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Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Historic Hotels of the West

By Kristy McCaffrey

This holiday season, how about a visit to a historic hotel in the Western United States, built during the glory days of leisure travel.

Arizona Biltmore
Located in Phoenix and opened in 1929, the Arizona Biltmore was built by Albert Chase McArthur with famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s collaboration. It was constructed with pre-cast blocks made from desert sand that was found at the construction site. Chewing gum magnate William Wrigley, Jr. once owned the resort, which has hosted many famous celebrities: Marilyn Monroe, the Reagans (they spent their honeymoon here), and Irving Berlin (who penned White Christmas during a stay). Also, a bartender created the famous tequila sunrise cocktail for a guest at the resort. Of note is The Mystery Room, a Prohibition-era speakeasy that once had a light to warn partiers of approaching federal agents.

Arizona Biltmore, circa 1931.

Arizona Biltmore today.

Camelback Inn
Opened in 1936, this resort was the dream of a young hotel manager who convinced investors to help him build a resort in the desert outside of Phoenix, Arizona. When it opened, visitors endured a 12-mile bumpy ride along a dirt road from the train station to the secluded property. Early guests included Clark Gable, Jimmy Stewart, and Bette Davis. In 1967, frequent guest Willard Marriott, Sr., purchased the Inn and made it the company’s first resort. Camelback Inn is the only Arizona resort with its own chapel, built in 1959.

Camelback Inn, circa 1936.
Camelback Inn.

Camelback Inn today.

Hotel del Coronado
In 1888, the Hotel del Coronado opened on Coronado Island in San Diego, California—a seaside resort that would become “the talk of the Western world.” The all-wooden structure was a technological marvel—it had its own ice machine, electrical generator, and a steam-powered hydraulic elevator. It has been the backdrop for dozens of movies, and Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz developed their “Ricky and Lucy” personas here. The Crown Room’s expansive ceiling is paneled in Oregon sugar pine, and some reports say Wizard of Oz author L. Frank Baum designed the massive chandeliers. The author spent his winters at the hotel from 1904 to 1910, during which he wrote four books.

Hotel del Coronado in San Diego.

Hotel del Coronado today.

The Brown Palace Hotel

Opened in 1892 in downtown Denver, Colorado, the Brown Palace Hotel was made with Colorado red granite and Arizona sandstone, and cost $1.6 million, an astronomical sum at that time. Dwight Eisenhower used the hotel as his presidential campaign headquarters in 1952, and The Beatles stayed here on their U.S. tour. Tunnels beneath the hotel reportedly once led to a brothel across the street.

The Brown Palace Hotel in Denver, an example
of Italian renaissance architecture.

The Brown Palace Hotel today.

Happy Holidays!!

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  1. Kristy, I found this article so interesting. I loved these little tidbits you mentioned about these hotels, too. I see authors are drawn to these resorts to find peace (and a whole lot of elegance and service) to write their plays and stories. Well gee, I think I could use some of that. Just imagine living in such a place for a while to write while people bring you stuff and make your bed. I might not get over craving such luxury. LOL
    I hope you have the best Christmas ever and the joy of it spreads throughout the year.

    1. Sarah,
      As I researched this, I found it also so intriguing that many creative people *created* in these places. I've been to all of them except the Brown Palace Hotel and they're all still wonderful properties to get a bit of rest and relaxation, along with a bit of an old west ambiance. I hope you and your family have a wonderful holiday!! Cheers.

  2. Hi, Kristy!Thanks for bringing these treasures to attention. I love old hotels and lodges. I actually wrote the Brown Palace into an historic western story of mine. I spent time looking it up and learned Brown Palace was the first hotel in the west to have an elevator. It also had running water in the rooms. I didn't know about the tunnels leading to the brothels though!!!

    1. Very cool about the elevator. Yes, these hotels can definitely end up in our stories. :-)

  3. Kristy,

    Historic hotels are a topic near and dear to my writing heart. *grin* So many of them had 'modern' amenities.

    This book, 'Denver in Slices - a historical guide to the city' by Louisa Ward Arps, has anecdotal stories as well as documented information about Denver and its hotels during its Old West growing-up years.

    1. Kaye,
      That sounds like a great book. It's always the stories that are the most interesting. Thanks for stopping by! Happy Holidays!!

  4. Great post, Kristy. I'm not familiar with the hotels in your post with the exception of the Hotel del Coronado. I grew up in San Diego and many a time as a child we drove past this beauty. I'm not sure if I was more impressed with the building itself, or how it sat at the edge of the beach. Thanks for sharing.

    1. The Hotel del Coronado is a beautiful property. I went to a wedding there many years ago. I've always wanted to return.

  5. What an interesting post this is/was! I was raised in a country town called Las Cruces, New Mexico, had family and many visits in Phoenix, Arizona, and visited the Hotel del Coronado when my family lived in Southern California. I love articles about the old and new West. Thanks!

    1. Hi Janice,
      Thanks for stopping by. I've never been to Las Cruces, but I do love New Mexico. Happy Holidays!!