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Resort HISTORY

A Dazzling Legacy

Our story actually starts prior to 1929 when two brothers, Warren and Charles McArthur, moved to Phoenix from Chicago with a plan. They fitted-out a Dodge truck with extra seats and a supply car, ‘The Wonderbus’, and used it to take people on tours around Arizona landmarks. It was such a success that by 1924 the brothers had formed a vision of Arizona as a tourist destination, lacking only proper accommodations for visitors.

Construction of the resort started in August 1928 and was finished in nine months. By the end, we had over 250,000 blocks, 33,000 lbs of copper in the roof and the 2nd largest gold leaf ceiling in the world only behind the Taj Mahal. 

On February 23, 1929 the resort opened in grand fashion. Over 600 invitations were sent out, with the thought of only a few hundred attending, but it seemed no one wanted to be left out and the resort had to re-create the opening gala three days in a row to accommodate all 600 people.

Legendary History Tours

Learn more about our storied past and the meticulous restoration of the iconic Arizona Biltmore. Join us for a 90-minute walking tour of the resort with one of our Historians.

The Wright Bar

The gorgeous Wright Bar has always embodied the renegade spirit of Hollywood’s Golden Age that says anything might happen and probably has. And, continuing the European tradition of grand hotel cocktail bars, it’s still carving out new standards for the sophisticated local bar scene as we bring back the night as it was meant to be enjoyed.

The bar has always been notoriously cool in both senses of the word and has now been restored back to its tiered structure that allow for different moods to co-exist. You might want to hang out here in the middle of the action, almost on a catwalk through the bar, or perhaps you want conversations and cocktails slightly away from the buzz, on a higher level.

From a design point of view, the aim was to reinstate the Frank Lloyd Wright ethos of ‘beautiful places for people to feel beautiful in’. We’ve created wonderful contrasts between the dramatic geometric lines and concrete blocks versus the rich textures and colors that all combine to create a grand palette, very in-keeping with the original plan.

Cottages

Our fifteen individually designed cottages have a much more direct influence from Frank Lloyd Wright than some other parts of the resort. The cottages date back to the original property construction in 1929, and were first designated to be where guest’s children would be looked after by their nannies while the adults enjoyed the resort in peace. But, over time, they became increasingly popular until reaching a level of fame that saw Ronald and Nancy Reagan honeymooning in one of them.

The most recent renovations have fully transformed the cottages, and they can now be enjoyed whoever you are, complete with vintage board games, a tea service starring beautiful teacups imported from France, interior and exterior fire pits and gorgeous, specialized décor.

Saguaro Forms & Cactus Flowers Mural

In 1973 the Talley family bought the resort and, needing to bring it up to code added a fire sprinkler system. During renovations, an arc from a welder’s torch sparked a fire that became Arizona’s first ever six alarm fire, calling thirty-five fire trucks and 150 fire fighters. The Talleys didn’t want to cancel the holiday season so they hired all the students from Taliesin West as well as their construction crew for a 24/7 emergency repair operation that lasted 81 days and saved the season.

In celebration of this amazing feat, Mrs. Wright donated this stained-glass piece as a gift for the grand “reopening”. FLW had created this piece originally as a colored pencil drawing for a series of covers for Liberty Magazine in 1927. The magazine declined the artwork since they found it to be too radical for the times and they were afraid of losing their readership. Mrs. Wright found the drawing in his things and commissioned an artist from Mesa, AZ to put it into stained glass in 1973.

The Biltmore Sprites

The Sprites were originally designed by Frank Lloyd Wright to stand guard over the Midway Gardens in Chicago. When the Midway Gardens were demolished in 1929, the Sprites were thought to be lost – until unearthed on a Wisconsin farm where, legend has it, they had been secretly buried to promote crop growth. At the request of Wright’s widow, a mold was made of the ‘Solemn Sprite” and gifted to the Arizona Biltmore in 1985.

Our 19 Sprites look towards the earth, assuming the role of Gaia; the ancestral mother of life and abundance. Their aura of protection now embraces all those who welcome their solemn gaze.

The Aztec Room

Built in 1929, the clever, octagonal structure - radiantly displaying its copper beams and gold-leaf ceiling - provides an air of what Frank Lloyd Wright described as ‘unencumbered beauty’ and makes this room so perfect for celebrations.

The Aztec Room has been a favorite for weddings since the very beginning. Senator McCain and Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor both held their weddings in this room. And when President Regan and his wife Nancy honeymooned at the resort, they had a party here to celebrate.

This historically significant original ballroom also used to become a movie theatre on Friday nights. If you look at the back wall and count four blocks in on the top, you may notice that the blocks are on hinges. That is where the original reel-to-reel was kept.

The Gold Room

The Gold Room was the resort’s original dining hall and often hosted Clark Gable and his friends. The main event was dinner at 6pm SHARP, and this was a multi-course meal complete with an orchestra and dancing and no children allowed. The General Manager at that time, Harry Boyle, was a stickler for time. If you weren’t in the room at 6pm, he would have the maitre’d’ pull the curtain and that was that.

Art is such a constant theme throughout the hotel and grounds, starting with the very building blocks themselves and running right through to our more extraordinary cocktail creations. The Gold Room murals are by Maynard Dixon. He was commissioned by McArthur to complete three pieces for the hotel’s opening, but sadly he died before finishing them.

The first tapestry you see here is entitled “Legend of Earth and Sun”. For this, Dixon drew from his extensive knowledge of Hopi mythology, creating two heroic figures. One is Mother Earth, who wears the head tablet of a Hopi corn maiden; the other is Father Sun, representing light and warmth.

The Mystery Room

This was a secret room where the gentlemen of the resort could retire to smoke cigars and pipes, receive updates on the stock market, and purchase their illegal set-up of whiskey during prohibition days. The room was only accessible though a secret passage which started behind the resort, went up a hidden staircase, and was entered through a secret door.

You may have noticed the spotlight we have on our roof? The “official” use of the spotlight was to guide guests in at night, but its “unofficial” use was to search the desert for police raids. If they saw a police raid coming, they would shine the spotlight down onto the stained-glass roof of the mystery room, signaling to those inside that they needed to return to their rooms.

The Catalina Pool

The Wrigley family - the Chicago magnates of chewing gum fame - built this gorgeous pool in 1931 to be a relaxing retreat for family, friends, colleagues and, eventually, celebrities.

The pool takes its name from the navy-blue and canary-yellow art-deco mosaic tiles that decorate its floor and were produced on California’s Catalina Island (which the Wrigley clan also owned). The Catalina pool became a favorite layover location for Wrigley’s baseball team, The Chicago Cubs, who trained on Catalina Island, and enjoyed a luxurious stop here in the desert before their spring training.

The pool area was quite different back then; we had cabanas as well as an Art Deco style bath house at the far end, with a diving platform. Marilyn Monroe declared this her favorite pool and Irving Berlin wrote his classic song “White Christmas” here as well. These days Catalina prefers her more serene reputation as an iconic wonder full of tranquil elegance, and lives on in the hearts of many as the finest pool there is.

History Hallway

One of the proudest points in our history is that we have hosted every United States president from Herbert Hoover to Barack Obama. Most of the photos here were taken on property during their visits, except for Reagan – which is odd - as out of all the Presidents he was here the most.

We call this our History Hallway. As you see, the resort used to have stables, skeet shooting and a cowboy store for western wear. The Arizona Biltmore was considered a “high class” dude ranch in its day and even had a cowboy, serenading guests as they arrived to the resort.

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