Monday, June 15, 2009

Memorial Day at the Arizona Biltmore

I found a special deal at the Arizona Biltmore resort in Phoenix, Arizona for Memorial Day Weekend. The resort was celebrating its 80th birthday by providing rooms for $80/night. Having visited the resort during our stay in Scottsdale in March, it was a deal that we could not pass up.

The Arizona Biltmore was built in 1929 by the McArthur Brothers. One of their nephews, Albert Chase McArthur, is the architect on record. Frank Lloyd Wright was a consultant on the project for a few months in 1928, and the building looks and feels like a Wright creation (he is often mis-credited as being the architect of the resort). McArthur had studied under Wright for a few years after graduating from Harvard. In 1930, following the stock market crash, the McArthur brothers were forced to sell their shares of the resort to the chief financier, William Wrigley, Jr. One of his vacation homes is pictured here (it sits on a hill overlooking the property). The entire project had a Chicago connection, as Wrigley, the McArthurs and Wright were all from Chicago and forged their relationships there.

The property remained under Wrigley's private ownership until his family sold the property to the Talley family in 1970. During this time, it was invitation only and hosted many movie stars, athletes, and every sitting U.S. President from Herbert Hoover onward. Each sitting President has continued to stay at the Arizona Biltmore to this day (Obama has not yet, but he will receive an invitation shortly). Ronald and Nancy Reagan honeymooned there in 1952 and visited many times afterward. In the 1930's and 1940's, invitees typically moved their families to the resort for several months at a time - often October through April. Everything needed to sustain a family was on the grounds - restaurants, clothing stores, drugstore, doctor, barber, etc. There were rooms for the nannys, drivers, butlers and other servants that would accompany the family to the Arizona Biltmore.

Friday night, David (a friend of Rachel's from high school) and Dani Latimer took us to a really cool bar called The Vic. It had outdoor seating and was awesome (even though the days were heating up, nights still cooled off into the low 70's). It was great to hang out with David and Dani again. They are both hilarious and a blast to hang out with.

Saturday morning, Rachel and I took the organized history tour of the resort, which is where I obtained most of the facts I am spewing forth in this blog. This shot is taken from the patio on the 2nd floor. Interestingly, the original search light of the hotel is still mounted just above where this shot was taken. In the 1930's, the hotel was 8 miles outside of the city limits (the city has sense sprawled all around it. The search light was used to show guests where the hotel was located. During Prohibition, the search light also served an additional purpose. The cigar room, where the liquor was hidden, had a moon roof. If a line of cars was seen speeding up the road from Phoenix towards the resort, the search light operator would swing the light across the moon roof, alerting those imbibing alcohol that a raid was imminent. The liquor would be hidden and the social group would disperse before the authorities arrived.

A view through the courtyard.

This is a picture of our cottage, which overlooked the courtyard area.

This is a picture of the courtyard area. It was really pretty, especially with the mountains in the background at sunset. The restaurants, bar, clothing stores, etc. surrounded the courtyard. In the evenings, kids would play on the grounds, while families ate outdoors at the restaurants. It was really kind of cool to see and a great place to people watch.

It was especially funny to watch some of the younger kids play in the area. They were drawn towards this fountain, and almost always came away wet.

Above is a nice panoramic video of the courtyard area with all of the stores and restuarants.

This is a framed photo of the resort in 1930, soon after it opened. At that time, it still was a desert. Phoenix, Arizona is perhaps the most inefficient consumer of water on earth. If you are an environmentalist, chances are that you hate Phoenix and Las Vegas. Water is transferred through open air aquaducts from the Colorado River to Phoenix (the evaporation rate has to be HUGE, as there is no tree cover for the transfer). Grass is everywhere at all of the resorts in Phoenix and Scottsdale, meaning that a great deal of this water goes to upkeep of grass that would not naturally be there otherwise. While it is beautiful, it is certainly wasteful. The landscape in the surrounding area is so unique, it would still be beautiful without all of the lush grass and palm trees.

This is a picture of one of the gardens on the premises. There are amazing flower gardens all over the grounds.

The lobby is really cool and exhibits the Frank Lloyd Wright influence with the low lighting and horizontalism. This shot looks down over the front desk area (the bar is in the distance). In the 1970's, a guest called the front desk and complained that the bar customers were being too loud. The front desk worker told the guest to open their door and shout over the bannister at the bar patrons. When the guest looked over the balcony to the bar, he saw that the rucos was coming from a few of the guests singing at the piano in the bar. It was Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin and Liza Minelli. He did not go to bed; he came downstairs. In the 1990's, the hotel pianist saw Billy Joel sitting atthe bar. He began playing only Elton John songs until Billy Joel got up from his seat and joined him at the piano. This bar is also the birthplace of the original tequila sunrise (1940's). Interestingly, the original recipe does not contain orange juice.

The Arizona Biltmore has several pools. This is a photo of the Catalina pool, which is one of the original pools at the resort. Marilyn Monroe once remarked that this was her favorite pool in the world.

This is a picture of some of the "corporate" rooms adjacent to the Catalina Pool. These condos are 2 bedroom, 1500 square foot dwellings.

The highlight of our trip was meeting up with Charlie and Dana Outlaw, their daughter, Amanda, and Pete Symonds. They happened to be vacationing in Arizona at the same time we were there. We had dinner with them both Friday and Saturday night. I worked indirectly for Charlie when I was with Eastman Chemical. They have been good friends of ours for a very long time. We had not seen each other in over 3 years, so it was great to catch up with them.

Saturday, we worked it out where Amanda could come over and play at our main pool before we went to dinner. The main pool has an awesome water slide for the kids. Of course, after Amanda rode it, the big kids - Rachel, Charlie, Pete and I rode the slide with her several more times. It was a lot of fun. The video above is of Amanda coming down the slide on her first run.


The Arizona Biltmore serves high tea every day at 2 PM October through May. They have done this since the hotel opened in 1929. Rachel and I made a reservation for Sunday (the last day tea was offered for the season). Three courses were served - appetizers (pictured here), scones and pound cake, and deserts.

Rachel enjoyed a nice southern mint tea.

The highlight of my meal was the quail egg. Those of you who know us well, know that Rachel and I often spend our Sunday afternoons watching The Food Network as we work around the house. In my numerous hours of Food Network viewing, I have learned that quail eggs are the quintessential ingredient for a true 5-Star meal. All of the Iron Chefs use quail eggs frequently, and although I have never seen my hero, Guy Fieri, adorn a pile of fried goodness with a quail egg, I fully expect him to any episode. Rachel summed up the quail egg concisely, "Ummm... it tastes like a little deviled egg."

Me enjoying my sensible Earl Grey Tea. It is particularly difficult for a guy as big as me to get my fat fingers through the handle on a tea cup. I learned to love tea time during the summer I lived in England. Having tea at the Arizona Biltmore made me think back fondly to having tea at Frank's and Liz's in Liverpool. High tea is a tradition that America should adopt more universally from our English friends. It is social; it is relaxing; and if you lay off of the crumpets, it is relatively healthy.