The Temple of Music and Art opened in 1927 and served as a 947-seat venue for the performing arts of the time.
Recently discovered 16-millimeter film footage shows the groundbreaking ceremony for the building on Scott Avenue. Brooks Jeffery, director of the Drachman Institute, a research and public service unit of the College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture at the University of Arizona, says the footage reveals some details about its origins.
“It was a wonderful snapshot in time,” Jeffery says.
The effort to build the Temple was led by a group of dedicated women known as the Saturday Morning Music Club and, according to Jeffery, it represented an important step in the development of Tucson.
“Here you saw the groundbreaking, which was this event where they invited an Italian opera star of the day to come and take that first shovel-full, and the whole celebration of what that meant to the arts community,” he says.
Brooks says the history of the Temple of Music and Art is made up of several stories.
“One is the development of cultural institutions in a young and emerging town like Tucson in the 1920s," he says. "The other is about the role of women, as patrons, as artists, as the benefactors of a variety of different movements including the arts and culture. The third is about the architectural traditions that this building represents: this was one of the first masterpieces of the Spanish Colonial Revival style.”
David Ira Goldstein, artistic director of the Arizona Theatre Company, says ATC uses the temple as its Southern Arizona home. He’s excited about the recently discovered film.
“You can just sense in that footage the pride that the community took in launching this building,” says Goldstein.
According to Goldstein the Temple is one of the architectural treasures of the city, and although ATC has only been in the space since 1990, the artistic legacy of the building has deep roots in the community.
“The 1920s were a wonderful era for touring performers, both theatrical troops, of course, but also musicians –classical musicians and bands," Goldstein says. "I think a lot of the great entertainers of the day were able to come here.”
Jeffery says the history of the building is not without some low points, and he points out that the building was almost lost to developers during the 1980s.
He credits ATC for providing the stewardship that has preserved the Temple of Music and Art as one of the fixtures of the Tucson artistic community.
“The fact that ATC has sustained this for so long is a real tribute to them as an organization and the patrons that support it,” he says.