By Mary Beth Klatt
When we think about the year 1956, there are a few things that come to mind that truly capture the zeitgeist: Elvis Presley’s “Heartbreak Hotel” entered the music charts, Norma Jeane Mortenson became Marilyn Monroe, and the Hotel Valley Ho opened.
The iconic 239-room hotel, designed by architect Edward Varney, was the first in the Scottsdale, Arizona area to combine midcentury modern and Southwestern design. It attracted actors including Robert Wagner, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Bing Crosby, Jimmy Durante, Tony Curtis, and Janet Leigh, becoming a second home to them. Durante would play the piano in the lobby late at night when he couldn’t sleep, Gabor rode horses in the neighborhood with her niece, and Wagner and Natalie Wood held their wedding reception there in 1957.
But soon, those good times turned into hard ones. By the 1970s, the hotel fell into disrepair and was nearly demolished. But it found new life again in 2002 when Westroc Hospitality bought the property with the intention to bring it back to its ’50s glory. The challenge was to balance updating the hotel, while maintaining its original style.
Los Angeles design firm Cole Martinez Curtis & Associates led the renovation. Designers peeled back drywall in the guestrooms to reveal the original brick in perfect condition. Another delightful discovery was the sub-structure beneath the restaurant-lobby. Varney had a seven-story tower approved by the city in the 1950s, which Westroc completed during the renovation.Hotel Valley Ho’s legendary pool was (and remains) the focal point of the property, a place for fashion shows and other events. The circular-shaped OH Pool is surrounded by chaise lounges, a full kitchen and bar, and two hot tubs. In the guestrooms, 1950s-inspired design elements remain, including Formica counters, an era-appropriate color scheme, and midcentury modern-inspired textiles.
The hotel reopened in 2005, offering guests the same elements that drew the Hollywood stars to the property a half a century earlier. The only thing missing: Zsa Zsa Gabor on a horse.