When the West was still considered wild – or at least lacking comforts that Easterners and Midwesterners were accustomed to – a number of grand hotels and inns arose to accommodate those seeking Arizona’s untouched beauty without forgoing the amenities. Several of them have since shuttered their doors or fallen into disrepair, but five that continue to meet the great expectations of their guests celebrated landmark birthdays since the turn of the new millennium.
100 Plus Years of Arizona History
It was 1905 when the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway commissioned architect Charles Whittlesey to create the El Tovar to pamper passengers on its new route to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Some changes have occurred over the years: The lobby lights are no longer called “Electroliers,” the herd of Jersey cows that provided fresh milk for the restaurant has been long retired and private baths were installed before modern preservation dictates prevented further structural changes. The hotel got a $4.5 million makeover for its centennial, but the imposing Douglas fir-and-stone El Tovar, perched just yards from the canyon’s rim, still prides itself on the ability to cater those who come to peer into the abyss.
80 Years and Counting
A landmark in Phoenix since it opened in 1929, The Arizona Biltmore counts among its many claims to fame a stunning Art Deco design by a student of Frank Lloyd Wright (Wright was the consulting architect). Celebrity guests have included every U.S. president from Herbert Hoover to George W. Bush, and Hollywood stars from Gregory Peck and Marilyn Monroe to Nicolas Cage and George Clooney. Members of the Rat Pack played the piano in the lobby; Irving Berlin wrote “White Christmas” here in 1939. High tea and croquet on the lawn are among the throwbacks to the past; a large state-of the-art spa is among the many nods to the present.
Now in the heart of Tucson, The Arizona Inn was considered to be in the boonies in 1930 when Isabella Greenway, Arizona’s first Congresswoman and a good chum of Eleanor Roosevelt, created it. Family-owned and -operated ever since, the inn was designed to feel like a friend’s home – if you had a friend with a gracious country estate. An onsite furniture-making shop with its own master craftsman, a dining room with original George Caitlin lithographs and a piano lounge make you feel as though you’ve stepped back into a more gracious era; free high-speed Internet lets you keep your hand in this one.
Automobiles were still a novelty in 1927 when Prescott’s Hassayampa Inn introduced Arizona’s first porte-cochere to protect arriving guests from inclement weather – such as it was. Although the Pueblo Art Deco facade designed by Henry C. Trost, one of the Southwest’s premier architects, was nixed at the last minute, the hotel’s opulent lobby was done in that striking style, down to its hand-stenciled wood ceiling beams. Because of its proximity to the town’s historic center and the restoration of many original elements, this hotel maintains its sense of context while catering to contemporary tastes.
Opened in 1929 as a guest ranch by executives of the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company in Litchfield Park (near Phoenix), the Wigwam Arizona focused from the start on what was to become a key leisure activity in Arizona: golf. In 1930, its first nine-hole course was developed; in 1965, Robert Trent Jones, Sr. designed a second one and rebuilt the first. It’s no surprise, then, that a large part of a multi-million dollar renovation in 2005 was devoted to modernization as well as historic re-creation of the Wigwam’s three world-class courses. But other relaxation staples haven’t been ignored: In early 2006, a huge Red Door Spa and fitness center debuted.
(Updated by the Arizona Office of Tourism - 2011)