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History of The Catalina Foothills

 The history of the modern development of the Catalina Foothills dates back to the early 1920s. Prior to that the Catalina Foothills area was primarily federal trust land and open range for cattle grazing. Beginning in the 1920s, land developer John Murphey began purchasing property north of River Road in the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains. The development he envisioned was for ten subdivisions with large lots, often three acres or more.

Within the subdivisions, the lots would be laid out for maximum privacy, use of the natural terrain, preservation of desert vegetation and wildlife, and mountain and valley views. In addition to other smaller purchases, in 1928, Murphey bought a 7,000-acre tract of land north of River Road between Oracle Road and Sabino Canyon in a federal land auction.

After the stock market crash the following year, Murphey sought to sell some of this land to an Arizona banker for $10 per acre. The banker refused the offer on the grounds that the land was “worthless.” Around the same time, Josias Joesler, a Swiss architect, was retained to implement Murphey’s vision. Residential development in the Catalina Foothills began in the 1930s, and Joesler designed a number of the homes.

Catalina Foothills School District 16 

Joesler also designed the buildings now occupied by Catalina Foothills School District near River Road and Campbell Avenue. The Foothills’ population was great enough in 1931 that community members launched an effort to create its own school district. Catalina Foothills School District 16 began with nine students, three of whom were John and Helen Murphey’s children, and school was held in the Murphey’s garage.

The Catalina Foothills School District 16 had outgrown the garage and John Murphey sold the district 2.2 acres for $10 in 1939, and Joesler designed the district’s first school building, which today is occupied by district administration. Joesler’s own studio, which he built himself, is a charming, small, adobe brick and tile
building that has been preserved and restored.

You can learn more about Josias Joesler, through the University of Arizona's project "Through our Parent's Eyes"  which tells some of the stories of the the history and culture of Southern Arizona.