A shadow of its former self, the Pioneer Hotel has reverted from the playground of Tucson’s social elite to an unremarkable, at least from the outer facade, office building that houses a great coffee shop.
Located at 100 North Stone Avenue, the Pioneer Hotel was designed by Tucson architect Roy Place. Place also designed the building directly across the street from the Pioneer, the former Montgomery Ward building as well as the magnificent Pima County Courthouse, also known as Justice Court locally.
The Pioneer was built in 1929 in the Spanish Revival style that was popular in the early 20th century. Eleven stories tall, it had one of the largest ballrooms in the country.
Tragedy struck in December of 1970. A fire believed to be arson ripped through the upper floors. Twenty-nine people lost their lives that night, including the owners of the building and the heir of the Steinfeld family, Harold and his wife, Margaret.
In the 1970s, the ornate cast-stone entryway was removed and the glass striping visible today was placed on the building. Because of all these changes, the building is not listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
According to the ‘Arizona Daily Star’, the Pioneer never recovered from the 1970 fire. Bettina Lyons, niece of the couple who owned the hotel said: “Even though they put money into it and put sprinkler systems in, people did not come to stay.”
The scars of that day still haunt those who lived through the event, those who fought the fire and the collective conscience of the people of Tucson who watched the tragedy unfold.
Inside the building, there is a display of mechanical parts from an elevator, architectural drawings of the first floor as well as a piece of the ceiling from what was once a magnificent dining room.
Stop into Ike’s Downtown for a cup of java as you meander through the area. As you open the front double doors, veer to your left and keep walking back by the elevators to see the display case. Ike’s is only open Monday through Friday so plan accordingly.