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In the latest in our series on local architects and their favorite places, Darci Hazelbaker shares a sanctuary tucked away from the bustle of the city streets.

Predestined lovers and lost souls. Wishes and whispers of the past, forbidden love and heartache. Lilies and forget-me-nots mingle with candles, sometimes still burning, and glowing images of Saint Rita of Cascia and San Judas Tadeo. Tiny metal crosses are scattered in the desert dust, amidst framed photos and matchbox hot rods painted orange.

Nestled in Barrio Viejo along Main Avenue sits El Tiradito, a shrine for a sinner in a long-ago sordid love triangle. I came upon the altar early one summer morning when I first moved to Tucson. At the time, my husband worked in the Barrio, and I spent my days walking the dusty streets of Tucson’s oldest neighborhood.

The Sonoran rowhouses of the Barrio define the urban boundary by pushing right up to the narrow sidewalk, yet this inviting adobe altar sits far back on its lot. Like a sanctuary, the partially eroded adobe walls define a small room, a  haven tucked away from the bustle of the street.

I remember the strong white morning light on my back as I stood admiring the shrine that first morning, and my surprise to realize that in the nooks and crannies of the old adobe were meticulously folded and rolled bits of paper. The voids of the wall hold blessings and hope.

I go back  to reflect on my wishes and dreams. I marvel at the sense of community this shrine embodies. So many prayers, painstakingly written and folded, and left here. I fight the voyeuristic urge to read messages that have fallen from the walls. I enjoy the ritual of the place, the act of manifesting a thought into physical form and placing it within this tactile wall with whatever faith one holds. Will a flawed sinner who died here more than 100 years ago help one realize that dream, or answer that prayer? Tucson is a spiritual place, and El Tiradito one of its most magical spaces.

Darci Hazelbaker runs the architecture and design firm HAǀRU with her husband Dale Rush, and is a member of the Southern Arizona chapter of the American Institute of Architects. Find out more about the AIA at aiasouthernarizona.org


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