About Haciendas in the 21st Century


Tumacocari Mission

Tumacacori Mission

In the Borderlands, a stone’s through from Hollywood, someone who is looking for a more romantic West can find it in Spanish missions, dude ranches and hacienda-style homes. Tucson’s Catalina Foothills development of the 1930s-40s is dotted with mock-adobe walls and red tiled rooftops that enclose luxurious living spaces with beamed ceilings, cozy fireplaces, and concrete floors, often with Mexican tile decoration. These are usually promoted as “haciendas” when they go on the market. Hacienda is the word denoting the main house on a ranch or plantation.

I have toured two recently built, very large homes that are recreations of historic building styles. Both have the term “hacienda” in their names, though only one is true to a ranch abode. It is in fact a ranch in southeastern Arizona, where cattle still roam and people who really are urbanites can raise horses as a hobby. This is a developer’s dream-come-true.

The land already had an historic ranch house on it, but nothing luxurious. The buyer’s new family home is designed around a courtyard through which vehicles must drive to get to a brick-paved secondary courtyard next to what I would call a “carriage house.” All of the main rooms are accessed from the portals that are facing the main courtyard, and in that courtyard are beautiful plantings and trees, a perfect setting for large gatherings. The house and its attached parts form a rectangle that slants uphill, including a two-bedroom guesthouse and a patio, with a large double gate leading to the pool area at the top, and then down to a little chapel. Nicely done, but many miles along a dusty road.


The second hacienda was designed after a mission in Spain. Again, it was a developer who underwrote the project and found the architects and craftsmen who could replicate as near as possible the plaster and woodwork, nichos and fountains, gardens and multi-paned fenestras of an indigenous mountain church with Moorish-European touches. It sits on a slope in the aforementioned Foothills, in a gated community with paved roads. It is less-exposed to the elements than the ranch home. It is more refined, with many modern-day amenities, but at the same time, no sign of utilities. Wall switches and the like are well-disguised. The house is currently for sale, the second time since I saw it in 2005.

I had this house in mind when I wrote my fifth “Sophie George” mystery, which is set in Tucson. Sophie arrives to help out an old friend whose third husband, an anthropology professor, has not returned from a birding expedition in Mexico. Sadly, this friend has become nearly an invalid, and it seems as if her husband has spent or hid all their money. Her splendid home, built with the inheritance from her previous husband, is her only material asset.

IMG_9999On a smaller scale, many older women now are in her shoes. Perhaps their husbands didn’t disappear with the savings. Perhaps they just died after the savings were used up for their health care in the last few years. They have to sell their hard-to-keep haciendas. And where will they go?

This is an issue we haven’t finished addressing yet. Affordable housing is available for some, and if the house is a large-enough asset there may be money enough for a care home. Unfortunately, many women in this stage of life are dependent on their children, and in another generation there may not be quite so many children. In my novel, there is a solution, and it involves women working together.

Don’t get me wrong: I am not blaming these conditions on men, as many of them will suffer, too. I am simply saying that we better have some more ideas ready for the inevitable.

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