Outside staircases and courtyards are part of the design of Lodge on the Desert. Alison Gardner
Tucson is one of those special places where character accommodations hold a proud place in this gracious desert city of half a million. On a recent visit to this popular vacation haunt, I discovered four quite different examples of Arizona’s colorful past in a region steeped with Indian, Spanish, and American history. If some of those old walls could talk, would they have stories to tell!
You might say that the Arizona Inn couldn’t have opened at a worse time, but then that’s exactly why it did open. It was the beginning of the Great Depression, and disabled ex-servicemen were suffering extreme poverty. Prominent social leader, Isabella Greenway, spearheaded a program to train them to make beautiful furniture, but finding a market to sell it was a challenge. Never one to allow obstacles to get in the way of a good idea, Isabella decided to build Tucson’s first resort hotel and furnish it with the fine furniture of the veterans-turned-craftsmen.
A taste of the Arizona Inn’s 14 acres of mature, manicured grounds. Arizona Inn
An Arizona Inn master carpenter continues furniture restoration. Arizona Inn
Isabella’s natural skills as a hostess (and later Arizona’s first congresswoman) soon translated into equally powerful entrepreneurial skills as an hotelier. The Arizona Inn’s early clientele read like the Who’s Who of America, though true to a tradition staunchly maintained through the years, the names of visitors, past and present, are never publicized. From its opening day in 1930, “privacy, quiet and sunshine” have been among the inn’s many attractions. Guests quickly feel as though they too have been co-opted into a gracious environment that is far more like a home than an 80-room inn.
Set in a perfectly manicured 14-acre garden, the Arizona Inn has had an enviable history of love and dedication through three generations of the same family. Present owner and Greenway granddaughter, Patty Doar, is a dedicated keeper of the Inn’s family history and traditions.
The Royal Elizabeth Bed & Breakfast Inn is located a couple of miles away in the heart of Tucson’s downtown Arts District. Stepping from the bustling street into the inn’s elegantly-pillared foyer with trapeze-height ceilings, you cannot help but feel splendid and, indeed, high-flying just standing there. However, the Royal Elizabeth did not always wear its history so well.
In the heart of Tucson, recently restored Royal Elizabeth B&B Inn is within walking distance of historic, cultural and culinary treats. Royal Elizabeth B&B
A suite includes a charming Victorian sitting room. Alison Gardner
Built in 1878 as Tucson’s frontier history unfolded, this Victorian adobe mansion served as the fashionable home of a prominent judge whose family members occupied it well into their old age. Over time the building fell into a sorry state, broken into tiny low income apartments and rooms for rent. Ceilings were dropped from 15 feet or more right down to eight feet to conserve heat, hiding, yet preserving, much of its elegant past.
When a Colorado home renovator saw this derelict delight in 1998, it was love at first sight. In short order, a building that local people viewed as a worthless pile of demolishable junk was polished into one of the city’s rarest gems. Today it is proud to be among the top 5 urban B&Bs in the United States for business travel according to USA Today.
Each of the Royal Elizabeth’s six suites has a distinct interior design, featuring period antiques, plush Victorian décor, and intimate private seating areas. Present owners, Jeff DiGregorio and Chuck Bressi, are the perfect personal hosts offering sumptuous breakfasts in the elegant columned dining room plus a wealth of information about Tucson’s major attractions.
Situated on the edge of Tucson a short drive into the vista-rich hills that flank one side of the city, the Hacienda del Sol Guest Ranch Resort started life as an exclusive girls school in 1929. Names like Pillsbury, Spalding, Maxwell, and Kellogg in the student records clearly indicate that the school attracted the wealthiest and most prominent families in America, entrusting their daughters to what was then largely a desert wilderness.
The school was converted to a hotel in the 1940s, then suffered bankruptcy and neglect until purchased by five local business people who in 1990 joined forces to rescue the property from a developer with condo-colony intentions. Bringing a variety of professional talents to the mix, they collectively restored the Hacienda to its present elegance. Yet another labor of love brought back from the brink!
Though just minutes from downtown Tucson, Hacienda del Sol interfaces with Nature at its most rugged. Hacienda del Sol
Hacienda rooms feature a playful Southwest artistry. Hacienda del Sol
Today the Hacienda re-captures the square adobe look that harks back to Spanish colonial architecture of the 18th and 19th centuries. Thirty art-filled guest rooms fringe attractively landscaped courtyards laced with fine sculpture and fountains.
The present owners have remained true to original designs and even, where possible, original furnishings. Yes, alumni still visit from time to time to check on their alma mater, and sample the world-class southwestern cuisine served up in a classic dining room which overlooks a narrow canyon and deeply shadowed hills close enough to touch. A far cry from their boarding school fare!
The Lodge on the Desert with its classic adobe plaster exterior is neither in nor out of town, really requiring a set of wheels to explore the city and surrounding county conveniently. Starting in 1936, one family followed their hospitality dream through numerous hotel additions and renovations over the next 60 years. Under new ownership since 1997, the spacious manicured grounds remain a colorful signature of the property, and plans are afoot to expand both the gourmet-style restaurant and renovate more room facilities.
The 35 rooms and suites of this “Urban Oasis” sport a different style from the other properties: lean furnishings with lots of leather and dark hewn wood in a more western colonial style. An intriguing element of many rooms are the mural-style wall scenes and faux-furniture – from life-like vases with flowers to full size tables and chairs.
Faux-furniture is a favorite art theme in rooms at Lodge on the Desert. Alison Gardner
Clearly, Tucson’s historic hotels are a vibrant part of the city’s accommodation mix. Their collective size, repeat clientele and impressively high occupancy rates year round prove the point. After sampling one of these beauties, it’s hard to get excited about a generic hotel room ever again. Character counts.
Tucson Visitors Bureau, www.visittucson.org
Arizona Inn, www.arizonainn.com
Royal Elizabeth Bed & Breakfast Inn, www.royalelizabeth.com
Hacienda del Sol Guest Ranch Resort, www.haciendadelsol.com
Lodge on the Desert, www.lodgeonthedesert.com
Looking for more Arizona Vacation ideas? Check out our richly illustrated features spotlighting Arizona’s all-inclusive multi-day wellness holiday at Miraval Life in Balance Resort, and a stimulating list of suggestions for Learning Vacations in Arizona.
Alison Gardner is a travel journalist, magazine editor, guidebook author, and consultant. She specializes in researching alternative vacations throughout the world, suitable for people over 50 and for women travelers of all ages. She is also the publisher and editor of Travel with a Challenge Web magazine.