History of The Biltmore

Resort History

Known as “The Jewel of the Desert”, the Arizona Biltmore was constructed in grand form and has been host to vibrant social events for 85 years.

Timeline:

1929 – ARIZONA BILTMORE OPENS

Historic Phoenix Photo of the Arizona Biltmore Pool

1930’s Photo of the Arizona Biltmore Catalina Pool

The Arizona Biltmore welcomed its first guests in 1929. The much-heralded opening was expanded from one day to three days to accommodate the long list of high society partygoers. According to the press, it was to be the party of the decade, in Arizona and beyond. Invitees felt very privileged as attendance was requested by personal invitation only.

1930 – WRIGLEYS

Chicago chewing gum magnate William Wrigley, Jr. became the sole owner and built the resort’s first swimming pool; The Catalina Pool. The historic pool is renowned as Marilyn Monroe’s favorite pool, and the site where the famed song composer Irving Berlin penned many tunes including “White Christmas.”

1973 – TALLEY INDUSTRIES

The Wrigley family sold the Biltmore to Talley Industries and during the installation of a new sprinkler system, a welding torch ignited a fire, resulting in $2.5M of damage. Taliesin Associated Architects renovated the resort over a record 82 days, and the result was a finer, more complete hotel than had previously existed.

1975 – PARADISE WING

Under Talley Industries’ ownership, the first major expansion took place with the opening of the 90-room Paradise Wing. The expansion continued over the next seven years with the addition of the 120-room Valley Wing, a 39,000 sq.ft. Conference Center and the 109-room Terrace Court.

1985 – THE SPRITES

Designed in 1914 by Frank Lloyd Wright for the Midway Gardens in Chicago, the Sprites were sculpted by an Italian artist named Alfonso Ianelli. When the Midway Gardens were demolished, the Sprites were lost until 1945 when they were unearthed in Wisconsin. How they ended up there still remains a mystery. At the request of Mrs. Wright, a mold was made of the “Solemn Sprite.” From this distinctive statue, six new Sprites were cast and gifted to the Arizona Biltmore in 1985.

1987 – REMODELING

Another renovation was completed, which included the remodeling of 120 guest rooms throughout the main building, in addition to the East and Garden Wings. A year later, the historic cottages were also refurbished.

1992 – MAJOR RENOVATION

Grossman Company Properties, a Phoenix-based development firm, purchased the resort and began a three-phase, $50 million project over four years. The large-scale refurbishment was carried out by Barry Design Associates of Los Angeles, inspired by the style of Frank Lloyd Wright designs and 1930’s flair.

1996 – PROJECT COMPLETION

The refurbishment was completed with guest rooms and suites designed with mission-style furnishings and a desert palette of beige, sand, and ivory. The Villas, a luxury residential complex was added along with restaurants, a state-of-the-art kitchen and the Paradise Pool complex featuring a 92-foot-long water slide and 23 cabanas. New meeting space included the Pavilion, a 15,000 sq.ft. facility. An 18-hole championship putting course was also added.

1998 – WORLD-CLASS SPA & FITNESS

The luxurious 20,000 sq. ft. Arizona Biltmore Spa, fitness center and full-service beauty salon opened. The newest addition, the Arizona Wing, featured 120 new guest rooms, an Olympic-sized swimming pool and two new meeting rooms.

2003 – ARIZONA’S LARGEST EVENT VENUE

With the opening of the Frank Lloyd Wright Ballroom, the Arizona Biltmore became one of Arizona’s largest meeting and event venues. The new 25,000 sq.ft. ballroom became the 2nd largest in the state and increased dedicated indoor function space to more than 100,000 sq.ft. The project also included converting the tented Pavilion into the 15,000 sq.ft. McArthur Ballroom.

2009 – PRESIDENTIAL VISITS

Since the hotel opened in 1929, many presidents and dignitaries have vacationed amidst the lush gardens and sun-kissed palm trees of the Arizona Biltmore. Ronald and Nancy Reagan celebrated their honeymoon at the resort, and every president from Herbert Hoover through George W. Bush has been a guest.

2009- ONE OF THE LARGEST HOTELS IN ARIZONA

The Arizona Wing was completely renovated to become Ocatilla at Arizona Biltmore, a “hotel within the hotel”. The Arizona Biltmore boasts 740 guest rooms and is one of the largest hotels in Arizona. Throughout the years, the Arizona Biltmore has set the standard for elegance and style, and is in many ways more “Wrightian” than when it was built.

2014 – RECENT RENOVATIONS

The iconic Arizona Biltmore has recently completed a multi-million-dollar redesign that offers guests modern and refined accommodations while preserving the historic integrity and architecture of the resort. The renovation transformed rooms and suites, meeting spaces, ballrooms, pre-function rooms, Spa Biltmore, as well as the prohibition-era Mystery Room with a sophisticated new look that recalls the seductive style of the resort’s early years.

Additional Biltmore History

A pre-Depression triumph, the Arizona Biltmore was Warren McArthur’s idea. A car salesman who eventually founded the Arizona Museum and the Arizona Club, a precursor to the Chamber of Commerce, McArthur was entranced by the desert. He and his brother Charles thought the state was a tourist paradise – but one that lacked the critical element of accommodations.

The MacArthur’s found a plot of land—a 200-acre citrus orchard then eight miles outside of downtown Phoenix—and a handful of investors. They turned to their brother,  Albert, to build their hotel.

Albert had apprenticed under famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright, and even today many believe incorrectly that Wright designed the sweeping, low-lying resort. Wright did consult on the Biltmore’s cement block construction. He’d used large cement blocks, made on site, in several of his own projects. The so-called Biltmore block designed by sculptor Emry Kopta features a pattern inspired by the underside of a palm frond and calls to mind the Mayan-like designs Wright used on the face of cement blocks for his buildings. In the same way Wright used patterned blocks as architectural accents, Kopta’s Biltmore blocks appear throughout the Biltmore, inside and out. Wright’s influence, either directly or through his apprentice, also appears obvious in such details as the foyer’s geometric stained-glass mural and the ballroom’s stained-glass windows. No one disputes the origins of the “Sprite” sculptures outside the main entrance; Wright designed them in 1914 for Chicago’s Midway Gardens, and they were moved to the Biltmore in 1982.

Wright, however, was not pleased with the Biltmore. The curmudgeonly architect declared it “even worse” than he had expected, and when people began questioning the extent of his involvement, he drafted a letter that cunningly praised the building. “All I have done in connection with the building of the Arizona Biltmore, near Phoenix, I have done for Albert McArthur …  [He] is the architect of that building,” Wright wrote. “But for him, Phoenix would have had nothing like the Biltmore, and it is my hope that he may be enabled to give Phoenix many more beautiful buildings…”

Wright’s careful praise notwithstanding, the new resort earned great acclaim. More than 600 celebrants attended its opening on February 23, 1929, as a plane circled overhead and dropped a large wooden key from the skies. That key is now on view in the Biltmore’s History Room, on the third floor above the soaring lobby. Along with it are pages from the Arizona Republican with stories about the opening. “Phoenix Heralded Around the World as Biltmore Opens Today,” trumpeted the front-page banner headline. Inside, the paper printed descriptions of the glorious ball gowns and lavish food. Since then, the Biltmore has seen a continuous parade of the glamorous and famous—the Reagan’s, the Clintons, Steven Spielberg, Marlon Brando, Clark Gable, Peter Falk, Mike Ditka, U2, the Chicago Bulls; the list is long. Clark Gable lost his wedding ring on the golf course and rewarded groundskeepers who found it.

Only six weeks after its glittering opening, the resort closed in deference to Arizona’s intensely hot summer weather. On October 29, before the Biltmore could reopen its doors, the stock market crashed. Although the hotel managed to open on November 10, the McArthur brothers were ruined, and the resort passed into the hands of chewing gum magnate William Wrigley, Jr. Under Wrigley and then his son, Philip, the Biltmore was constantly freshened and expanded. In 1963 the resort finally installed air conditioning, a project that took weeks and cost $1 million.

Wrigley sold the Biltmore in June 1973, and the new owner closed it for renovations. Two weeks later, a spark from a welder’s torch ignited insulation between the walls, setting off Phoenix’s first six-alarm blaze. Ironically, the welder had been helping install a sprinkler system for fire protection. Architects from Wright’s Taliesin West oversaw repair of the destroyed fourth floor and roof and the severely charred lower floors.

The resort reopened in September 1973 and hasn’t closed since. After an extensive renovation and expansion in 1996, the hotel remains as reminiscent of Wright’s style today as it was in 1929, though it’s much larger and has all the latest amenities. Lobby and guest room furnishings are Mission-style oak pieces, and fabrics are soothing hues of beige and cream. In contrast to the sunburst of vivid geraniums, lush grass and turquoise pools that awaits outside, the high-ceilinged lobby seems refreshingly dim and cool.

The only existing hotel in the world with a Frank Lloyd Wright-influenced design, The Arizona Biltmore has been an Arizona landmark since its opening on Feb. 23, 1929 when it was crowned “The Jewel of the Desert.” The resort’s design was inspired by consulting architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who collaborated with former student Albert Chase McArthur.

Perhaps the most obvious and dramatic design link to Wright is the use of indigenous materials that led to the creation of the “Biltmore Block.” The pre-cast concrete blocks were molded on-site and used in the total construction of the resort. Designed by Emry Kopta, a prominent southwestern sculptor, the “Biltmore Block” features a geometric pattern inspired by a palm tree.

Did you know that the famed song composer Irving Berlin penned many tunes, including “White Christmas” while sitting poolside at the Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa?

In 1930, when the estimated $1 million construction cost doubled, Chicago chewing gum magnate William Wrigley, Jr., one of the original investors in the project, became the sole owner. Over the next 44 years, the Wrigley family owned and operated the Arizona Biltmore and it became world renowned as the preferred luxury oasis for celebrities, heads of state, captains of industry and other famous travelers.

In May of 1973, the Wrigley family sold the Biltmore to Talley Industries, which closed the resort for renovations that summer. During the installation of a new sprinkler system, a welding torch ignited the gold leaf ceiling in the main lobby resulting in a six-alarm fire. Taliesin Associated Architects (of Taliesin West) was commissioned to design and supervise the construction of the damaged floors, and a renovation of the resort. As in 1929, concrete blocks were molded on-site; patterns from the early 1920s were woven into carpets ordered from Ireland, and designs for furniture, fabrics and murals were selected with the integrity of the architecture in mind. The project was completed in a record 82 days and the result was a finer, more complete hotel than had previously existed.

In 1975, under Talley Industries’ ownership, the first major expansion took place with the opening of the 90-room Paradise Wing. This expansion continued over the next seven years with the addition of the 120-room Valley Wing and a 39,000-square-foot Conference Center in 1979. In 1982, the 109-room Terrace Court opened. Another renovation was completed in 1987 which included the remodeling of 120 guestrooms throughout the main building in addition to the East and Garden Wings. A year later, the historic cottages were also refurbished.

The most comprehensive renovation to date began when the previous owner, Grossman Company Properties, a Phoenix based development firm, purchased the resort in 1992 and began a three-phase, $50 million project which was completed in January 1996. Refurbished by Barry Design Associates of Los Angeles, guest rooms and suites pay homage to Frank Lloyd Wright in their mission-style furnishings, desert palette (tones of beige, sand, and ivory) and lamps which recall a 1930’s flair. The Villas, a luxury residential complex was added along with restaurants, a state-of-the-art kitchen and the Paradise Pool complex featuring a 92-foot-long water slide and 23 cabanas. New meeting space included the Pavilion, a 15,000 square-foot facility. An 18-hole championship putting course was also added.

In January 1998, a 20,000 square-foot Arizona Biltmore Spa, fitness center and full-service beauty salon opened. The newest addition, the new Arizona Wing, features 120 new guest rooms, an Olympic-sized swimming pool and two new meeting rooms. The resort boasts 734 guest rooms and is the largest resort in Arizona.

With the opening of the Frank Lloyd Wright Ballroom in July, 2003, the Arizona Biltmore became one of Arizona’s largest meeting and event venues. The new ballroom, the state’s second largest hotel ballroom with 25,000 square feet, was the highlight of a $25 million renovation and expansion of the meeting facilities that increased dedicated indoor function space to more than 100,000 square feet. The project also included converting the tented Pavilion into the 15,000-square-foot McArthur Ballroom. Both new facilities were constructed in the original Wright style.

Thanks to conscientious owners who have been committed to preserving its architectural integrity, the resort is, in many ways, more “Wrightian” than when it was built. And, throughout the years, the Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa has set the standard for elegance and style. It continues to attract celebrities and dignitaries from around the world and is frequently honored with awards and accolades, including the Urban Land Institute “Heritage Award of Excellence” which the resort received for its architectural integrity, landscaping, and above all, quality of service.

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Historical Information Courtesy In Part by:
The Arizona Biltmore Hotel

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