This is the Arizona Biltmore, an iconic, remarkable, unique resort in the Valley of the Sun. I’ve stayed here, in fact, in the room on the third floor, behind the blue umbrella, at the tower.
Where to begin? This resort is unlike anything in Phoenix, or for that matter, the world. Inspired and partially designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, it is architecturally unique. There is almost nothing about this resort that isn’t remarkable.
The bricks – concrete, made to keep the buildings cool. The Alice in Wonderland sized chess set. Garden sprites. Copper ceiling. The Kiva inspired ball room. Murals in the conference hall, depicting and honoring the first Arizonans, and the descendants.
Albert Chase McArthur was the architect, although not as well known as Frank Lloyd Wright. Wright would consult on the property, which opened in 1929. This post card is from 1949, 20 years after opening.
Frank Lloyd Wright believed that humans need outdoor space in which to move. And that we need lots of space. He also believed there should be minimal delineation between open areas and closed space. This resort embodies those values. Spaces flow outdoors, indoors, in between doors. Even the rooms in the old building open onto patios, balconies Bricks were fashioned after the ubiquitous, although not native, palm tree.
Today, architectural design follows many of his ideas – flowing space, absent rigid borders between inside and out. The central courtyard invites one to sit, read, contemplate, enjoy the sun.
The hotel was so important, so remarkable – it hosts Marilyn Monroe’s favorite swimming pool. Many US Presidents vacationed here.
The postcard – once again – is all about color. The concrete gray of the building is a backdrop to the umbrellas, lawn furniture and the Arizona sunset.
The sunset alone is a study in colors. I often dream of capturing just one of those shades of salmon, or pink or fading blue and painting a room that color. Then I realize that it is not just the color, but it is the radiance of the light. Luminescent, transcendent desert light.
The post card states simply “Saw December 27, 1949 with Miss Thomas.” Who is Miss Thomas and who is the person who wrote the card? The handwriting feels feminine to me. But there is a formality that I could assign to a gentleman, who took a lady there for a lunch, or tea. Perhaps Miss Thomas was the young hostess for a woman visiting, who was senior in social status?
And then, just to make this more fun, there is the Mystery Room, or as it was known during the time period, the Men’s Smoking Room. During Prohibition, the Arizona Biltmore had a speakeasy, hidden away behind a very regular door where drinks were served. It remains a little mysterious fun – not generally open and not easy to find. It is accessed by going to the concierge and asking, and, if the room is open, the guest is taken on a circuitous route to the room. When last I was there, it still felt and smelled a little like a speakeasy. Out of the way, and with stories about signal lights in case the police were on their way.
It is widely reported that Irving Berlin wrote “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” while sitting by the famous pool. In 1930, William Wrigley, of chewing gum fame bought the resort and built the famous pool. This pool hosted diving competitions, fashion shows and celebrities. And there postcard memorializing all of these things.
A comment on the card. This is a hand colored, linen card. These were very popular duing the 19th century. Hand-coloring was the most cost effective way to color these cards. Photographs were taken, the cards were printed on lovely, textured stock and then hand colored by craftsmen. These cards feel rich, important, meaningful.
And here we are – another spectacular sunset, color, and the people who visited, picked up the postcard and, in this case, made a simple note. I imagine this kept in an album for years, a reminder of a magical place and, I hope a magical time. I believe that many visitors find this same magic.