Arizona Biltmore : The Jewel of the Desert

Arizona Biltmore

I was fascinated with The Arizona Biltmore, when I learnt about the history and the unique art works at the resort so decided to join the resort’s tour to understand the resort’s secrets, read on to see how my fascination with the hotel is justified and why it is called the Jewel of the Desert.

The Biltmore is an architectural masterpiece, showcasing the influence of America’s most heralded architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. As the consulting architect, Wright collaborated with a former student, Albert Chase McArthur to build this beautiful space. Wright’s dramatic style is imbedded throughout the resort’s design. The Biltmore was erected entirely of “Biltmore Block“, a variation on a textile block first used by Wright to construct private homes. The pre-cast blocks were made from desert sand on-site and created in 34 different geometric patterns inspired by the trunk of a palm tree. You can see these blocks everywhere!

Aztec Room at the Arizona BiltmoreAztec Room with copper beams and gold leaf ceiling was the hotel’s original Ballroom, these days wedding are held here

Gold room at the Arizona Biltmore
The Gold Room, the resort’s original main dining room with the gold leaf ceiling which is currently available as an event space

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. 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.

Key to the Arizona Biltmore

Invitations to the opening were sent to 600 people with the expectation that not everyone would be able to attend. When almost everyone accepted, 200 invitations were cancelled and the opening spread over 3 days to accommodate everyone. On opening day, Scenic Airlines flew over the hotel and dropped a wooden key and a dozen roses on the roof of the ballroom. The key is on display above the fireplace in the History Room. The Wrigley’s owned the hotel for 44 years. During that time, the hotel was not open to the general public, invitations were sent to movie stars and other famous people for a stay at the resort.

Designed in 1914 by Frank Lloyd Wright for the Midway Gardens in Chicago, the Sprites were sculpted by an Italian artist named Alfonso Ianelli. These geometric architectural statues purpose was adorning and watching over Midway Gardens, once a center for premier entertainment, fine food and music on Chicago’s lakefront. 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, the story is that some farmers found them in the fields in Michigan. 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.

This stained glass welcoming guest at the Arizona Biltmore lobby titled “Saguaro Forms and Cactus Flowers” was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright for a magazine cover for Liberty Magazine in 1926 and was executed by Taliesin students and installed during the 1973 hotel renovations and restoration.

Legend of the Sun

Legend of the Sun Painting by Maynard Dixon, a 20th-century American artist whose body of work focused on the American West. This painting was done on Belgian Linen

Warrior Twins Painting worth a million dollars in value adorn the walls Gold room of the Arizona Biltmore.

Another interesting fact – there was a room at the Biltmore that became known as the Mystery Room. It was where the men went to smoke cigars and have a drink. This was during the days of Prohibition. The bar was behind a revolving bookcase. A beacon light atop the hotel, officially put there to light the way for guests, would be turned on and flashed on the skylight of the Mystery Room when police cars approached. When guests in the room saw that light, they would return to their rooms through secret passageways. Neither the hidden bar or the secret passageways exist today, although the Mystery Room has been renovated in a style reminiscent of that era.
Today the Arizona Biltmore is a Waldorf Astoria Resort managed by Hilton and is owned by the Government of Singapore. The 39-acre resort offers 740 guest accommodations, a 22,000-square-foot spa, 8 swimming pools, 7 tennis courts, 2 18-hole golf courses, and 6 restaurants and bars. It has just completed a multi-million dollar renovation. We didn’t stay at the resort but stopped by for the tour and had our Afternoon Tea when we were visiting Arizona.

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