Sunday, March 10, 2013

Presidio Windows

Presidio San Agustin del Tucson 1775-1856

I took some pics in Tucson late Friday with my friend Alice.  It was an hour or so before the sun was going to set and the sun was playing hide and seek with the dark gray scattered clouds.  I love showing off the Old Pueblo, I know I must have mentioned this many blogs by now but I did spend a lot of time in this place learning to perfect my sketching and watercolors.  The  historic row, territorial freestanding and mini mansions are located in the heart of the Old Presidio.  Back in the 1700's it was an adobe garrison built by Spanish conquistadors and priests.  Presently, none of the original adobe fortress walls are left but the architectural developments that cropped up in the 17th Century are within the street boundaries of  6th Street and Alameda going North and South and then Stone to Granada going East and West.  You have to cross the railroad tracks to get to it. Once you find yourself in the single lane dark dank bridge to cross the railroad up above you can feel you are crossing over to a different feeling.  The skewed streets will take you to the El Presidio the place of authentic Tucson vernacular architectural style.

Residential alley east of Main AvenuePresidio San Agustin del Tucson 1775-1856

Buildings were constructed of 14" thick adobe walls with smooth plaster and paint on the exterior.  Most of the structures have neutral paint choices like warm butternut, taupe, beige and white.  Since the shells are neutral, thick and heavy, the windows are generally small.  Think about it...if the the window was large it would deflect under the weight of the heavy plaster.  It is also hotter than an oven on broil in the summer so smaller openings means less heat to let in.  Spanish conquistadors rocked chain mail instead of medieval metal armor.  I really mean it!

Presidio San Agustin del Tucson 1775-1856

Let's talk about why El Presidio windows are so incredible.  

1. Deep set, allows for shadows *like eyeliner*.
2.  Compact size, usually narrow and tall, my favorite size.
3. Drape treatment. Adds grace to relaxed building style.
4. Ironwork, as long as it is painted and has some kind of ornamentation.
5. Prickly pear and other sculptural cacti growing up from the ground to give it that Good, Bad and the Ugly reminder.
6. Sometimes adhesive tint can add some colorful spark to the matte finish of the walls. 
7. Shutters are a nice long as they are operable. Something really great about having an open window in the spring and using a louvered shutter to block the sun but let in fresh air.
8. Striped awnings. Of course, how could I leave that out!

I have spent many hours water coloring windows in the El Presidio.  I can take a line drawing and paint it with watercolors to make it look life like.  It takes shadows which I mix with burnt sienna and you guessed it...French ultramarine.  What magic you get from mixing those two pigments together.

Watercolor, by Lara Serbin

Windows are the eyes of a building.


  1. Your photos are magical!

  2. Thank you for your sweet comment. It is easy to like what I see in this historic neighborhood.