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May 8, 2013 1:08 PM by Ryan Haarer

Jelks Stud Farm to get a makeover and open to the public

TUCSON- A big move is underway to restore an important piece of Tucson history. The Jelks Stud Farm, a registered national landmark, is getting a makeover by the Rillito Park Foundation.

The Jelks Stud Farm that sits between the Rillito Racetrack and River Road was home to J. Rukin Jelks, one of the founders of quarter horse racing. He bred quarter horses on that property, which hasn't been changed since it was built in 1940.

When Jelks built the home quarter horse racing, or sprinting horses was just something he did for fun. Until, he built the Rillito Racetrack in his backyard.

"At the time when they started breeding the thoroughbreds with the cow ponies and started getting these super fast horses, that cover these short distances, the judges couldn't decide who had won. So the photo finish, which is something used at every track in the world, was created here," said Jaye Wells, with the Rillito Park Foundation.


The 1,850 square foot ranch home is an architectural masterpiece, just the second burnt adobe structure ever built in Pima County. The walls are double adobe thick, brick floors in exquisite patters run through the home, the ceiling is lined with saguaro ribs, ironwork handcrafted in Mexico, and wood barn doors remind you you're on a stud farm.

The horses had it good too. There is a beautiful barn with murals by famous artist Tex Wheeler. A beautiful garden was once the gathering place for friends and family, now nothing remains but a large mesquite tree, the foundation hopes to bring it back to life.

"This garden would have been originally planted with grass and would have plantings on the perimeter," explained Walter Rogers, another founder of the foundation.

But, restoring the house and garden is just the tip of the iceberg. Eventually the site will be home to the Horse and Rider Museum.

"We're going to reach out and do things that deal with the art and culture of basically, post-Columbian and the impact the horse and rider had on the Americas," said Wells.

The foundation is already working on getting some events lined up for the next race season. They plan on having a seating area that overlooks the track for pre-race events.

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