Before the neon gateways of motels and auto courts, before the resorts, Phoenix welcomed visitors at a handful of elegant hotels. They succeeded the one-, two- and three-story hostelries mostly built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which gradually became single-room occupancy properties catering to those with few means.
All were located downtown, easily walkable for shopping, entertainment, and restaurants. They were convenient to travelers arriving by train at the Southern Pacific and Santa Fe depots, and after 1923 at Union Station. Once the town was easily accessible by rail, it attracted everyone from "health seekers" to Hollywood movie stars.
Let's take a tour.
The Hotel Adams, at Center (Central) and Adams Street, was completed in 1896, the largest and grandest hotel in the territory. Phoenix's population was only 5,000. Owner John Adams came from Chicago and twice served as Phoenix's mayor.
Here's a glamour shot of the hotel soon after its completion. Without air conditioning, its awnings, balconies, and sleeping porches helped keep guests cool in the summer. Unfortunately, the original mostly wooden building was completely destroyed by a fire in 1910. The blaze was so intense that it was fortunate — and thanks to the efforts of the young Phoenix Fire Department, that it didn't spread through downtown, becoming a Great Phoenix Fire.
After the blaze was extinguished, only rubble remained. Adams immediately began rebuilding.
It was replaced by a five-story masonry building — "absolutely fireproof" — that was not only the city's premier hotel, but the coffee shop and bar would be the unofficial meeting places of the state Legislature for decades to come. Note the railroad ticket office.
Above are taxis in the 1920s. Below is the Adams' grand lobby:
If only we could have kept and restored it. Unfortunately, the Adams was demolished in 1973 and replaced with the modernist "cheese grater" hulk that still stands today under the Renaissance nameplate (pro tip: Rename it the Hotel Adams).
Before the Luhrs Building or Tower, Prussian emigre George Luhrs bought the Commercial Hotel on the northeast corner of Central and Jefferson. He rebuilt and expanded the establishment (which dated from the late 1880s) into the elegant Luhrs Hotel. The building looked nearly as good in the 1970s, when it was demolished.
The San Carlos:
The Roaring Twenties brought more visitors, including Hollywood's elite. Phoenix, which would grow 65 percent in the decade to reach a population of more than 48,000 by 1930, badly needed new hotels. Dwight Heard bankrolled Charles Harris' plans for a major hostelry on the northwest corner of Monroe and Central, where the old Central School once stood. Los Angeles architect G. Witecross Ritchie created an Italianate masterpiece:
Opening in 1928, the luxurious San Carlos was the city's first hotel with air conditioning. It was an immediate hit. Stars who stayed there included Mae West, Carole Lombard and Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, Cary Grant, Humphrey Bogart, and Marilyn Monroe. The Hotel San Carlos remains open today after a multi-million-dollar renovation by the Melikian family. It retains its historic charm — and has a star walk. (I've never encountered the ghost). It is also the only remaining great hotel of the young city that is still in its original use.
The Westward Ho:
The San Carlos' fiercest competitor also opened in 1928, G.W. Johnson's Spanish revival Hotel Westward Ho. Originally planned as the Roosevelt Hotel, the Ho stood at 16 stories and was later topped with a radio tower. For three decades, it was the tallest building in Phoenix.
Through the 1960s, the Westward Ho not only hosted celebrities and political VIPs (including presidents Kennedy and Johnson) but was where many of the city's social events happened. Gradually, the hotel was expanded with a motor hotel, courtyard pool, and shops to the north.
The Westward Ho fell on hard times in the 1970s and was eventually turned into subsidized housing. Its loss as a premier hotel is one of Phoenix's great squandered opportunities.
The Jefferson Hotel, on the southeast corner of Jefferson and Central, where Janet Leigh had her tryst in Alfred Hitchcock's movie, Psycho. It's still there as the Barrister Building:
The Arizona Hotel at the southwest corner of Washington Street and Third Avenue. It was gone by the 1960s:
The 1896 Ford Hotel, designed by Phoenix architect William Norton, on the northeast corner of Washington and Second Avenue. It was torn down in 1969.
My book, A Brief History of Phoenix, is available to buy or order at your local independent bookstore, or from Amazon.
Read more Phoenix history in Rogue's Phoenix 101 archive.