Arizona Biltmore a Phoenix Landmark

Wright Accents to Albert Chase McArthur Design

By: - Nov 04, 2014

Wright or wrong the Arizona Biltmore which opened on February 23, 1929 in Phoenix is a remarkable landmark.

Having passed through a number of hands today the elegant destination is owned and managed by Waldorf Astoria Resorts.

The project brought Frank Lloyd Wright to Arizona as a consultant to the architect of record Charles McArthur. Several years later Wright and his Fellows starting making annual winter visits to Phoenix. On the outskirts in the then remote and barren dessert, in 1937, Wright purchased land and initiated the construction of Taliesin West which continued through his death at 91 in 1959.

The elegant Biltmore is often mistaken as a Wright building which is a stretch. It is more accurate to state that it is an impressive structure which bears his influence and design elements. Particularly in the modified use of his unique and iconic “Textile Block” construction.

Because he left college prior to graduation and went to work as an apprentice in Chicago emerging as an innovative, self taught architect he was not licensed in Arizona.

In marked contrast McArthur was Harvard trained in architecture, mathematics, engineering, and music. He obtained an architect's license in Arizona, number 338, in 1925, the year he arrived in Phoenix to begin his practice.

Part of the confusion as to who deserves credit for the Biltmore’s design comes from Wright. He wanted square blocks as opposed to McArthur's mathematically proportioned rectanglar blocks. Apparently, Wright publicly claimed credit for the building's design. In 1930 he published a letter in The Architectural Record.

“All I have done in connection with the building of the Arizona Biltmore, near Phoenix, I have done for Albert McArthur himself at his sole request, and for none other. Albert McArthur is the architect of that building—all attempts to take the credit for that performance from him are gratuitous and beside the mark. But for him, Phoenix would have had nothing like the Biltmore, and it is my hope that he may be enabled to give Phoenix many more beautiful buildings as I believe him entirely capable of doing.”

Touring the hotel there were many elements evoking Wright. Some were later additions. A stained glass piece "Saguaro Forms and Cactus Flowers" that Wright designed as a magazine cover for Liberty Magazine in 1926 was fabricated by Taliesin students and installed during the 1973 renovations.

The grand lobby has the Wright stuff. The former solarium has been reconfigured as the upscale restaurant Wright’s. We encountered furniture in the manner of the master but have not determined the mix of original and reproduction pieces.

Replicas of the signature Midway Gardens sprites, originally created by Alfonso Ianelli in 1915 are encountered at various locations in the surrounding gardens. We also noted these pieces at Taliesen West on the exterior corner of the living room next to the sunken garden.

There have been modifications over the years. In 1969 a grand ballroom, designed by Flatow, Moore & Bryan Architects, was inaugurated. There is also an adjacent parking garage.

A fire erupted on June 21, 1973 destroying interiors of large parts of the 3rd and 4th floors with water damage on the 2nd and ground floors. The hotel reopened on schedule for its regular winter season in September 1973. The prompt re-building included new custom designed carpets throughout the hotel, new furniture for guest rooms and public areas, new restaurant kitchen equipment, and renovated public interiors throughout the hotel. The rapid renovation was accomplished by Talley Industries, the general contractor, J.R. Porter Construction Co., and Taliesin Associated Architects.

The landmark hotel has changed hands a number of times.

In December 2000, Boca Resorts, Inc. sold the hotel for $335 Million to KSL Recreation, Inc. KSL retained the hotel until April 2004, when it was sold to the Orlando, Florida-based REIT, CNL Hotels & Resorts as part of the corporate acquisition of six of KSL's seven resort assets. CNL was sold to Morgan Stanley in 2007.

In 2011, lenders including Paulson & Co. Winthrop Realty Trust and Capital Trust foreclosed on 8 of the former CNL hotels. In 2013, the owners reached a deal to sell the Biltmore and three other properties to the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation. Hilton operates it as a member of the Waldorf Astoria Collection.

Once isolated in a rural setting an upscale neighborhood now surrounds the property. Even with all the upgrades and changes it is still a remarkable destination for classic American resort architecture.