Presidio, block tours help renew interest in Tucson’s history

The Presidio San Agustín del Tucson

Tom Pollack doesn’t have the most glamorous “job.”

When tour groups swing through downtown’s Presidio San Agustin del Tucson Museum, he’s the guy manning the horno, a wood-burning, beehive-shaped oven.

“It’s smoky, it’s messy — it’s hot and kind of dangerous,” says Pollack, who’s been a docent for about five years. “You have to know what you’re doing.”

This is a labor of volunteer love for Pollack and his wife, Rachel, whose ancestors called the Presidio home. In fact, Tom says, her fourth-great grandfather was a soldier in the fort in the 1800s.

He and Rachel are part of an army of more than 100 volunteers who bring the really Old Pueblo to life. Visitors to the museum travel back centuries to experience Tucson’s beginnings and see soldiers, blacksmiths, candle-makers and of course, the bread-bakers and tortilla-makers at work.

Well, that is, the people who know about the presidio. Not many seem to be aware that a recreation of the original Tucson exists.

“I think we’re the best kept secret in town,” Tom Pollack says.

“It’s an undiscovered gem,” says April Bourie, marketing and sales director for the museum.

But, the upcoming Presidio District History Tour seeks to bring people up to speed on the part of downtown that started it all.

Scheduled for Feb. 1 and Feb. 4, tour-goers can explore an authentic Native American pit house at the museum and witness demonstrations as well as check out an original Sonoran row house. Lunch at La Cocina is part of the event, which also includes walking through the five historic houses at the Tucson Museum of Art and Historic Block.

“There’s so much in that one small area, we’re really covering what you can do in a quarter of a mile,” Bourie says.

And while lunch and an opportunity to shop at Old Town Artisans are highlights, history is the main draw.

“The biggest thing is heritage,” Tom Pollack says. “People need to know that our community is represented, that the presidio is the foundation and birthplace of our town. It’s very important. We can bring this to them in an environment right where it occurred.”

And, bonus, the presidio has a cannon.

“It shakes the roofs, it sets off car alarms within three blocks of the place,” Pollack says. “We notify the police it’s happening. Kids love it — it’s very exciting.”