I just completed an amazing stay at the Waldforf Astoria – Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix, AZ. This property is more than just a hotel, in my opinion, it is the crown jewel of Phoenix. The 39-acre resort is an oasis in the desert with the Phoenix Mountains Preserve behind and a view of Camelback Mountain to the east. In this post, we will look at the architecture and historical importance of this hotel. Part 2 will be a review of my hotel stay.
The McArthur brothers, Warren, Charles and Albert from Chicago came west to Phoenix, AZ in the 1920s. Along with the McArthur brothers was John Bowman who started the Biltmore Hotel chain. The population of Phoenix at that time was just 3,000 people. The investors bought 150 acres at the base of the Phoenix Mountains for just 24 cents per acre. Hotels in Phoenix were just beginning in the 1920s so the McArthur brothers decided to build their hotel on 39 acres of the property. Albert Chase McArthur had been a student of renown American architect Frank Lloyd Wright and became the architect of record. The relationship between the teacher and the student was not without its conflicts as these two men had a contrast of style.
The Influence of Frank Lloyd Wright
Frank Lloyd Wright moved west in the 1920s and settled in Phoenix. He was hired as an on-site consultant on the hotel project. Wright is known for his style of organic architecture that brings humanity and the environment into harmony. One of Wright’s signature styles was the “textile block”. These blocks became known as the “Biltmore Blocks” made using local desert sand and were made on the premises. Of the 34 styles of blocks, the classic Biltmore Block was in the design of the underneath of a palm leave with passages for airflow. The two architects couldn’t agree on the shape of the Biltmore blocks. Frank Lloyd Wright wanted square blocks and Albert Chase McArthur wanted to use rectangular blocks that became the block design. There are two molds left for building replacement blocks that are made under license. The blocks were used extensively in the original structure and new blocks have been used for additional buildings at the resort.
The hotel opened on February 23, 1929 which turned out to be a terrible year to open a hotel. The great depression started and Prohibition was now in its ninth year. One of the unique features of the hotel is the “mystery room” on the second floor. This room looks like an ordinary room but inside it was a “Men’s Smoking Room” where men could enjoy a smoke along with their favorite drink. You had to give a password to enter the mystery room.
When the hotel opened, there was no air conditioning and partial electrical power was supplied by a generator. The Biltmore Blocks with their open construction created an interior airflow in the absence of air conditioning. Since there were no streetlights along Thunderbird Trail, an army-surplus searchlight on top of the tour shown the way to the hotel. That same searchlight could be positioned to shine through the mystery room skylight to let the drinking guests that a police raid was on the way.
The McArthur brothers lost control of the hotel in 1930 to William Wrigley Jr of Wrigley Gum fortune who became the sole owner.
The Origin of the Tequila Sunrise
Bartender Gene Sulit was asked by a customer to create a new drink that could be enjoyed poolside. Gene mixed these ingredients:
- Hornitos Plata tequila
- Creme de Cassis
- Freshly squeezed lime juice
- Club soda
The original Tequila Sunrise is pink in color because “When the sky is pink, it’s time to drink”.
The Hotel of Hollywood and Dignitaries
Many famous people made the Arizona Biltmore a regular place to stay. Clark Gable stayed there often and only stayed in room 1201. It could be because room 1201 was around the corner from the “mystery room”. The Arizona Biltmore has six pools but you will have to hang out at the Catalina Pool to find Marilyn Monroe at her favorite pool.
The ladies went left out. They could attend formal teas in the Sun Room which is now Wright’s Restaurant.
The 1,700 square foot Presidential Suite is room 1234 on the second floor of the original building. Below the Presenditial suite is another suite to house the Secret Service. Every president has stayed at the Arizona Biltmore has stayed there from Herbert Hoover to George W. Bush. The only exceptions are Barack Obama (he stayed there as a senator) and Donald Trump.
The Arizona Biltmore offers 90-minute tours on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. I took this tour and I was impressed with the hotel’s history and architecture. The guides have a thorough knowledge of the hotel history and you will learn about the famous people who stayed here. The tour is free, $10.00 for non-guests and leave from the concierge desk.
The Hotel Review
Join me tomorrow for Part 2 of this review. I will take you on a tour of Villa 7210 where I stayed for five nights.