William Zeckendorf: Flamboyant Tucson Pioneer Jewish Merchant

William Zeckendorf

Young William Zeckendorf, Tucson, AZ., #WS1278

Young William Zeckendorf, Tucson, AZ.,

Values Codes I – E – L


William Zeckendorf was born in 1842, probably in Hemmendorf, Germany.

He arrived in New York in 1856.

He was brought to America by his brothers who already had numerous mercantile locations based out of Santa Fe, New MexicoThere, he started to “learn the business.”


William Zeckendorf enlisted in the Union Army during the Civil War and received a Lieutenant’s Commission.

It is thought that he had probably attended a Military School while still in Germany.

Zeckendorf saw action against the Confederates in Colorado and New Mexico, as well as war experience against the Apache.



In 1868, William Zeckendorf was sent, by his brothers, to manage A&L Zeckendorf Co.the family store in Tucson, Arizona.

In 1879, he opened his own store.

Zeckendorf  became a flamboyant merchant, holding all manner of special promotions and spectacles to attract business.

Zekendorf Store, Tucson, AZ, 1890's, #WS1277

Zekendorf Store, Tucson, AZ, 1890’s, #WS1277

“On Tuesday night the everlasting Mr. Z. celebrated the safe arrival of his freight train by a display of fireworks which had the effect of keeping Main Street blockaded for the better part of two hours.”

Weekly Arizonan, December 18, 1869

“Mr. Z, by the aid of a ladder, climbed the giddy summit of his store, drove a huge steel spike into the wall, way up there, and suspended therefrom a glass lantern not quite as large as a hogshead.  The light that shoots out from this is so intense that no chicken in any part of town goes to roost until Mr. Z. extinguishes his lamp, about 10pm.”

Weekly Arizonan, January 17, 1870

“On Sunday last Mr. Zeckendorf called the attention of every man, woman and child in town to the anniversary of his birth by a magnificent display of fireworks.  The spectators generally enjoyed the sport and made Mr. Z. the recipient of sundry congratulations, good luck in not having died while a little baby, and his subsequent fortunate career, made manifest by his living presence ‘whole and entire.’  The grandest pyrotechnic display on the evening marking the closing of the celebration consisted in the burning of Don Fernandez’ stable and hay, ignited by a spark from a Roman candle in the hands of Mr. Z or some other man.”

Weekly Arizonan, June 11, 1870

In the 1880’s Zeckendorf bought the Cymbeline Mine, and invested in the Copper Queen, Ray and Omega mines.

His wife, Julia, owned Old Boot Mine. These investments may have been their ultimate undoing.



William Zeckendorf served as head of Country Democratic Party.

In 1875, he was a member of  8th Territorial Legislature of the Arizona Territory.

In 1893, Zeckendorf represented Arizona at the Chicago World’s Fair displaying Arizona products such as large saguaro and cholla cacti.



William Zeckendorf was a Charter Member of the Jewish Cemetery Association.

The Zeckendorfs were popular in the Jewish community and entertained often.



Once William Zeckendorf was successful in business, he did what other young Jewish pioneers did — he went to New York and found a bride.

Zeckendorf married Julia Frank, traveled to San Diego, and headed east to Tucson on a stagecoach.

Legend has it that he surprised his bride at the San Diego hotel by walking down the grand staircase in full Western regalia, including side arms, crossed bandoleros, a large hunting knife, and a shotgun resting on his arm.

In 1891, fed up with the rough life in the West, Julia convinced William to relocate to New York.

With his business in disarray and his mine speculations failing, the Zeckendorf’s headed east.

Using his skills learned in the “Wild West,” William Zeckendorf proceeded to become one of the leading private developers of New York City.



The Zeckendorfs had three children: Hilda, Birdie, and Arthur William.

Arthur William Zeckendorf  is best known for his development success in New York City


William Zeckendorf passed away in 1935 and is buried in the Zekendorf mausoleum in Brooklyn’s Salem Field Cemetery.


  • Abraham S. Chanin, “William Zechendorf I in the Arizona and New Mexico Territories, 1985-1878,” Western States Jewish History 32/2&3.
  • “Louis Zeckendorf and His Brothers,” Western States Jewish History 22/1.
  • “William Zeckendorf: A New Mexico and Arizona Pioneer,” Western States Jewish Historical Quarterly 11/4.

Regina Merwin is the curator for this William Zeckendorf exhibit.