John Beck House Designated a Historic Landmark

The City of Tucson Mayor and Council unanimously voted this month to designate the John Beck House, located on Potter Place in the Catalina Vista neighborhood, a Historic Landmark. 

The property, nominated for the designation by the Tucson Historic Preservation Foundation, is a rare residential expression of Modern Architecture; a 4000 square foot bi-nuclear International modernist residence with tilt-in-place cast concrete wall system. Designed in 1959 by Architect John Beck as his own home and built in 1960, the project incorporated a cast exposedaggregate concrete panel system. Each panel was fabricated on-site using river rock and lifted into place giving the principal elevation a monolithic quality.  The primary living spaces surround a glass-walled atrium/courtyard which allows diffused natural daylight to illuminate the interior.  

“Through this designation the Mayor and Council continue to underscore the importance of protecting historic resources in our community. The Historic Landmark designation protects the exterior character features of the house under local zoning law.” said Demion Clinco, CEO of the Tucson Historic Preservation Foundation who prepared the historic landmark and rezoning applications. “Designation of properties like the John Beck House is only possible through the partnership of forward-thinking owners who understand the importance of protecting the architectural heritage of our community and region. Without this ethic of cultural stewardship designations like this would be impossible.” 

Michael Fassett, board president of the Tucson Historic Preservation Foundation, said, “The Beck House is an important example of modern architecture that celebrates the contribution of an important local architect. As a result of this designation, we hope owners of other John Beck buildings will work to designate their properties.” He concluded, “The Foundation is available to help owners of iconic historic architecture prepare local Historic Landmark designation.”  

John H. Beck, FAIA was born in Boston in 1919. He studied architecture at Wentworth Institute and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  His first architectural project was a home for his family in Seattle, built in 1953. The Becks moved to Tucson in 1956.  Beck arrived with a sophisticated approach to architectural design. His work pushed the boundaries of engineering, employed avant-garde structural systems and forms, and was responsible for noted examples of mid-20th century design. 

After his arrival in Tucson, by 1958 Beck was designing noted buildings including an “ultra-modern” office to house the Arizona Register, the editorial and business offices of the Catholic newspaper for the Diocese of Tucson. In 1958, the first Arizona building to use a hyperbolic paraboloid concrete structure was designed by Beck and began construction in Tucson. Although the plan to develop a hundred homes was never realized, the extant model was constructed on East Fairmount Avenue.  

In 1959, in addition to designing his Tucson home, Beck again utilized the hyperbolic paraboloid form, for the new automobile sales agency Bill Breck Dodge, Inc. located at the southeast corner of East Speedway Boulevard and Bentley Avenue (demolished).  Other major Tucson buildings include Randolph Park Communications Center (1960), Palms Mortuary and Chapel (1960), Beta Theta Pi Greek House (1960), Christopher City (1962), Park Student Union at the University of Arizona (1965), Alvernon Village Shopping Center (1969). Beck and his family traveled extensively through Asia, Africa and South America. Beck died in 2006.

The John Beck house was first recognized for its outstanding design by the Southern Arizona Chapter, American Institute of Architects in 1968 with the inclusion of the house on their annual tour.  It was included on the Modern Architecture Preservation Project’s Modern 50 list, designated by the Tucson Historic Preservation Foundation in 2016 as Modern Classic, and has twice been featured on the Tucson Modernism Week Home Tour. The house was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on February 1, 2021. 

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