By Mary Beth Klatt
The Arizona Biltmore, a Waldorf Astoria hotel, was Phoenix’s first major resort hotel when it was built in in the late 1920s. The Prairie School-style property, surrounded by sand, sagebrush, and cacti in the mountain foothills, easily earned its “jewel of the desert” moniker.
Designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s protégé Albert Chase McArthur, the hotel is often mistakenly attributed to Wright (he served as consulting architect on the project). McArthur and his brothers Charles and Warren built the hotel in 1929, and Wright’s influence is seen in the concrete blocks used in construction, which features geometric patterns that reference palm trees.
Despite the arguments over its authorship, the Biltmore became a haven for Hollywood celebrities, including Clark Gable, Carole Lombard, Irving Berlin, Bob Hope, Jack Benny, and Marilyn Monroe, who flew in from Los Angeles to stay at the 600-acre hotel where they could ride horses, golf, and foxtrot the night away in the ballroom. In addition, every U.S. president from Herbert Hoover to George W. Bush has spent the night at the Arizona Biltmore.
Throughout it’s almost eight-decade life, the Biltmore has seen its fair share of obstacles, exchanging ownership hands and nearly shutting down after a fire in 1973 destroyed the interiors of the third and fourth floors. The rebuilding took 90 days, with the guidance of Taliesin Associated Architects, a firm founded by Wright to carry on his architectural vision. (The company disbanded in 2003.)
The horse stables are long gone but the property continues to sparkle. The 740-room resort has a spa; eight swimming pools including the Paradise Pool with a 92-foot-long water slide; two 18-hole golf courses; and six restaurants and lounges. The hotel’s Mystery Room—a Prohibition-era speakeasy—is now used as a pop-up bar and event space. Renovations continue with a reconfigured lobby space and revamped luxury villas.
Ocatilla at Arizona Biltmore, the 120-room addition, is also undergoing renovations with New York and California-based Smith Firestone Associates tasked with redesigning the guestrooms.