Since its "founding" in 1880, Oracle has grown in its own unique way. Sure, small subdivisions were built to accommodate miners flocking to jobs in the San Manuel mine in the mid 1950s, but no way does Oracle resemble a company town or a planned community. In fact, Otown contrasts sharply with the old corporate town model built by Magma Copper 10 miles east or the new corporate cookie-cutters of SaddleBrooke / SaddleBrooke Ranch 10 miles west. Touting the twin SaddleBrookes as the gold standard of planned development design, Robson Luxury Development moguls called Oracle a "hodgepodge". I think most of us who live here would take that as a compliment.
When Kaz and I bought our home in Oracle in 1979 there were no building codes, multiple unnamed streets, and bits and pieces of zoning with no overarching plan. County oversight was almost non-existent. Folks built however the spirit moved them. Much of Otown looked like what's pictured above - open and beautiful. To be sure the subdivisions - Oracle Village and Los Robles "Estates" and Mitman Addition - were planned and hooked into sewer, electric and water service on a modest scale (but without HOA governed restrictions and gated entries).
When it came to marketing, individual business enterprises took that on. Lamar Cotton for example, placed ads far and wide in newspapers advertising his subdivisions. Rancho Linda Vista (RLV) made a name for itself (and Oracle) by launching a "dude ranch" with a national following. Later, a chamber of commerce formed up - SMOR (San Manuel Oracle Region) - that never seemed to gain much traction or community support and ironically never approached the "marketing" impact of RLV which morphed into an arts and crafts mecca and set the stage for the Oracle of today.
In the 1980s, mega development schemes were proposed for Oracle by the likes of Cherokee Development that sought to ring the town with 25,000 homes. But that venture crashed and burned as local opposition and an economic down blip took their toll.
These days, Oracle still follows the individual business marketing model, with local ventures mostly doing their own thing. So you get the idea. While economic development used to be thought of primarily as bringing in large enterprises with lots of jobs (Magma Copper's mine, mill, railroad and smelter, for example), smaller scale options now seem to make more sense to us locals who value small town life and our special place in it.
The image above captures the work of a local collaboration between the Community Garden, Darrell Klesch's rockwork, Quentin Branch and Julie Szekely's rammed earth and Sharon Holnbach's gateway metal work. Masters all of their craft. It represents a "hodgepodge" of talents drawn together through a labor of love.
Maybe Steve Soriano, Ed Robson's tout, was on to something when he and his planning gurus described Oracle as hodgepodge. Lots of different kinds of people living in lots of different sorts of housing making livings lots of different ways. Maybe when it comes to quality of life, that beats the alternatives.
Nothing in Oracle, Arizona has ever come easy. In the late 1800’s when the indigenous people populating the area were driven out by force of arms and Oracle was “founded” (conquered) a post office naming the place after a ship was established. Just getting here was a major accomplishment. The stage coach out of Tucson was a body hammering ride on wooden planks and crude springs that softened the rocky jolts very little. Native American raiders were mostly gone but few visitors made the journey and fewer still wanted to repeat the experience.
Only the tough endured. Ranching was a brutal test of human and beast against drought and distance to markets. Hard scrabble gold mining was replete with minimal returns and outright failed ventures. The mine with the iron door became a cinematic favorite despite, or maybe because of, disappearing. Buffalo Bill Cody had some capital to invest but no success digging for gold.
The local economy picked up only as the bodies piled up. A cottage industry serving tuberculosis refugees seeking a healthier clime sprang up to welcome the living, many of whom were soon to be dead. (To be continued)
Kaz and I moved to Oracle in 1979. The house we bought dated to the late 1940s. With little advance knowledge of the place, we set out to build a new life together, intending to settle in and raise a family.