Posted by: Brad Nixon | November 8, 2019

At the Bad Guy’s Hideout in Tucson

Humans have lived in what is now Tucson, Arizona for perhaps 12,000 years.

Some of the earliest known irrigation systems for farming ever found in North America were created by early inhabitants there, on the banks of the Santa Ana River, several thousand years ago.

The city of Tucson was established by European explorers in about 1700. There are a few surviving structures from the late 18th century, including some portions of the fortified Presidio.

Tucson Presidio Brad Nixon 5543 680

Most of present-day Tucson’s architecture is an amalgamation of 19th, 20th and 21st century structures.

A good example is the classic Rialto Theater on Congress Street.

Tucson Rialto M Vincent 5472 680

Directly across the street is the city’s oldest surviving hotel, the “venerable” Hotel Congress, celebrating its centennial this year, built in 1919.

Congress Hotel Brad Nixon 5197 680

The Congress isn’t a 5-star resort, but it has its share of period charm. Locals recommend the Cup Cafe restaurant off the lobby as a reliable place for breakfast, lunch or dinner. I regret that our time in Tucson didn’t allow us a chance to try out the place, which was buzzing with activity when we looked in at mid-day on a Monday.

We were there too early for the Tap Room Bar to be active. Even empty, it gives you a sense of the hotel’s period vibe.

Congress bar Brad Nixon 5480 680

Rock and Roll

That photograph creates the impression that the place is a somewhat staid and stodgy, old-style hotel. Nay nay.

For decades, a large space just off the Tap Room has been a landmark venue in Tucson for an ongoing succession of rock and punk and other bands. The hotel’s own website describes itself as a “rock and roll hotel,” and cautions visitors that — depending on where their room is located — it may be a noisy place to stay. Complimentary earplugs are available for those who intend to sleep.

And, yes, at only 100 years of age, the hotel is purported to have a few ghosts haunting its rooms and corridors. On my brief visit, I didn’t encounter any, but it was the middle of a summer’s day, when most southwestern ghosts normally take a siesta.

The Bad Guy’s Lair

Before there was rock, and before there was roll, but after the Jazz Age, the Congress hosted its most notorious guest.

Although it debuted too late to have hosted Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, Billy the Kid or other infamous denizens of the 19th century southwest, the hotel does boast as a former resident one of the landmark names of 20th century crime: John Dillinger.

John-Dillinger pic 680

When he and his gang showed up in Tucson in 1934, on the run from law officers pursuing them for a string of bank robberies in Ohio and Indiana, Dillinger was 31 years old.

They were far from their Midwestern turf, registered under aliases, but things went awry. A fire broke out in the hotel, and Dillinger, his men and their companions scattered.

They escaped the fire, but encountered the welcoming arms of law enforcement.

Captured!

A photo displayed in the Tucson train station shows the furor at the local depot as Dillinger and gang were put aboard a train, back when men wore hats.

Dillinger capture AHS 5847 680

Dillinger was taken to a jail in Crown Point, Indiana, which authorities touted as “escape-proof.”

Reports differ, but using either a real gun smuggled into the prison or, by some accounts, one carved from wood and blackened with shoe polish, Dillinger escaped.

From there, his trail led to Minneapolis and a shootout with police. He dodged bullets and returned to his father’s farm outside Indianapolis, then fled to Wisconsin, where the newly-named FBI was close behind him. The FBI lost track of him once Dillinger skeedaddled again, this time to Chicago, and he spent some weeks hiding under an assumed name in the city, where he indulged in his enjoyment of Chicago Cubs baseball at Wrigley Field.

On July 22, 1934, the saga came to an end outside the Biograph Theater on Lincoln Avenue as Dillinger and some associates exited a viewing of “Manhattan Melodrama,” starring Clark Gable, Myrna Loy and William Powell. FBI agent Melvin Purvis famously lit a cigar, a signal to waiting federal agents. Gunshots “rang out,” as the stories say, and Dillinger was dead.

A long road to Tucson, and a longer road back.

Visiting

Go for the music, go for the period ambience, or simply to spend a night in the bad guy’s hideaway.

The Hotel Congress is at 311 East Congress Street, Tucson, Arizona. Many of Tucson’s historic sites are within walking distance, and public transportation stops are nearby.

More information at https://hotelcongress.com/

© Brad Nixon 2019. Rialto Theater photo © M. Vincent 2019, used by kind permission.


Responses

  1. Love the period buildings of the theatre and hotel.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you. I hope the rain and flooding are sparing you.

      Like

  2. Such a fun post and historical summary — I love the southwestern ghosts’ siesta!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you. Simply because they’re ghosts doesn’t mean they don’t adhere to local culture.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s been dreadful here in Yorkshire but we live at the top of a hill so havent encountered problems at home. My son was delayed over an hour getting back by train yesterday because of flooding and had to wait for a replacement bus to complete his journey. It’s actually fine today thankfully so.lets hope it lasts.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good to know. I saw the photos of Doncaster (where my grandparents once lived) and other river towns on bbc.com. Dreadful. Be safe.

      Like

  4. Very interesting hotel, I really like the photo of the bar, and the Rialto sign.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Shawn. It was a treat to see the bar, and despite it being unlighted, there was considerable light through large windows behind the camera. I’ll pass your compliment about the Rialto photograph to Ms. Vincent (The Counselor). Thanks for reading, as always.

      Like

  5. I especially like the bar, myself. I smiled at the correspondence between those columns and the saguaro in the background mural.

    Liked by 1 person


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