For most Flagstaff residents, Tucson is usually a weekend trip or sometimes a midweek stay at Spring Break.

Our family has been making such trips for 15 years, but until this past month, we had never made an extended visit to the adobe-walled historic district from which the city derives its nickname, Old Pueblo.

This is the El Presidio district, short for Presidio San Agustín del Tucson.

It is roughly an eight-block area, with a 23-stop, self-guided walking tour and anchored by the Tucson Museum of Art, which has grown to an entire block and incorporates five historic houses.

WALKING TOUR AND LUNCH

Spring is the perfect season for a walking tour and an outdoor patio lunch.

The bougainvillea and oleander are in full bloom (and scent), and the historic district is just far enough away from the University of Arizona campus to retain its unhurried charm.

The museum has several entrances to reflect the Spanish-Mexican, Anglo-American and Eclectic architectural styles of the historic district it anchors.

One entry is fronted by a modern sculpture and Warhol-style pink and blue walls, while another comes in through the lavishly restored 19th-century Stevens/Duffield House, with its indoor/outdoor Cafe a la C'Art restaurant.

A third entrance traverses a shady patio to a burbling fountain.

SUNNY SIDEWALK GARDENS

The block containing the shops of Old Town Artisans is ringed by 10-foot-high adobe walls. Inside is an airy patio restaurant surrounded by shops, whose ceilings consist mainly of saguaro ribs.

Sunny sidewalk gardens attract butterflies of all kinds.

The rest of the district consists mainly of private homes and offices converted from old Sonoran row houses, with exteriors painted in pastels and windows framed in brass -- or sometimes nothing at all.

The walking tour pamphlet -- which can be obtained at the nearby city visitor center -- supplements the narratives on brass plaques at each site.

The museum offers tours of its historic block of houses, and several commercial guides lead tours from the visitor center.

A PEACEFUL INTERLUDE

During our weekday visit, it was so quiet on the streets that it was hard to imagine what a vital and bustling place the Presidio must have been.

But for those of us seeking a peaceful interlude between the rush of other activities that we try to cram into our two-day Tucson visits, it was a welcome oasis.

Try it soon before the weather gets too hot -- the streets of Old Pueblo now are paved, which controls the dust but not the heat.

IF YOU GO...

WHAT: Tucson Museum of Art and Historic Block, 140 N. Main Ave., Tucson

Hours: Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m, to 6 p.m. Thursday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 6 p.m.

Admission: $8 general; $6 seniors (ages 60+) and veterans; $3 students (ages 13+)

Cafe a la C'art: Open daily, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Contact: (520) 624-2333, www.tucsonmuseumofart.org

Presidio Trail Historic Walking Tour: Visit www.downtowntucson.org

Historic Block Overview

The Tucson Museum of Art's block of historic properties is located on the northwest corner of what was once the Presidio of San Augustin del Tucson, established in August 1775 by Lt. Col. Hugo O'Conor, of the Spanish army in Mexico, and Fr. Francisco Garces of San Xavier Mission. By 1783 the adobe walls around the Presidio were complete and stood 12 feet high and 3 feet thick. The Presidio was roughly bounded by present-day Main Avenue, Pennington Street, Church Avenue, and Washington Street. The one entrance was located on the west wall where the Fish House now stands. By the time the wall was completed, there were 72 soldiers in the garrison, the largest of New Spain's chain of forts. The Presidio was comprised of the soldiers' living quarters, a general store, chapel, cemetery, stables, and a well. The buildings were single-storied flat structures also made of adobe similar to the rooms in La Casa Cordova.

The arrival of the railroad in 1880 spurred tremendous growth in Tucson and made new building materials cheap and readily available. Older homes were updated with pitched roofs and both interior and exterior functional and decorative elements. Most of the newer homes in the neighborhood were built to reflect styles popular in the states such as Mission Revival which is evident in the Corbett House. Many of these homes continue to serve as residences, shops, offices, and cafes in what is today known as the El Presidio Historic District.

The Museum's historic block represents five houses built between the mid-1850s to 1907 surrounding the modern museum building that houses most of the galleries.

The J. Knox Corbett House, completed in 1907, is a mission-revival style two-story home restored and furnished with period pieces from the American Arts and Crafts era. It is open by appointment only or for public tours on Tuesday mornings at 11 a.m. from October through April.

La Casa Cordova, one of the oldest buildings in Tucson, is home to the seasonal exhibition El Nacimiento. It is an excellent example of a Sonoran row house that was a popular building style in the late 19th century. The rooms of La Casa Cordova, including El Nacimiento, are open November - March only. The courtyard is open year round.

The Edward Nye Fish House, known as the John K. Goodman Pavilion of Western Art, also dates from the late 1800s and is home to the Art of the American West collection.

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The Romero House, believed to have been built in 1860, has undergone numerous alterations and is now home to the Tucson Museum of Art's ceramics studio offering studio art classes to both children and adults.

The Stevens/Duffield House, also known as the Palice Pavilion, dates back to the late 1800s and houses the Art of Latin America collection of pre-Columbian, Mexican folk art, and colonial works.

-- Tucson Museum of Art

Photo captions

Photo by Randy Wilson

A tiger swallowtail flits about in a sunny garden against a lilac wall in the Presidio Historic District in Tucson.

Photo by Randy Wilson

A tiled mural adorns a wall of the Tucson Museum of Art Historic Block.

Photo by Randy Wilson

Colorful tiles frame the doorways of the dining rooms at Cafe a la C'art, part of the Tucson Museum of Art Historic Block.

Photo by Randy Wilson

Old saguaro ribs provide a shady entry to the courtyard restaurant at Old Town Artisans in the Presidio Historic District of Tucson

Photo by Randy Wilson

The old adobe walls of homes in the Presidio dating back to the 1880s now serve as unadorned storefronts in the historic district.

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Red, blue, purple and adobe provide contrasting exterior colors in the Presidio Historic District of Tucson

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Eclectic door and window treatments nevertheless pass muster with the National Historic Register guidelines for the Presidio Historic District in Tucson.

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