St. Luke’s Timeline

The information below has been excerpted from The St. Luke’s in the Desert Story: A Century of Community Service by Dave Devine.

1911-1925: Rev. Julius Atwood Founds St. Luke’s in the Desert

The Rev. Julius Atwood, Missionary Bishop of Arizona 1911-1925. Founder of St. Luke’s In the Desert. (Episcopal Diocese of Arizona)

“Finding myself one day in Tucson, I was called to a house where a young man [with tuberculosis] was in hysterics because he was about to be turned out of his lodging-house.  It took almost the remainder of the day to find a place for him.” The week previous, another poor fellow [with tuberculosis] had been found dead in a ditch near Tucson.” Rev. Atwood founded St. Luke’s in the Desert in 1918.

1917: The Board of Visitors is created

The six charter members of the Board of Visitors of St. Luke’s in the Desert.  (Board of Visitors collection)

Bishop Atwood invited twenty-six women, in November 1917, to “form a board to visit and assist in obtaining funds and furnishings for [the institution then under construction].”  Targeting some of the most socially prominent people in Tucson, the list included Elizabeth S. von Kleinschmid, wife of the president of the University of Arizona, and Laura Fenner, who was married to a local leading physician.  Another member of the group was Mrs. Selim M. Franklin (nee’ Henrietta Herring), who was the first president of the YWCA in Tucson, served as president of the Tucson Women’s Club, was vice-president of the Arizona Children’s Home, and would become a charter member of St. Philip’s in the Hills Episcopal Church.  Having accepted Bishop Atwood’s charge, the women organized under the name Board of Visitors, sometimes also known as the Lady Board of Visitors, they began to plan a course of action.

1918: St. Lukes Opens as a Tuberculosis Sanitarium

St. Luke’s in the Desert opens as a TB sanitarium on Adams Street. (Board of Visitors collection)

On the north end of the Adams Street property, construction of a seven-unit brick-and-concrete structure was in progress by late 1917.  Described as a “hip-roofed frame dining room and sleeping rooms,” it also contained a living room, kitchen, and nurse’s room.  Each patient’s unit, according to a newspaper story, had both interior and exterior rooms.  “[It] consists of a space of the screen porch [that ran the full length of the building] 9×12 feet and a little room in the rear 9×10 feet, thus the total area of a unit is 9×22 feet.  This [198 square-foot] space is intended for one patient.”  The building was set back from a dirt lane – Adams Street – and was surrounded by untouched desert.

1920: The First Annual Fundraising Ball

1938 Baile de las Flores invitation. (Oldest Baile invitation found in the Board of Visitors collection)

The event was organized by the Board of Visitors and was held in January 1917 in the large dining room of the Santa Rita Hotel with the stated goal being “to raise funds for replenishing and furnishing rooms at the hospital.”  Labeling the dance “a huge success both socially and financially,” the Tucson Citizen reported that hundreds of people attended, adding that “[s]ome magnificent gowns and jewels were displayed. The costumes of many of the guests were the most handsome seen this [social season].”  Following music and dancing, a late night supper was served.  The fundraiser was such a success that it immediately would become an annual event. In 1928 the annual fundraising dance was christened “Baile de las Flores”.

1929: A New Central Structure is Built

St. Luke’s in the Desert, circa 1920s. (St. Luke’s In the Desert collection)

In 1929 the original 1918 central structure was replaced by a new building that was dedicated on November 29.  It was one story in front and rose to two stories behind, with an exterior of “stuccoed brick in Spanish eclectic style.”  The TB facility could now accommodate thirty-one men while also providing “a reception room for the patients and their visiting families, offices for the doctor and superintendent, a staff dining room, two nurses’ rooms and two aides’ rooms with connecting baths, and a new kitchen.”  Reviewing this progress, retired bishop Julius Atwood wrote of St. Luke’s in the Desert in 1930: “[It] has grown in equipment and endowment.  It was always a joy when I visited [there] to see the bright faces of young men who were finding hope and gaining strength in such healthful and pleasant surroundings on the sunny porches and in friendly companionship, which did away with the sense of homesickness and isolation.”

1933: St. Francis Chapel is Consecrated

St. Francis Chapel circa 1940s.  (St. Luke’s in the Desert collection)

By 1933 St. Luke’s had an official chapel, which had been constructed on the eastern end of the main building for $5,000.  Designed by noted local architect Josias T. Joesler, the small structure was distinctive with “sculpted Mission Revival entry parapet, the smooth stuccoed walls with buttresses, the red Mission tile roofing, the heavy roof trusses and custom-built doors.”  The altar area could be partitioned off by sliding panels; enabling the chapel to also serve as a recreation room and library.  A forty-four inch cross crowned the building.

1944: 25th Baile de las Flores

1951 Baile invitation. (Board of Visitors collection)

The 1944 Baile marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of the annual dance, and it would have “decorations and colorful costumes [that] promise to revive the atmosphere of the ‘days of the old Southwest.'”  Women across the nation were experiencing significant social changes in the 1940s.  Because of the continuing war effort, many were employed outside their homes for the first time.  Thousands worked in the defense industry in the Tucson area, especially at the southside Consolidated Vultee Aircraft plant where they helped modify B-24 bombers for battle.

1955: Number of TB Patients declining

Tuberculosis patients on the communal screened porch. (St. Luke’s in the Desert collection)

By the middle of the 1950s Tucson was a rapidly growing community assuming a sprawling, low-density suburban character as it spread out across the Sonoran Desert.  Meanwhile, the number of tubercular men utilizing St. Luke’s sanitarium on Adams Street had declined to historic lows.  “The patient load for 1955 has been the lowest it has been for some years,” stated superintendent Herman O. Rasche.  “In 1951 we had a total of 8,836 hospital days; in 1955 it has reached an all-time low of 5,013, a decline of approximately 42%.”

In 1969 the TB facility ends on Adams Street.  A few months after the TB sanitarium closed, the Episcopal Church discontinued religious use of St. Francis Chapel and the Adams Street property became a shelter home that provided “medication and nursing care for elderly men of limited financial means.”  In October 1969 Herman Rasche reported that there were twelve men living at St. Luke’s, eight under the shelter care program and four tuberculosis holdovers.

1961: Children’s Clinic Opens on Adams Street Property

Children’s Clinic opens on Adams Street property.  (Board of Visitors collection)

To increase usage of the property, a children’s clinic was opened on Adams Street in 1961 in cooperation with Pima County.  It operated in the chapel for two hours on the third Tuesday of each month with a mission to “examine, discover, and treat children with tubercular tendencies.”  Physicians examined about ten mostly low-income children each month while members of the Board of visitors provided transportation as needed and assisted with the clinic’s operations.  But the clinic closed in 1967 because “the steadily diminishing number of children needing such examinations could be served by the personnel of the Pima County Health Department at the [downtown] Health Services building during regular clinic hours.”

1969: 50th Baile de las Flores

Invitation to the 1969 golden anniversary Baile de las Flores. (Board of Visitors collection)

The annual Baile de las Flores at that time was generating very little money.  Board of Directors president Robert A. May, however had high hopes that receipts from the event could be increased by a factor of fifteen or twenty in order to “carry out the program which [the Board] is discussing with the Medical School.”  The golden fiftieth annual Baile in 1969 would be an opportunity to test that hope.  It would be held at the Pioneer Hotel in downtown Tucson at 9:00 p.m. on Friday, February 21.  Invitations to the ball had been designed by artist Charles Clement and showed a “gold background, beautiful archway with mission bell and flores in white.”  The hotel’s ballroom was decorated by hanging “huge bells, sprayed gold trimmed with white flowers and a white bow of ribbon.”  Each table was draped in white and displayed the number 50 contained within a small bell “surrounded by white flowers and fresh ivy sprayed gold.”  Louis Leon’s orchestra provided the music, emcee William H. Smith introduced the traditional gala Grand March of attendees, and many participants thought the Baile “was the best ever.”  There were approximately five hundred attendees, yet the net revenue generated was only $2, 650 – almost exactly the same as the previous year.

1969: Publication of “The First Fifty Years of St. Luke’s in the Desert”

(Board of Visitors collection)

St. Luke’s five decades of community service was also acknowledged with the publication of The First fifty Years of St. Luke’s in the Desert, which contained a brief historical overview by John Bret Harte.  The booklet concludes with this statement:

For more than fifty years, St. Luke’s has accomplished the humanitarian purpose of its founder, Bishop Atwood. As medical needs have changed, and the times have brought miraculous discoveries in the treatment of chest diseases, new avenues of service have opened and other challenges have appeared. St. Luke’s will continue in the future, as it has in the past, to assume significant responsibilities in service to mankind.

1969: Chest Clinic Named for St. Luke’s Opens at UA Medical Center

Plaque honoring the St. Luke’s contributions to the University Medical Center Chest Clinic.  (George Davis collection)

In March 1969, a letter between St. Luke’s and the pulmonary disease section of the University Medical Center proposed the establishment of a chest clinic at the University Hospital to be named after St. Luke’s in the Desert.  The clinic would contain “laboratories, staff and clerical offices, offices for volunteers, special therapeutic facilities, and research laboratories… It would serve as a base of operations for medical consultations and for voluntary services in pulmonary diseases.”  St. Luke’s would provide financial and volunteer support.   Beginning in 1970 and until the clinic was built, some of the outlined services would be provided at Tucson’s Veterans Hospital, on south Sixth Avenue.  In 1975 the Chest Clinic opened in a newly constructed space at University Medical Center.

1972: Center for Youth Development and Achievement

Centers for Youth Development and Achievement brochure. (William D. Kalt III collection)

In 1972 the Adams Street property was converted from a shelter home for men to a rehabilitation program for Native American youth who had run afoul of tribal, state or federal laws. Operated by the Southwest Indian Youth Center, this program had fifty-five youngsters ranging in age from fourteen to twenty housed in nine halfway houses throughout Tucson. Another fifteen clients originally resided at a facility on Mount Lemmon, but when it lost its lease there at the end of 1972, the center turned to St. Luke’s. According to an article in the Arizona Daily Star, the Native American youth program at St. Luke’s was “unique in the United States in that it tries to rehabilitate in the real world rather than in an isolated prison cell. It is based on ‘behavior modification’, as psychologists call the center’s program, combined with the belief that people respond favorably to fair, consistent treatment.” The Southwest Indian Youth Center’s lease expired in March 1975.

1980: Home for Women Opens

Home for Women opens. (St. Luke’s in the Desert collection)

Arizona governor Bruce Babbitt called the renovated St. Luke’s Home for Women “the first of a series of innovative care projects for the elderly” when he attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony along with 250 others on May 15, 1980.  Seeking greater public attention for its significant community contributions, as well at for its efforts to aid the financially less fortunate, St. Luke’s in the Desert had accomplished both by successfully completing the task of renovating structures that had been long vacant.  Once the ceremonies ended, the daunting task of operating a non-taxpayer-supported, non-denominational home for 26 women at least sixty-two years old and with limited financial means began.  St. Luke’s was one of only a handful of supervisory care facilities in Tucson. The Junior League of Tucson and the St. Luke’s Board of Visitors had pledged monetary and volunteer support over a three-year period to transition the women’s facility to financial sustainability.

1981: Huntington House Converted to Senior Center

Huntington House Senior Center brochure. (St. Luke’s in the Desert collection)

In 1981 the Huntington House (on the southeast corner of the Adams Street property, constructed before 1930 to house the chaplain, Rev. Charles Huntington) was being converted into “a crafts workshop and meeting place that will be open to the older people in the neighborhood.”  Eventually, programs there included games and music on Tuesday mornings, crafts on Thursday and entertainment every Friday.

1994: 75th Baile de las Flores

75th Baile invitation Mercado Mexicano by Nancy Prevo. (Board of Visitors collection)

The seventy-fifth Baile was held in April 1994 at Trail Dust Town.  Tickets were $75 a person, and those attending were promised a setting of “a Mexican plaza for the evening, with flowers, piñatas and strolling mariachis.”  The event netted almost $63,000 for the home, including $18,000 from underwriting and $11,000 from Baile patrons.  (To increase revenues at the Baile, a raffle of original artwork was added to the event.  Beginning in 1985 with a painting by Santos Barbosa, every year a piece of art would be raffled at the Baile).

1996: Inaugural Sensational Settings Fundraiser

18 years of the fundraiser Sensational Settings (St. Luke’s Home collection)

First held in October 1996 at the Doubletree Hotel on Alvernon Way, the event was suggested by Christie Sherwood Spencer, an ardent advocate for the home.  For $25, participants would enjoy tea and coffee while they looked over numerous “table settings designed by the local sponsors [that]…range[d] from elegant and dramatic to playful and fun.”

1999: Groundbreaking for 2000 Redevelopment Project

Participants in the groundbreaking ceremony for the 2000 redevelopment project. (Ruth Campbell collection)

A groundbreaking ceremony was held for the “new” St. Luke’s Home on May 13, 1999.  The ambitious goal for the redevelopment project was to begin construction January 1, 2000 and complete it by the end of that same year.  The twenty-five bedrooms, kitchen and dining area that would constitute the eastern portion of the new building designed by Gresham & Beach Architects were nearing completion in June 2000. In addition to sixty-four living units, each approximately two-hundred square feet in size and most sharing bathrooms, there was a reception lobby along with “eight colorful sitting areas, each with stacks of books, game tables, [and] a telephone for residents without one in their rooms.”  The redevelopment was indeed completed by the end of the year.

2006: First Phase of St. Francis Chapel Restoration Complete

St. Francis Chapel 2006 Restoration program. (Board of Visitors collection)

On January 22, 2006, a celebration was held to mark the completion of phase 1 of restoring the chapel.  The program “Bach to Beatles and Back,” included singers and musicians.  Under the leadership of the St. Francis restoration committee headed by Joanne Bennett and Margaret Kordsiemon, the project had begun with a building assessment in 2003, and the first phase of the work included the installation of new stained-glass windows depicting St. Luke and St. Francis.  Restoration of another window that had been covered was also accomplished, along with initial work on restoring the bell tower.  Completion of the second phase was celebrated at a program in March 2009.  For the total cost of $125, 270, the chapel had regained its 1930s lustre thanks to the financial backing from several sources, including Arizona State Parks, the Southwest Foundation for Education and Historic Preservation, and donations from numerous individuals such as Clark Rasche, the son of longtime superintendent Herman O. Rasche.

2010: 30th Anniversary of Opening Home for Women

Celebration of 30th anniversary of opening of the Home for Women. (St. Luke’s in the Desert collection)

To spread the word about St. Luke’s accomplishments since it became a home for women in 1980, several thirtieth-anniversary events took place in 2010:  three open houses early in the year, a gala celebration on October 24, and preparation of a commemorative DVD.

2013: Eden Alternative Model Introduced at St. Luke’s Home

Rio relaxing in the dog park designed and painted by Girl Scout Troop #640 in 2018.  (St. Luke’s Home collection)

The Eden Alternative Model was introduced at St. Luke’s Home in 2013 by Beverly Heasley, then executive director.  Heasley was an early pioneer of the Eden Alternative philosophy.  In introducing it at St. Luke’s, she partnered with the Health Sciences Center of the University of Arizona’s Center on Aging and its affiliate, the Interprofessional Education and Practice Geriatric Screening Clinic.  The mission of the Eden Alternative (developed by Dr. William Thomas to combat the three most common plagues of aging: loneliness, helplessness, and boredom) is “Improving lives of Elders and Caregivers by transforming the communities in which they live and work.”  Accordingly, St. Luke’s emphasizes aesthetic beauty, programs that promote health and autonomy, intergenerational relationships, and mental stimulation for low-income Elders.

2018: St. Luke’s Celebrates 100 Years of Service to Tucson

Michael Nongan Nonagerians  (St. Luke’s Home collection)

In the early part of the twentieth century, the Rev. Julius Atwood set out to help serve low-income men in Tucson who suffered from tuberculosis.  As he wrote then of his first memorable years in Arizona:  “It was the opening of a new era in the history of the [Episcopal] church, as well as the territory which had now become a state.”  In founding St. Luke’s in the Desert, Atwood established a goal for it to be a safe and comfortable place for men without much money who needed help.

A century later, St. Luke’s continues to abide by Atwood’s vision but has changed its mission to providing affordable housing for low-income elderly women and men.  At the same time, the Baile is still held annually and members of the Board of Visitors continue to volunteer.  In its service to the community, the “House of Hopeful Optimism” in its centennial year on Adams Street remains a significant part of Tucson’s rich history.

2019: 100th Baile de las Flores

The spectacular 100th Baile de las Flores continues the traditions of past Bailes on April 6, 2019 at the JW Marriott Starr Pass Resort & Spa, honoring the significant service of the Board of Visitors and promoting the important mission of St. Luke’s Home.