Tucson’s Midcentury Masterpiece
A historic Tucson home is open to visit following a complete restoration.
By Olivia Munson
One of Arizona’s most important architectural works has been given new life, thanks to the Tucson Historic Preservation Foundation. The Ball-Paylore House, designed by renowned architect Arthur T. Brown, FAIA, is considered a midcentury modern triumph. Commissioned in 1952 by Phyllis Ball and Patricia Paylore as a “bespoke, one-of-a-kind home” that represented the American modern art movement and allowed for functionality and beauty within the Sonoran Desert, the residence has become well-known locally and nationally for its rich history of inhabitants and architectural design. Demion Clinco, executive director of THPF, remarks, “the historic and architectural significance of the Ball-Paylore House cannot be overstated.”
The dwelling is regarded as one of the most important creations in Brown’s career, embracing geometry and establishing the precedent for early solar homes. According to THPF board president Michael Fassett, Brown’s attention to siting and the abode’s unique hexagonal design were instrumental in keeping heat and light out during summer and in during the wintertime.
The home’s fame began in 1959 when it was named “a notable project of design” by the Tucson Daily Citizen and the Southern Chapter of the American Institute of Architects. It was later featured in House Beautiful magazine, the “Sunset Patio Book” and Fine Homebuilding Magazine, as well as numerous times in Sunset Magazine. The property was purchased in the 1990s by philanthropist Phyllis Koffler and her husband, former University of Arizona president Henry Koffler, who used it to host guests and scholars from around the world. And in 2012, the Arizona Daily Star named the Ball-Paylore House one of the five most important architectural works in Arizona.
By late 2019, the home was in danger of being torn down, so THPF decided that it was time to step in. Fassett notes that other historic buildings in Tucson have fallen victim to redevelopment, and the organization did not want that for this unique property. THPF sets out to maintain the city’s unique architectural environment and design heritage through preserving the city’s prominent landmarks.
Following a year-long restoration, the building has been brought back to life with vintage 1950s style and flair. From the outside, the two-bedroom, one-bathroom home is rather unassuming, despite its hexagonal footprint. Inside, however, floor-to-ceiling windows illuminate the midcentury open-concept living room, making the space feel larger than its actual dimensions. Vibrant turquoise- and coral-colored block walls pop against pale wood ceilings and copper-toned furnishings and cabinets, and a large fireplace serves as the central point of the hexagon. “The house has remained essentially unchanged for 60 years,” Fassett says, although the renovation did add some modern updates, such as air conditioning and WiFi.
Now, THPF has opened this special piece of history to the public. According to Fassett, it is important for people to come out and see the home in order to experience a special piece of Tucson’s architectural history that embodies a sense of “post-war optimism. We are excited by the opportunity to allow people to experience this architectural masterpiece through overnight stays and through limited tours,” he says, noting that such opportunities expose individuals to a more understated approach to living, in comparison to what most have become used to. “It is really interesting to be in the house and see that this style is doable. You don’t need to have a walk-in closet. It can be simple.”
To learn more about the Ball-Paylore House or plan your visit, go to www.preservetucson.org.