Rillito Park Foundation

1090 E River Rd
Tucson AZ  85718

Phone: 520 - RILLITO (745-5486)

Rillito Park Foundation

TUCSON, AZ – The Rillito Park Foundation has designed a plan to restore the historic J. Rukin Jelks Stud Farm at Rillito River Park and establish a new Museum of the Western Horse and Rider.

The nonprofit foundation’s board of directors committed $100,000 to launch the project in partnership with Pima County, which owns the home, surrounding buildings, the park and Rillito Race Track.

The homesite was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in February 2012. Built in 1940, it was designed by Frederic O. Knipe Sr., a local rancher and architect, in the simple Sonoran Revival style.

Phase 1of the estimated five-year project would include investing up to $200,000
to restore the historic buildings and surrounding landscape. Phase II would include construction of gallery space for the Museum of the Western Horse and Rider. This public/private partnership is similar to other county-owned properties managed by lessees – including Old Tucson Studios, Arizona Sonora-Desert Museum and Colossal Cave Mountain Park.

The foundation leased the hacienda, casita and stables at 1090 E. River Road from the county, and plan to stabilize the structures and re-landscape the courtyard and grounds with a series of adaptive use gardens appropriate to the era. The site will improved with parking, terraces and catering facilities, then opened to the public for home and garden tours as well events including weddings and corporate functions.

J. Rukin Jelks was one of the founders of quarter horse racing in America. The racetrack on his stud farm opened in 1943 where many racing innovations were introduced, including the photo finish. Jelks sold the property to John and Mary Shoemaker. The county acquired the home in 2007 following Mary’s death.

Never remodeled, the 1,850-square-foot residence contains a living room, dining room, kitchen, hallway and two bedroom suites, plus an adjacent guest house. The home includes original hand-hewn mesquite beams and saguaro-ribbed ceilings, ironwork from Mexico, brick floors, plastered burnt-adobe walls and rare hollow-cane kitchen cabinets.

The stable features a mural by artist Hughlette “Tex” Wheeler, who created the famous sculpture of racehorse Sea Biscuit at Santa Anita Racetrack in Arcadia, California.

The Rillito Park Foundation was established as a State of Arizona nonprofit in
November of 2011. Board officers have each contributed $25,000 to launch the project. The directors are:

Frank DeFazio – A local businessman and a former overseas staff member of the Defense Department and racetrack manager. He is a member of Historic Rillito Racetrack, the nonprofit that led the way on for listing the Rillito Historic District on the National Register. Contact: fdefazio@rillitoparkfoundation.org

Walt Rogers – A recognized landscape architect in Tucson. He was on
University of Arizona faculty and is a founding board member of the Tucson Parks Foundation He served on the Tucson Community Development Advisory Committee. Contact: wrogers@rillitoparkfoundation.org

Russell True – The True family has owned the White Stallion Guest Ranch in Tucson since 1965. Russell is former two-time president of the Dude Ranchers’ Association, former president of the Green Fields Country Day School board and current board member of the Metropolitan Tucson Convention and Visitors Bureau. Contact: rtrue@rillitoparkfoundation

Jaye Wells – A designer and developer whose portfolio includes historic preservation projects and museum work, as well as apparel design and manufacturing. He is a former trustee and officer of Green Fields School.
Contact: jwells@rillitoparkfoundation

The new Museum of the Western Horse and Rider would focus on the influence that the iconic horse and rider had on the American West and the world – from the time of the Spanish explorers through its impact on art, agriculture, transportation and culture today.

The regional museum would feature a series of rotating exhibits curated by staff or loaned from other museums. Collaborative exhibitions could include Allen True’s WEST, displayed at several museums in Denver; The Art of the Western Saddle, developed by the American Quarter Horse Association for its museum in Amarillo, Texas.

Other exhibits might feature George Patton’s pursuit of Pancho Villa, or the life of Carlota, Empress of Mexico and wife of Ferdinand Maximilian, former archduke of Austria, or George Catlin’s American Buffalo in coordination with the Smithsonian.

For more information on the Rillito Park Foundation, the Jelks property or the museum, contact Wells at jwells@rillitoparkfoundation.org or Rogers at wrogers@ rillitoparkfoundation.org.


The Rillito Park Foundation's mission is the betterment of Rillito Park, Tucson Arizona. We are the stewards of the J. Rukin Jelks Stud Farm, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, located in the Rillito Race Track Historic District

The Rillito Park Foundation is an Arizona non-profit dedicated to the preservation, restoration, and betterment of Rillito Park.

We believe that private action fused with public support is the best instrument to achieve these goals.

We believe that Rill

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Founded: Frank DeFazio, Walt Rogers, Russell True, Jaye Wells

Categories: Arts & Entertainment, Historical Place, Non-Profit Organization, Sports & Recreation




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