The designer of the Historic Y was accomplished Tucson architect Annie Graham Rockfellow. For 22 years, Rockfellow had been employed as chief designer in the architectural office of Henry A. Jaastad. She was a notable figure in Tucson—one of the few practicing female architects of her day.
Born in upstate New York in 1866, she was the first female architecture student admitted to MIT in 1885. Known as “Rocksy,” she referred to herself as a “pioneer co-ed” and wrote of being “the only girl in the architecture department, and almost the only one at [MIT].” After graduating, she spent a few years as a draftsman in a Rochester architectural office.
In 1895, when Arizona was still just a territory, Annie made a temporary move to Tucson. Her older brother enticed her to the Southwest with a gig teaching English and drawing at the fledgling University of Arizona, where he was a math professor. But by 1897, she was exploring Europe by bicycle and working in various places back on the East Coast, only moving permanently to Tucson in 1915, at the age of 49. She accepted a job with Jaastad the following year.
Rockfellow became a huge proponent of the pueblo, mission, and Spanish colonial styles of the Southwest. A visit to San Diego’s California Panama Exhibit in 1915 only strengthened this aesthethic preference. She showed little patience, in fact, for those who wanted to import the styles of the East Coast to Arizona, diluting the character of her new home.
Her first project was the Safford School, built in 1918, which still stands proudly in Armory Park, just south of downtown. Over time, she became responsible for all the best commissions in the office, including the sumptuous El Conquistador Hotel of 1928, a landmark that stood until 1968, when it was demolished to make room for El Con mall. Echoes of the El Conquistador can be found in the Historic Y’s Spanish colonial architecture, including the arched terrace windows and ornate porch columns.