One Million Tiles Make Up Mural of Tucson History

Tucson Mural
Mural at Barrio Anito Community Project in Tucson. Photo Credit: Sam Lowe (click to enlarge)

TUCSON — Tucson is home to more than 150 murals, which adorn storefronts, residential walls, restaurants, parking lots, schools, private homes, banks, markets and art galleries. One of the murals, however, is indeed a curiosity, a true oddity. Not so much in scale and content, but in creation and location. It’s the south half of the Barrio Anito Community Project, a colorful panorama that depicts Tucson’s history.

Each section is about 100 yards long and 20 feet tall, and they’re located on the back of a concrete retaining wall along Interstate 10 as it slices through the city. Volunteers did most of the work and carefully laid three-quarter-inch square glass and mosaic tiles into place.

One million tiles.

Each one positioned in its exact location.

It took the workers more than two years to glue and affix the tiles under the direction of William Wilson, Joshua Sarantitis and Albert Gonzales, the artists in charge. The work is in a park adjacent to Oury Recreation Center at 600 West St. Mary’s, along the east side of I-10.


  1. Mary Ellen says

    I’m trying to find out what happened to my Aunt Gertrude Hendricks. She was lost to her family when she was orphaned in 1915. She was at the ST Joseph Academy in Tucson until 1918 when she entered the St Joseph Orphanage in Tucson. She remained there until June 1924. From 1924 until 1963 she lived at The Arizona State Hospital where she died. It’s a tragic story with many ?????’s.
    I would love to find as much history of the Academny and Orphange as possible and any links or stories. I have exhausted my limited resources and at this time Im unable to travel from Washington State to Globe and Tucson. Any help in any way would be considered an answer to prayer. I don’t know how I ended up at this board but I’ll give it a go.
    Mary Ellen

    • SaraD says

      Mary Ellen, have you seen this page?

      It seems likely that is your aunt.

      As it says, the cemetery is not open to visitors. It is on the grounds of the State Hospital and the records were lost in a fire. Part of the hospital has been a jail for the last few decades.

      My mother was an Occupational Therapist at the State Hospital for many years, but she would have started there in 1964, just after your aunt died.

      It seems likely that the Gertrude Hendricks who is listed here:

      is your aunt, too. If that is her, this is probably her newspaper obituary (in an aggregate form):

      I know it does not mention the State Hospital there, but families often didn’t (and sometimes still don’t) like to have people know that a family member died while institutionalized. The year is a match, but you should still try to find documentation to verify that it is not a coincidence. Your aunt’s name is not unique.

      You could call the Arizona State Hospital library and ask them if they might have something regarding patient histories for a patient who died in 1963, for genealogy purposes. When my mother worked at the hospital, I spent some time in the library, but that was a long time ago. You should call them to see what, if anything, is available to the public. You should also call the Arizona State Library & Archives to see what they have. Even if they don’t have patient records, they may have newspapers or other documents that might indicate why your aunt was in the hospital. Back in those days, patients who would, today, be out on their own as long as they stayed on their medications, were kept in the hospital because there were no reliable medications to deal with such conditions as schizophrenia, multiple personality disorder, or brain damage through accidental injury. Patients with brain injuries, who had not done anything wrong but weren’t able to function normally, were sometimes committed to the State Hospital, too. In other words, the fact that she was in the hospital doesn’t necessarily mean that your aunt was criminally insane. It may mean that she was an unfortunate victim of an old-fashioned mental-health system.

      You may want to contact the Arizona Department of Health Services, Office of Vital Records, regarding getting a copy of your aunt’s death certificate. Arizona is a closed-record state, though, and you will need to be able to prove your relationship to your aunt. That will require such birth, death, or marriage certificates that are certified by the issuing office (not just photocopies you have made), plus the payment of a fee. It can be a slow and frustrating process, but a death certificate does have the potential to provide a lot of clues about the deceased.

      If you have not already seen this post at the message boards, there are several other people looking for information about the orphanage:

      Those are a couple of years old, but it might be worth contacting them to see if anyone has found something useful but neglected to post it.

      Another idea: Contact the Arizona Historical Society. They have extensive and amazing archives, with a chapter in Phoenix and another in Tucson. They may have documents or photographs that will tell you more about the history of the St. Joseph Academy and related orphanage.

      Also check with the Gila, Pinal, and Maricopa county historical societies. County genealogy societies are often combined with their historical society, or they may be separate, with different types of collections.

      If you can afford it, a subscription to will give you access to census images (through 1940) and other possibly pertinent records. Even their free 2-week trial subscription may be enough for you to find what you need, but I recommend that you use a prepaid gift card if you are required to provide a card number to activate the trial subscription. I have known a couple of people who had trouble getting their subscription canceled and their credit cards were charge anyway. A prepaid card should eliminate that hassle.

      Good luck with your search!

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