The Main Stream

Apr 17, 2013 9:16 PM by Leasa Conze

Historic stud farm at Rillito Park will be restored and more

TUCSON - A big project is about to begin at Rillito Park, one that will return some historic structures on the property back to their original glory.

The Rillito Park Foundation plans to restore the J.Rukin Jelks Stud Farm and also set up a new Museum of the Western Horse and Rider.

J. Rukin Jelks was one of the founders of quarter horse racing in Arizona. His home was built in 1940, designed by Frederic O. Knipe, a local rancher and architect, in the simple Sonoran Revival style.

The racetrack on Jelks' stud farm opened in 1943. It included many racing innovations at that time, including the photo finish.

Jelks sold the property to John and Mary Shoemaker in 1953. They raised thoroughbreds and Mary was a champion hunter jumper.

The County bought the home in 2007, following Mary's death, along with memorabilia left in the home and stables.

The 1,850 square foot home consists of a living room, dining room, kitchen, hallway and two bedroom suites, along with an adjacent guest home. It has never been remodeled and still includes original hand-hewn mesquite beams, saguaro-ribbed ceilings, intricate ironwork from Mexico, brick floors, plastered burnt-adobe walls and hand-painted ceramic tiles.

"Ranch houses of the last century are a record of the migration to Tucson of people of ability whose imaginations were caught by the romance of the West. The Jelks house, ideally situated near the Rillito, is a lovely expression of that time," says Frederic O. Knipe III, grandson of the ranch's architect.

The stable features a mural by artist Hughlette "Tex" Wheeler, who created the famous sculpture of the racehorse Sea Biscuit at Santa Rita Racetrack in Arcadia, California. Parts of the original retaque-style corral also still stand just north of the stable.

The Rillito Park Foundation, established in 2011, has committed $100,000 to launch the project in cooperation with Pima County, which owns the home, surrounding buildings, the park and Rillito Racetrack.

The property was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in February 2012.

Initial plans call for a private investment of $300,000 to restore the structures and re-landscape the four0acre site next to the racetrack and to open it to the public. Ultimately, the Foundation intends to build gallery space for the new Museum of the Western Horse and Rider on the site.

The agreement is similar to those under which other County-owned properties are managed, including Old Tucson Studios, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, and Colossal Cave Mountain Park.

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