Cities & Towns

Tucson is a vintage-hunter’s paradise

The treasures in the "Old Pueblo" are endless.

Words By Zach Dundas


Tucson's Miracle Mile. | Jay Carroll


6 May 2024

Reading Time

5 Minutes

Tucson! The name carries a dusty throwback mystique. And history does run deep in the desert city, into an ancient past. Today’s downtown sits near 4,000-year-old farming sites at the base of Sentinel Peak. Just south of town, the Tohono O’odham Nation’s San Xavier Reservation encompasses both a 17th-century Spanish mission and thousand-year-old archaeological finds.

A site of more recent vintage, the Hotel Congress, is where cops nabbed gangster John Dillinger. Raise a toast to the 1930s gangster’s memory at Tiger’s Tap Room.

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DESERT VINTAGE is less a Southwest regional specialist than a trove of high-end fashion finds—and a national tastemaker with a Manhattan outpost.

Other standout boutiques: AZ MODERN curates midcentury furniture, as does ADOBE HOUSE ANTIQUES. VITNAGE (yes, “Vitnage”) is a mainstay for desert and Western vibes.

The honor roll of mid-mod neighborhoods includes WILSHIRE HEIGHTS, INDIAN RIDGE, HOWARD BELL WRIGHT ESTATES, COLONIA ALLEGRE, and SAN RAFAEL ESTATES (one of many zones shaped by Tucson’s Lusk Corporation, a homebuild- ing giant in the ’50s and ’60s).

Most of today's city, though, is much younger. “The first growth spurt was really in the ’50s,” says Patricia Katchur, owner of the Sunshine Shop, a vintage furniture and art emporium. “All of a sudden, people wanted to live in the desert.” That makes today’s Tucson a rich vein for lovers of vintage furniture, fashion and architecture. From boutiques like Katchur’s to strip-mall thrift wildcards, the “Old Pueblo” can keep the most dedicated picker busy.

All things midcentury modern, in particular, define the city’s aesthetic. The postwar boom created a royal flush of neighborhoods stacked deep with low-slung ranches that evoke dreams of polo shirts, Blue Note albums and poolside cocktails.

“You’ll get places where Mom and Dad lived for 30 years,” says Laura Lamb of The Girls Estate Sales, a busy source of heirloom treasures. “They decorated and furnished the place in keeping with the design. Those are little time capsules.”

Sunshine Shop Tucson's Showroom

Katchur’s shop operates in the 1952 Hirsch Shoe Building, on the architecture-rich Sunshine Mile. Alongside 1960s Danish bar carts and the like, Sunshine Shop digs into Arizona’s distinctive design heritage, stocking work from regional modernists like potter Rose Cabat and fashion designer Leona Caldwell. Katchur notes intersecting Tucson influences: officers from the Air Force base importing European furniture, Indigenous heritage, deep connections to Mexico. “You could just walk across the border,” she says, “and find great Mexican silver.” Beyond midcentury nuggets, Native jewelry and Western wear are Tucson staples.

“You have all these things that make up this geography,” says Katchur, who traded a career running a New York City photography lab for Tucson’s literal and metaphorical sunshine. “We have overlapping cultures and a diversity of nature. Tucson appreciates its place.”

The historic Hirsh's Shoes Building where Sunshine Shop is located. | Tucson Historic Preservation Foundation

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