DescriptionOne of the Valley's premier destinations for generations, The Arizona Biltmore has always been a playground for the rich and famous. Surrounded by miles of desert when originally built but now in the center of the Phoenix landscape, many suspect the Biltmore's architecture was Frank Lloyd Wright's. The construction of the Biltmore sparked the Arizona tourism industry, and to this day tourists are drawn to its beautiful grounds.
In 1929, the Arizona Biltmore resort was born in the hot, dry desert north of Phoenix. Then as now, this oasis was known as the jewel of the desert, in whose very existence was symbolized the potential of a gracious life in the midst of an arid, uncultivated landscape. It sparked the development of Arizona's tourism industry. But more than that, it stands as a testament to the power of architecture.
Now, here's a building which is built with concrete exposed, no marble, no plaster, no faux finishes, no fanciness. It's the unquestioned symbol of appropriate design, the unquestioned symbol of living elegantly, and it does it by greatness rather than exaggeration. One of the great legacies of the Biltmore, one of its striking messages is this thing which we refer to as architecture is actually real. It's not a matter of opinion or taste. It's not a matter of fanciness or budgets. It's a matter of appealing to the human instinct for beauty.
If mysticism indeed imbues the Biltmore's design, it is due to the architect on record, Albert Chase McArthur, and his collaborator and teacher, Frank Lloyd Wright.
Construction of the resort was costly, and McArthur's brothers, who originally owned the hotel, lost it the year after completion to chewing-gum Magnate William Wrigley, Jr. controversy remains as to the extent of Wright's contribution to the design. His influence is evident in many ways, but specifically in the Biltmore block, pre-cast blocks made from desert sand on site.
Everybody agrees that Wright worked on this building. There's no question about that. Everybody agrees that Albert Chase McArthur and he came to a parting of the ways, and so the whole question is what did he do while he was working on it? And those of us who feel strongly about some understanding of Wright's philosophy and the expression of his architecture just see the unmistakable imprint of his designs. It was also a very gracious establishment in those days, and I think that enriched the community because people were able to enjoy that way of life when they came here.
Mae Sue Talley:
When Mr. Wrigley owned it and when we owned it, it was the number-one resort in the nation. It was the only five-star hotel in Arizona. So of course wealthy people sought the best, and when they saw the Biltmore was the number- one resort in the United States, they came here. Also, there was a very loyal following in the early days, mainly when Mr. Wrigley owned it, of eastern families who would come and spend the bulk of the winter. They would take one of the cottages or a suite. They enjoyed the wonderful. Clean air we had then. It was open spaces. It was beautiful desert, 1,200 acres of open land all around the hotel, as well as – there wasn't much beyond it in those days. So it had a special magic. I mean, people really loved coming and enjoying that.
In 1973, the Biltmore caught fire shortly after the Wrigley family sold the hotel to Talley industries. Rather than raze the cherished Arizona institution, the Talleys decided to rebuild.
Mae Sue Talley:
Up until that time, all the resorts in Phoenix basically closed for the summer, which was the Biltmore's pattern. So it was closed when the fire started. Price Waterhouse was the first convention that was booked in for September 23rd. And so a decision had to be made whether to go into high gear, three shifts a day and get the hotel ready, which meant horrendous expense and effort, Or to miss a whole season. And so a decision was made to restore the hotel quickly. We did somehow manage to finish it. They were laying the carpet in the lobby at 3:00 a.m. the morning that we opened for our first guests to come.
Today the hotel is under new management, but the jewel still sparkles, and the legends endure of the place where Irving Berlin wrote "White Christmas," where guests could get around prohibition, where a multitude of celebrities and politicians continue to stay. The Arizona Biltmore is not overtly lavish or especially exclusive. It is simply one-of-a-kind.
Mae Sue Talley:
There's only one Biltmore, and it's that -- because it's authentic, it's genuine. It's of the place. It's of the time. It's true to its sense of materials. It has a sense of space which is not about grandeur or bigness but about responding to the human scale, human feelings. And when that occurs, wherever. It is on the face of the earth, it endures.