug and formed near the site by skilled Mexican artisans who were accustomed to using adobe and working for a patron who personally directed the project. The strength and simplicity of the façade is marked by the sculptural quality of the material and the skillful use of classic geometric forms, highlighted by sun and shadows. South of the chapel and east of the church, the cloister gardens change the mood completely as their arcades of Solomonic columns, a Christian symbol from the Temple of Solomon, hold up the arches and red tiled roofs shading the walks leading to other parts of the church grounds. The arcade connects the area of the original church that Joesler designed and is a dominant theme in the church interior, the chapel garden, lower cloister garden and upper Perry Garden.

As was planned in Joesler’s 1957 extension of the church, the chancel and altar window was moved 52 feet to the north to double the length of the nave, and the choir loft was extended 10 feet to accommodate a larger choir. Added to the exterior east wall north of the Rector’s Study were the Bride’s Room and rest rooms. Single state buttresses with sloping tops were added to strengthen the new exterior wall.

On the west side of the church as was customary in early Christian basilica churches, a chapel, baptistery and columbarium were added later as separate symbolic spaces planned by Joesler. Adjoining the chancel there was a small columbarium with plans made to add an exterior columbarium garden in 1967. The original 1947 transept chapel was remodeled in 1957, placing an altar on the west side and building an interior wall for a small eight-sided baptistery, set two steps below the chapel floor. As in the chapel, the trussed ceiling treatment adds a feeling of space and importance. The baptistery has a small version of the altar window in the chancel. Both rooms are enclosed by wrought iron gates. Throughout the church there are gifts from parishioners of santos (small figures of saints) and church furniture, and from the Kress Foundation of Renaissance paintings and sculptures, that are appropriate to the church setting and add greatly to its significance and beauty.

Joesler has shown his veracity and ability as an architect as each room has its own character, message and purpose. He manipulates space with ceiling height – beams and exposed rafters – lowers or raises floor levels to change perspective, and uses natural materials for their own special qualities.

Through Joesler’s classical training and the long familiarity with ancient building forms, he understood not only the technical aspects of a design but the look and feel based on proportions and relationships and the effect of the intangibles of light and shadow expressed in the simplicity and consistency of design. Joesler left plans to extend the church before he died in 1956. Very little has changed since those planned changes were carried out and the church still remains in the feeling of antiquity his techniques imparted.

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Bibliographical References, used for study purposes

Abbot, Mary Huntington, St. Philip's In The Hills, the First 50 Years. Tucson: St. Philip's In The Hills Church, 1986.

*Bufkin, Don, “From Mud Village to Modern Metropolis: The Urbanization of Tucson.” Journal of Arizona History (Spring, 1981), pp. 63-97.

Franklin, Claudia, “Romance of the Ranch.” Tucson Lifestyle (11/97), pp. 67-73.

*Glinski, James, Tucson , Then and Now. Tucson: JTG Enterprise, 1995.

*Godwin, Fran, “The Cloistered Gardens of St. Philip's In The Hills.” Tucson Botanical Garden News (June 1983).

Green, Kim, “Murphey Scholarship: Helping Build Tucson’s Future.” University of Arizona Foundation Report (Fall 2000), pp. 24-25.

Hunt, Judith Brainard (ed.), The Restoration of La Casa Cordova. Tucson: The Junior League of Tucson, Inc., 1978.

Jarolim, Edie, “Santa Cruzin’: Trace Historic Footprints to Present Day Points of Interest Along the Santa Cruz River.” Tucson Guide Quarterly ((Winter 2002-03), pp. 74-79.

Jeffery, R. Brooks, Joesler and Murphey – An Architectural Legacy for Tucson. University of Arizona: College of Architecture, Arizona Architectural Archives (June 1994). * Joesler and Murphey: An Architectural Legacy for Tucson. Tucson: City of Tucson, Pima County, and the University of Arizona, 1994.

*Karnagay, Paula, “The Altar Screen of an Anonymous Artist in Northern New Spain: The Laguna Santero.” Journal of the Southwest (Spring, 1996), pp. 62-67.

Mitchell, Janet, “The Way a Dusty Desert Town Should Be: A Feature Article on Josias T. Joesler.” Tucson Guide Quarterly (Spring 1993), special insert, pp. 12-19.

Pourade, Richard F., Anza Conquers the Desert – Expeditions from Mexico to California and the Founding of San Francisco 1774 – 1776. San Diego: The Copley Press, Inc., 1971.

Stalley, Roger, Early Medieval Architecture. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Strittmatter, Janet, “Architectural Evaluation of St. Philip’s Plaza 2/25/2000.” Report for Pima County by historic architect.

Turner, Tom, “A Legacy of Caring: Helen Murphey’s Spirit, Vision Shaped Tucson.” The Arizona Daily Star (July 22, 1990), p. E-1.

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[source: St. Philip's In The Hills]

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