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Intractable Mayor Hoff

One-term Tucson Mayor Hoff’s residence in 1937.

For reasons known only to the photographer, the rear of the Hoff House was chosen as the subject of this 1937 photograph. Located on West Franklin Avenue in Tucson, the house serves as an anchor to the El Presidio Historic District north of the principal downtown area.
Constructed of mud adobe with walls 22 inches thick, the house is thought to have been built in 1880. When Gustav A. Hoff purchased the dwelling in 1887, he became the sixth owner in seven years. He, however, established a pattern of longevity and the home remained in the Hoff family for the remainder of the 19th and most of the 20th century.
Born in 1852, Hoff was a Prussian immigrant who spent his formative years in California. In 1881, he came to Tucson hauling freight as an agent for the German Fruit Company. He liked what he saw and made the burgeoning town his home in 1883. A succession of jobs, all in the grocery business, followed. After a stint with L. Zeckendorf and Company, the territory’s leading merchant, Hoff formed a partnership and, in 1892, established the Tucson Grocery Company, dealing both in wholesale and retail. Five years later he became a founding partner in the Tucson Hardware Company.
Active in his adopted community, Hoff became treasurer of the Tucson Board of Trade and was elected secretary of the Citizen’s Building and Loan Association. He was a member of the Pima County Central Democratic Committee, served a term in the Territorial Legislature, and was a Tucson city councilman. In 1900, he became mayor of Tucson.
It was during his term as mayor that Hoff became involved in a protracted controversy involving Military Plaza, a large piece of prime real estate then bordering downtown Tucson.
In 1862, the army established Camp Tucson, re-christened Camp Lowell in 1866. Four years later it was enlarged to 367 acres running south from Camp Street (Broadway) to 14th Street, and east from Scott to Fifth Avenue.
Gen. George Crook visited Camp Lowell in 1872, and called it “unfit for the occupation of animals, much less the troops of a civilized nation.” He ordered that a new post be constructed seven miles northeast of town.
In fact, the army simply abandoned the site. No transfer of deed was made to the city, county or the territory, and for the better part of 20 years the land lay in confused limbo. Finally, in December 1899, the city — whether legally or not — asserted itself and claimed the acreage. An ordinance was passed by the city council authorizing sale of two-thirds of the land, retaining one-third for construction of a public library and development of a city park. Lots, announced the city, would be sold from $300 to $600 apiece.
That did not sit well with a group of citizens led by prominent druggist George Martin. They claimed that the city had no legal right to the land, that residents were empowered by the federal government to make claims under the Homestead Act of 1862. To bolster their assertion, noted the Arizona Republican, “Hammers and saws were heard suspiciously busy in the vicinity of the land” late at night. Small “box houses” were built and placed on selected lots, and fences erected.
The city reacted by placing copies of its “for sale” ordinance “upon almost every board of all these fences…”
Both sides hired high-powered lawyers, months dragged on, and the matter went to court. The city won and the town marshal was dispatched to Military Plaza with eviction notices. But the squatters refused to budge. As nasty charges and counter-charges played out in the press, the Territorial Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. More months dragged on.
In May 1900, the high court ruled in favor of the city. The squatters, grumbling all the while, dismantled their shacks and abandoned the plaza. Then, in quick order, a Carnegie Library was constructed and, across the street, Military Plaza Park was plotted and landscaped. The remaining two-thirds of the land was sold, and what became the northern end of the Armory Park Historic District was developed.
Mayor Hoff served just one term. In February 1930, he passed away at his home, having lived to see Tucson evolve from a frontier village to a thriving city.
— W. Lane Rogers. Photo courtesy of author.

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