The walking tour of historic Clifton is based on the following sources:· "Charles A. Spezia's Walking Tour of Historic Chase Creek, 1900-1929," used with permission from the Greenlee County Historical Society
Getting There: Clifton's historic district is just off US 191, about 1.5 miles north of the city limits. Cross the bridge over the San Francisco River, pass by a second bridge on your right and at the "Y", stay left on Chase Creek Street. There's parking at that intersection, right across from the Chase Creek Marketplace.
Note: Chase Creek Street numbers have changed. The numbers on the buildings may not match the official street addresses.
Clifton Smelter in 1912
If you look north across the street, you'll see the remains of a smelter that operated here in the late 1800s - early 1900s. The photo at left shows the smelter in 1912. This area was covered with smokestacks and buildings that were part of the smelter. US 191 did not exist. Instead, the road in front of you was a railroad track used to haul copper ore from the mountains above Clifton to the smelter. The only route through town was Chase Creek Street, Clifton's historic business district.
Smoke from the smelters plagued Clifton in the early days. The Arizona Copper Company tried to get rid of it by digging a vertical tunnel 450' tall through the peak behind the smelter. It wasn't a total success, but it was a source of pride to the people of Clifton, who told visitors that the peak above town issuing smoke was an active volcano. The entrance to the tunnel is visible in the photo below.
The first building on the south side of the street is the only wood frame building in the historic district. The age of the building is unknown, but it is believed to have been built on the site of another building which was washed away in the flood of 1905. Huge beams from the original structure are still visible in the basement.
This small brick building at 211 Chase Creek, built around 1910, has served as a restaurant, and, more recently, a shoe repair shop.
The Peoples Bank and Trust Co
This soaring neoclassical building was built in 1917 as the Peoples Bank and Trust Company. It consolidated with the First National Bank of Clifton in 1921. The combined bank issued its own currency in $1, $5, $10 and $20 denominations. Inside are two intact vaults with doors reading "Cliff Town, Az."
Chase Creek Marketplace
The building which today serves as the Chase Creek Marketplace, featuring crafts by more than 80 local artisans, was originally the one-story Hoeye Barber Shop. Later, it was remodeled by O.A. Risdon, a pioneer photographer, into a studio. The second floor had an inclined, frosted glass front wall.
© Greenlee County Historical Society
© Greenlee County Historical Society
The Hollywood Shop
In the 1950s, the Pine family built the Hollywood Shop, a clothing store, on the site of a former Empire movie theater.
© Greenlee County Historical Society
Zorilla's Meat Market
The building on the south side of the street with its distinctive overhanging balcony is visible in a photograph from 1893, which means it survived the devastating fires of 1913 and 1917. It is believed to have been built in the 1890s by two brothers, Jesus and Manual (Lolo) Zorilla. Their father was Gerardo Zorilla, a prominent rancher who grazed 2,000 Angora goats on ranges in the Black Hills and Rock House Canyon. He had slaughterhouses on Bunker Hill and on the San Francisco River just north of Clifton. Jesus and Lolo left the ranch to open a meat market on Chase Creek in 1927.
The ornate building at 225 Chase Creek is believed to have been constructed prior to 1893 by Manuel Garza to serve as a billiard hall and brothel. It was also home to Albo's Grocery Store. According to local historian Don Lunt, during World War II Clifton had no fewer than 10 grocery stores.
The building at 229 Chase Creek is a standard Victorian-era two-story brick structure with a storefront below and living quarters above.
La Feria Rafael Valdez © Greenlee County Historical Society
Twin of the building at 229 Chase Creek, this building originally served as a saloon.
This one-story brick building was built between 1904 and 1908 and is a former jewelry store.
Former home to a J.C. Penney store.
© Greenlee County Historical Society
The flatiron building at the corner of Chase Creek and Palicio Loop is a former dry goods store.
© Greenlee County Historical Society
Aftermath of the 1913 Fire. © Greenlee County Historical Museum
At this site on the south side of the street is the prominent Cascarelli Building, built in 1913. Before the fire of 1913, the Cascarelli building was Chase Creek's only three-story building. At one time, it was the El Paso Store (dry goods and carpets). Ippolito Cascarelli came from a poverty-stricken province in Italy. Two of his buddies had already immigrated to America, so Ippolito scrounged the money for steerage to America and made his way to Metcalf, where he opened a bar. His business flourished, and Cascarelli built a theater, a barbershop and a tailor shop as well as three of four rental houses. His holdings included the Cascarelli Building, the Lyric Theater, the English Chop House and two other buildings on Chase Creek, as well as the largest ranch in the York Valley. But some of his properties were destroyed in the fire of 1913. On a return trip to Italy, he married and brought back his bride, Filomena, and she bore him six children. But according to local legend, Cascarelli and his wife had constant disagreements. She left him and went back to Italy, and Cascarelli followed to try to bring her back. During his absence, he gave Antonia Spezia $25,000 to restore the Cascarelli building, this time with two stories instead of three. The new building was built from the bricks of destroyed one. It has number of unique features: a high-domed pressed tin parapet with a flagpole, elaborate corbels on the upper fascia, leaded glass windows, a balcony with wrought iron rail, and a decorative pressed tin frieze below the balcony. Black and white tiles were used to decorate the floor. Rebuilt to house the Italian consulate, it later became the Fernandez Mercantile building. Fernandez and his wife came to Clifton in 1914, operated the store and raised seven children upstairs. More recently, it housed the El Rey Bar.
You'll notice as you stroll along Chase Creek Street that many of the buildings were constructed in 1913. That's because a devastating fire roared through the Chase Creek Business District on April 7, 1913. Five lives and 25 structures were lost to the fire.
Only the arched facade remains of what was once the Lyric Theater. Built by local barber, Joaquin Estavez, it was modeled after the Alhambra in Spain. The contract was awarded to Jose Maria Salinas, a local bricklayer and contractor. The back wall was brick and the front was of embossed cement. The roof plan called for four rafters made of laminated lumber. Mr. Kerr, the city engineer, came to see the project and asked if the rafters were going to be supported by center posts. Salinas said "no", because the posts would have obstructed the view of the stage. Kerr tried to halt construction, but at the time Clifton had no building code, so no ordinance was being violated. The Alhambra operated for a couple of years and was then leased to two brothers from Greece. They remodeled the building and added heavy purple drapes and a player piano and changed the name from "Alhambra" to "Lyric". The theater operated for about 20 years. When the Greek brothers left, Ippolito Cascarelli bought the building. Father Mele from the Catholic Church leased it to show religious movies and to raise funds for the church. The name was changed again to "Cosmopolitan Lyceum" but it only operated for a few months. After 20 years of expansion and contraction, the superstructures started to warp and sag, and eventually the roof caved in.
A Catholic Church once stood on this site, set back against the cliff, but it was swept away by a flood in 1905, to be replaced by a new church farther west. The bell from the old church is still visible behind the Greenlee Historical Society Museum.
This one-story building was home to the former ABC Market.
Eagle Hall/Greenlee Historical Society
The building currently occupied by the Greenlee County Historical Society was built by Antonio and Ambrose Spezia in 1913. It was completed the year of the fire but did not succumb to it. Its parapet is covered with elaborate cornices and the designation, "Fraternal Order of the Eagles - Aerie 1960". The upper floor was originally used for meetings and for periodic dances — the dances were sometimes colorful masquerades lasting until the early hours of the morning. At one time, a balcony ran the full length of the building on the upper floor, east side. During parties, guests frequently went out on the balcony for fresh air and also to settle disputes. At least one person was known to have fallen from the balcony (no injuries). The upper floor was also used for offices of the city's Police Court with Justice of the Peace Matt Danenhauer serving as judge. The lower floor was occupied by J. Alvarez's Meat Market.
Below the steep cliffs on the south wall of Chase Creek visitors can find Palicio House, built by Fermin Palicio in l9l7. Fermin Palicio was hired by the Arizona Copper Company in Spain (a common practice) because he was a trained blacksmith and graduate of a technical school. He immigrated and worked 11 years in the company foundry and then opened the Manila Soda Works, adjacent to his home on Chase Creek. He raised five children and operated the plant until his death in l949. The house is Mediterranean style, similar to the home he left in Argame, Spain. The outside is decorated with Ionic pilasters and textured stucco (work of Salinas). The house has a full basement and porch on two sides of the building on the upper floor. The lower floor has rock walls two feet thick while the upper floor is brick. The lower floor has a parlor, library, dining room and kitchen, all with 10-foot ceilings covered with pressed-tin plates and cornices. The upper floor has four bedrooms and a sleeping porch. The garages of Palicio House are the former classrooms of Clifton's third Catholic Church, destroyed in the flood. Note the stone building on the west side of the Historical Society parking lot. That building was originally the flour warehouse of Rocco Zappia's Bakery; later, the baker made an apartment there so that he could rest after finishing his baking at six a.m.
Romulo Villescas arrived in Clifton in 1893 to work for the railroads. In 1918 he built Villescas house, located just west of the Historical Society parking lot. Shortly afterwards he started an open-air vegetable market directly in front of the house. He also sold firewood which had been gathered from the Coronado Trail and cut using one rear wheel of his Dodge truck to drive a 36-inch saw blade. Later, with the advent of the auto, he opened a service station across the street. Joe Villescas, son of Romulo and Crecensia, operated an open air grocery and fresh vegetable store on Chase Creek, just two lots west of where the Greenlee County Historical Society Museum is located today. He was a teenager when his father passed away, and soon after the family dispersed. Brothers and sisters got married and Joe took responsibility of providing for his widowed mother by working as a helper in a grocery store. World War II broke out, and Joe was inducted into the army. During his military service, Joe was awarded a Bronze Star. According to an article the appeared in the August 24, 1945, edition of the Copper Era, "On the 18th of January, 1945, near Sassenhelm, France, when both platoon leader and platoon sergeant were wounded during an enemy counterattack. Lieutenant Villescas, then a staff sergeant squad leader, on his own initiative, moved from position to position rallying the men of his platoon, despite heavy enemy fire. He organized an attack which delayed the enemy so that the main body of the company could take up defense position. He then supervised the orderly withdrawal of the platoon to the remainder of the company where a successful delaying action was launched against the enemy."
Picken-Anderson Overland Car Agency
This single-story building is the former Picken-Anderson Overland Car Agency and Bud Rainey's Chevrolet dealership.
Antonio Spezia's Hay and Grain Store
The building on the left was Antonio Spezia's Hay & Grain Store. The building on the right is a former laundromat and drugstore. Directly behind this building a visitor may see a Chase Creek cave. There are many caves behind commercial buildings on Chase Creek, owing to the fact buildings were built against the mountain. Caves were built to store valuables, such as whiskey, and perishables such as meat and vegetables. They frequently had rugged steel doors and sometimes were vented through a vertical shaft.
Sacred Heart Catholic Church
Before the turn of the century Clifton was considered a "missionary outpost" of the church and was administered from Solomonville. Father Julio Gheldof built the first Catholic Church in North Clifton in 1889, but it was destroyed by a flood. The church was rebuilt only to be destroyed by fire. Monsignor Peter Timmermans then built a new adobe church in the business district of Chase Creek, but it was lost in the flood of 1905. That same year he completed a wooden structure on the site of the present church and furnished it with leaded, stained glass windows, a marble altar and porcelain figures imported from Italy. Finally, a massive cement and rock covering was built over the wooden structure by Father Jose Mele in 1917. Today the church still bears the characteristic facade of Jose M. Salinas, master craftsman. Salinas decorated many of Chase Creek's buildings with classical columns and designs. His plaster reliefs of geometric patterns, scrolls and animals are his trademark, as well as skillfully executed textured stucco. Inside, a visitor can still see the beautiful windows and porcelain from Italy.
Claude Hooker, Chase Creek attorney, lived in the second house on this street built in 1896. Part of the original front porch is still visible. The kitchen had a rock fireplace. Claude Hooker was only one of Chase Creek's attorneys. Others included L. Kearney, Stratten & Lynch and the indomitable Eugene Schwab, a well-educated barber-turned-attorney whose documents were recognized by the Arizona Supreme Court. The following lament was found in the margin of one of his l903 law books:
If the rest of the world will pay its bills,
I will pay mine.
If all mankind will refrain from ills,
I will fall in line.
If you, one and all, will adhere to truth,
The same I'll do.
If every one else will swear off, forsooth,
I'll stay sober, too.
To the east of Hooker House — today the church parking lot — was the Chase Creek Grocery Store, originally the ACC Store.
The first house on the south side of the street is Spezia House, built by Antonio Spezia in 1918. Tony and his partner Ambrose (Buffo) Spezia became the most prominent entrepreneurs of Chase Creek. Over a period of many years their businesses included bars (the first in 1897), a lumber yard (precursor to George Reitzer's Clifton Lumber Company), commercial buildings on Chase Creek, the first auto dealership in Clifton and a farm. They financed construction of sections of the Coronado Trail Highway. Spezia House is distinctive with its large front porch and massive corbels. The front door of the house is oak with beveled glass panels. The most important period rooms in the house are the parlor and dining rooms. Both have oak coved ceilings with massive, swag lighting fixtures of art glass. In addition, the dining room has continuous plate rails and a built-in buffet with cabinets, poles and mirror. Tony Spezia raised his four children in the house since his wife died before construction was finished.
The most famous of Chase Creek caves was Ambrose Spezia's "Cave Bar" located behind his house on Chase Creek. Built in 1911, it was originally a whiskey warehouse for the Old Buffet Saloon, but later, after the end of Prohibition in 1933 it was opened as a bar. Everyone who ever drank there remembers its atmosphere to this day: tomb-silent or, in contrast, reverberating with player-piano music and heavy with the aroma of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer.
Dr. Harle's Office/Mexican Consulate
In 1918 the building at 312 Chase Creek Street was the office and residence of the physician Charles Harle. Dr. Harle was born in 1870 in Texas, attended medical school and practiced medicine in El Paso. In 1901 he moved to Chihuahua City, in the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua, but in 1903 he was arrested for murder. Harle fell in with two New Yorkers, Leslie Hulbert and William Mitchell, who apparently conspired to poison Mitchell's brother (who was also Hulbert's brother-in-law) in order to collect on a $15,000 insurance policy carried by Mitchell and paid to his sister, Mrs. Hulbert. It was Harle who declared Harry Mitchell had died of meningitis. Harle was also the attending physician at the death of William Devers, who died of mercurial poisoning a few months after taking out a policy for $10,000, for which William Mitchell, under an assumed name, was the beneficiary. All three were sentenced to death, but Mrs. Annie L. Harle, a prominent Southwest artist and mother of Charles Harle, petitioned the Mexican ambassador to commute the sentence. Harle served 10 years of a 20-year sentence, and was eventually freed by Pancho Villa after his occupation of Chihuahua City. Harle was released on Dec. 8, 1907, and served in the rebel army as Pancho Villa's personal physician during his campaigns. Following the Revolution, Harle returned to the US and opened his office in this building. He died in 1920. In 1929, this same building was the office of Hermenejildo Valdez, Consulate General of Mexico. Valdez carried out repatriations of hundreds of Mexicans following closing of Clifton's copper mines as a result of the Great Depression.
Clifton Social Club
This building was constructed prior to 1913 and served as the Gabaldon dry goods Store. In 1942 the building became home to the Clifton Social Club, which began as a men-only gathering place for Mexican-Americans as an alternative to the whites-only Elks Lodge. The hall had a bar and hosted weddings, quinceañeras, and more.
Clifton Union Hall
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Union Hall is a fine example of Territorial style architecture. Built in 1916 — significantly, just after the successful strike of 1915-16 — the hall is home to the famous mural commemorating 1983-1986 United Steelworkers strike. Executed in dazzling color, the mural occupies the union hall's north wall and measures 40 feet wide by 10 feet tall.
The mural includes a portrait of the legendary labor activist Cesar Chavez, who came to Clifton on November 25, 1983, to show his support for the miners. It's one of the few documented places where Cesar Chavez is known to have spoken on behalf of a union other than this own.
The Union Hall is open to the public Satudays from noon until 2 pm, beginning December 2, 2023. Call (360) 348-0488 to schedule a tour.
Drug Store and Law Offices
The right side of the building was a drugstore and a central stair led to law offices, both in the same location of a previous building destroyed by fire. Built in 1913.
Old Buffet Bar
Built in 1897, this building was a saloon, adjacent to the passage that once led to a bridge over Chase Creek to the smelter. In 1905, the main business district of Clifton east of the river decided that the saloons and attendant prostitutes were no longer welcome downtown. The merchants of Chase Creek had no such compunctions, however, and workers flocked over the bridge and through the narrow passage and into the street which night and days teemed with activity of stores, theaters, restaurants, billiard halls and a dozen saloons. In addition to drinks, the bar sold Oak Wood and Green Valley whiskeys from three-gallon barrels to those who brought their own jugs. The original oak bar is still in place. It is made of solid oak, stained deep mahogany and varnished. It has carvings, pillars and mirrors. At one end of the bar is a dumbwaiter used to carry the party upstairs. The bar remained open until Prohibition in 1920.
This building, built in 1907, is shown in historic photographs housing a tailor and barber shop and later the Greenlee Restaurant.
Jim Sing's Chop House
This building, Jim Sing's English Chop House, was built in 1907 retains its original signage — though dimly — on the front and east side.