Gonzales-Martinez House (1880)

National Register Status: Listed (1984)


This building is significant for its association with the initial settlement of the Hayden's Ferry townsite along the south bank of the Salt River. Built in 1880 by Ramon Gonzales, the house is one of only three remaining structures associated with the first ten years of Tempe's history. The building is a rare local example of a house type illustrative of the lifestyle and settlement pattern of the predominantly Mexican population of early Tempe.


Originally an employee of Charles Trumbull Hayden at his adjacent Salt River ferry, Ramon Gonzales likely built the house at its location due simply to its proximity to his place of work; many others did the same, Hayden being the largest employer in the area at that time. The fact that Gonzales and other Hispanic employees essentially “squatted” on the land without clear title has led to lawsuits with the State of Arizona in recent years, one of which has directly impacted the subject property and has resulted in a shift in ownership from the Sussex family to both state and local government entities.


Ramon Gonzales was a freighter in Southern Arizona until he relocated to Tempe in about 1877 and was employed by Charles T. Hayden. Jesus Martinez acquired the property in 1892. Martinez was the great-grandfather of Steven Sussex, whose family lived on the property for over 100 years. Carl Hayden, the State’s first Congressional Representative and one of the longest-serving U.S. Congressmen in history, raised hogs on the property with Sussex’s uncle, who arrived in Tempe in 1912 and worked in the construction of the 1912 bridge that spanned the banks of the Salt River. During the Great Depression, the Sussex family allowed homeless travelers on the adjacent railroad to stay in shacks on the property (one of which still remains).


Constructed of adobe, the house represents the earliest form of traditional Southwestern architecture, harkening back to the days of Spanish colonization of Arizona and New Mexico. The Gonzales-Martinez House is one of only two such adobe structures (the other being the Charles T. Hayden House/Monti’s La Casa Vieja) that remain in the City of Tempe. Furthermore, this is the only Hispanic-built and Hispanic-owned adobe home remaining in a town that at one time—in the late 1800s—had entire neighborhoods (or “barrios”) built of similar small adobe homes. Thus, this property might be seen as the last remaining architectural vestige of Tempe’s working-class Mexican roots. 

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