December 18, 2022 (TUCSON, ARIZONA) – The Jacobson House, a significant modernist property designed by celebrated 20th-century Arizona architect Judith Chafee, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and, by unanimous vote of the Pima County Board of Supervisors, designated a Pima County Historic Landmark. The County Historic Landmark designation will protect this important nationally and internationally recognized modernist home for future generations.
The Jacobson House is located off Campbell Avenue in the heart of Tucson's Catalina Foothills. The single-family residential concrete and glass house was conceived of and designed starting in 1975 and constructed in 1977. The house is an important foundational example of the work of master architect Judith Chafee, FAIA (1932-1998), and an outstanding representation of Tucson’s Modern architectural movement.
Commissioned by clients Art and Joan Jacobson, the house featured a limited material palette of concrete, painted concrete block, aluminum frame windows, and glass. These elements are masterfully combined to produce an environmentally responsive design expressed with distinctive interior and exterior zonal geometric design. The exposed site-cast concrete structural beams supported on walls of painted reinforced concrete block create spans for glass windows walls, sliding glass doors, and clerestory ribbon windows that allow diffused light to enter the space. Both the physical orientation and bioclimatic site design were a direct response to the desert environment, climate, views, natural setting, and the seasonal location of the sun. The house is designed with an explicit indoor-outdoor relationship and spatial arrangement that creates a floor plan with a series of courtyards that serve as outdoor rooms.
Although The Jacobson House is considered an exceptional example of the tenets of Chafee’s work, because it is under 50 years old, the National Register nomination had to demonstrate the outstanding importance of the property and show it had achieved significance within the past 50 years. From its construction onward, the Jacobson House has been recognized as a masterpiece. The project was awarded the American Concrete Institute, Arizona Chapter Award for Outstanding Use of Concrete in 1978 and the property was featured in numerous publications and journals including Architectural Record (May 1979), A House and Garden Guide BUILDING magazine (spring 1979), the Japanese journal of urban housing Toshi-Jutaku (November 1979), Artspace magazine (spring 1982), Arizona Daily Star home feature (December 26, 1982), and Tucson Citizen focus feature (October 8, 1985). In 2016, The Jacobson House was featured in the Arizona Public Media PBS-produced documentary The Architect: Judith Chafee. More broadly, Chafee is also noted in William J.R.Curtis' Modern Architecture Since 1900 (1987).
The 2019 book Powerhouse The Life and Work of Judith Chafee by Christopher Domin and Kathryn McGuire with an introduction by William J. R. Curtis was published by Princeton Architectural Press and funded in part by the Graham Foundation. It provided contextual scholarship examining Chafee’s life and work and extensively features The Jacobson House and its importance within Chafee’s architectural development.
In 2021, the house was sold. Demion Clinco, an owner of the property and CEO of the Tucson Historic Preservation Foundation, oversaw the 12-month restoration and authored the National Register Nomination. Clinco said, “The designations of the Jacobson House by the National Park Service and the Pima County Board of Supervisors recognize the importance of Judith Chafee’s archival work to our region and our country,” said Clinco. “These designations will protect this extraordinary cultural resource for future generations and celebrate our unique 20th-century design heritage. I hope the careful restoration of this stunning property will be a model for future projects in our community.”
Judy Clinco, a partner on the project, said: “Protecting, preserving, and recognizing the design work of a major America women architect, at a time when women’s rights are under attack, underscores both historic and contemporary issues of equality, equal pay, and the value women have always brought to the evolution of our shared culture.”
Chafee was born in Chicago in 1932. Her mother oversaw the modern furnishings department of a prominent Chicago department store and her stepfather was an internal medicine and pathology specialist. The family later relocated to Tucson.
Chafee attended Francis W. Parker School, before matriculating into Bennington College graduating with a major in visual arts. In 1956 she enrolled in Yale University's Graduate School of Arts and Architecture and was the only woman to graduate from her class. After graduating in 1960 with a Master's degree she worked for Paul Rudolph on the development of projects including the Yale University Art and Architecture Building and Married Student Housing and later job captain for residential projects in Baltimore. In 1962 she accepted a position with Walter Gropius' The Architects Collaborative (TAC) and worked on education projects for Brandeis and Radcliffe. After a year in Cambridge, she accepted a position with Eero Saarinen and Associates in Connecticut she worked on projects including Cummings Diesel in Darlington England and the international terminal for the TWA Flight Center at JFK. She then worked for five years at the Edward Larrabee Barnes Office in New Haven and ran a small private practice. (Powerhouse The Life and Work of Judith Chafee: 35-36
In 1969 Chafee returned to Tucson and opened an architectural practice. From her home and office in a Sonoran adobe row house in the El Presidio Neighborhood, she continued work on the Merrill Residence and the Funking House (1972) in the Northeast. The awards and recognition for the Merrill project brought her noted recognition. Throughout this period she explored the southwest and northern Mexico. (Domin: 40-42).
During her career in Tucson, Chafee produced some of the most significant architecture in Pima County and Arizona. As noted by William J. R. Curtis in the introductory essay of Powerhouse The Life and Work of Judith Chafee,
“When one looks back over Judith Chafee’s entire oeuvre, one is struck by the uniqueness of each work but also by her consistent ways of thinking, imagining and designing. She did not possess an obvious signature style, but she did have deeply embedded patterns of visual and spatial organization that informed her overall production even as she invented contrasting designs. The recurrent mental structures and spatial types were rethought in each case so as to solve the unique problems of each site, program, climate and landscape. [...] To realize her house designs, Judith Chafee needed clients who were willing to take some aesthetic risks, as her work departed dramatically from the Pueblo Revival style dwellings that were often built in and around Tucson.”
The Pima County Historic Landmark designation promotes the educational, cultural, economic, and general welfare of the community and ensures the harmonious growth and development of the county by encouraging the preservation and rehabilitation of significant buildings, structures, sites, objects, and archaeological resources. These designations are intended to ensure the preservation of significant historic and archaeological resources and to keep them in active use or management in their historic appearance, settings, and locations. The designation is a zoning overlay that proactively places restrictions on the property that protect it and require approval from the Board of Supervisors for future demolition
Available sources include:
Demion Clinco (520) 247-8969
Photo opportunities are available and stock and historic photography are linked below, photo credit is detailed in the file names:
Jacobson House Photos; Please credit: Photos by David Olsen or the photographer's name in the photo file.