TMC Takes Steps to Preserve History

Nestled on the west side of the Tucson Medical Center is a quaint historic residence, full of memories and history, sitting in the shadow of a modern new orthopaedic tower currently under construction.

The juxtaposition is striking, especially since parking garages stand on either side of the adobe building like bookends.

But unlike the acclaimed movie “Up,” in which an old house is at risk of being displaced by more modern buildings rising up around it, the Erickson house is being given a healthy dose of tender loving care.

Along with two other buildings on the TMC campus, the Erickson residence has been nominated for recognition on the National Register of Historic Places, hearkening to an era when Tucson was a mecca for the treatment of respiratory illnesses, and particularly tuberculosis.

While the new construction is a $109 million investment in TMC’s future, the Erickson house is about to get a facelift as well. More than $400,000 is expected to be put into exterior renovations to protect the adobe.

“Even as we take steps to redevelop and modernize the campus, it remains important to us to honor the historic roots of this facility and preserve the unique sense of ‘place’ that is TMC,” said Richard Prevallet, vice president of facilities and construction at Tucson Medical Center.

Built in 1927, the home was one of the first structures built on the campus of what was then the Desert Sanatorium. Doctors at the time were prescribing dry desert climates and sunshine to counter consumption, and the sanatorium was the first medical institute in the United States to attempt to cure tuberculosis through the use of the sun’s radiation.

The Erickson residence, along with the Patio and Arizona buildings flanking the Grant Road and Beverly Boulevard entrance, framed the original entry to the grounds and would have provided the first impression of the sanatorium to patients, doctors and visiting researchers.

The application for historic preservation – which altogether includes a dozen tuberculosis-era properties in the Tucson area – lauds the design of the buildings as fostering well-being and tranquility. It notes the decision to create a medical center “populated with low-slung, undulating Hopi-inspired architecture, dotted with gardens and fountains, reinforced the idea that the Desert Sanatorium was a place of healing, not a place of disease or fear.”

The building is named after Aflred Erickson, a New York City advertising executive who provided financing for the sanatorium and who used the home as a vacation residence. The family agreed to convert the sanatorium’s land to the non-profit Tucson Medical Center in 1944.

“We’ve got to protect that building and restore it, because that was a philanthropic act worthy of remembrance,” said Donald Shropshire, the former president of the hospital, who lived in the residence from the date of his arrival in 1967 until he retired in 1993.

“I hope we will always have that house in the middle of the other, more modern buildings, because it is a permanent example of how the community was a part of this hospital from the very beginning.”

Shropshire has great affection for that house, having raised his two children there. He remembers arriving that first night after a 2,000-mile drive from Maryland to find a yellow mum on the breakfast room table, left by the president of the auxiliary.

The proximity to the hospital meant it was a convenient spot to host open houses at Christmas for physicians. It also meant he would listen to sirens. If he heard three, he would get out of bed and run across the parking lot to the hospital.

He also immediately felt a strong connection to the Ericksons, since some of the furniture and artwork remained. “There were enough signs of the Ericksons that if you knew who they were to begin with, it felt like you were coming to visit.”

Jennifer Levstik, a historic preservation consultant for the City of Tucson’s Historic Preservation Office, agreed it’s important to recognize the Ericksons, since they were so pivotal in laying the foundation for a public hospital for the community. “The Erickson home, combined with the other two buildings, really helps reinforce the sense of history on that campus, even though it’s a modern facility today.”

Historic preservation generally, she said, “helps build goodwill among the community. There have been numerous studies that show when we preserve historic buildings, it bring more money into a community because it makes places more interesting and more beautiful.”

The application must first go through a review with the historic sites committee of the State Historic Preservation Office before proceeding to the national level. The committee is expected to take up the nomination in the summer or in the fall.


  1. Anonymous says:

    Love having this living history right around the corner!

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Tucson Medical Center | 5301 E. Grant Road | Tucson, Arizona 85712 | (520) 327-5461
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