The Biltmore Hotel was crowned the “Jewel of the Desert” when it opened in 1929. Once surrounded by a sea of empty desert it is now boxed in by time shares, condos and malls. Click here to see another entrance detail.
The Arizona Biltmore — Jewel of the Desert
The Arizona Biltmore is steeped in history, glamour and mystery. Who could resist stories of secret rooms during Prohibition or that songwriter Irving Berlin composed “White Christmas" while poolside in 1941 or the hotel’s connection to an iconic cocktail … the Tequila Sunrise. From the day it opened, the Biltmore’s glamour and grandeur has been a magnet for the rich and famous. There is even a display in the lobby that proclaims that every president since Hubert Hoover has stayed here. The front lawn of the Biltmore was the location of John McCain's concession speech at the conclusion of the 2008 presidential campaign.
(Note: You can click on most photos on this page and the next for a larger view.)
What really brought us to the Biltmore, wasn’t the hotel's stories and anecdotes but the Frank Lloyd Wright inspired architecture. Although only a consultant on the project (one of his students, Albert Chase McArthur is the architect of record) his signature design concepts are unmistakable. Click here to learn more hotel's history.
Perhaps the most obvious and dramatic design link to Wright is the use of local materials especially the on site production of what became known as the “Biltmore Block”, a variation on the textile block first used by Wright to construct private homes. These pre-cast blocks were made from desert sand and poured into a mold that had a decorative geometric motif … most believe the motif was inspired by palm trees.
The Biltmore was erected entirely of “Biltmore Blocks.” They were cast in several dozen variations and were rotated to create diverse geometric patterns throughout the resort. What’s remarkable is that the shadows throughout the day constantly change the appearance surface. After Wright left the project, McArthur made design changes that made the blocks merely decorative elements instead of the integral, structural part of the building… this really "ticked off" Wright and seems to be what really set in motion the riff between the two architects.
Just inside the front entry is a Frank Lloyd Wright designed stained glass panel entitled Saguaro Forms and Cactus Flowers … a gift from his widow in 1973. Mr. Wright originally created this geometric design as one of twelve covers commissioned by Liberty magazine in 1926-1927 … the designs were rejected as too radical by the publisher.
The 200 ft long hotel lobby has a shimmering gold leaf ceiling that remains second only to the Taj Mahal in size. The furniture is Wright inspired, with high backs so that groupings create what he called "a room within a room."
Glass block lights are integrated into the design to illuminate the spaces at night … they have a glowing rather than pointed light effect. To let in natural light, glass blocks are used throughout the lobby as well as other areas.
A favorite hangout for celebrities has always been the Aztec Lounge where they would gather around the piano and sing sip cocktails and watch themselves as their motion pictures’ screened. The room still has its gold leaf, domed ceiling (created with 4 inch gold leaf squares applied by hand), fireplaces and small stage.
The Gold Room with its 18 karat gold leaf ceiling was originally created as the hotel's premier dining room … and is now used for weddings and receptions. The Biltmore has long been one of the West’s favorite honeymoon spots. Some famous couples who spent their honeymoons here include Ronald and Nancy Reagan and Carole Lombard and Clark Gable.
"The Legend of Earth and Sun" an original oil on linen hanging tapestry by Maynard Dixon hangs in the Gold Room. It is worth at least 1.5 million dollars.
The Gold Room also features the 1949 Edith Hamlin companion tapestry "The Turquoise Goddess and the Warrior Twins."
The craftsman and mission-style décor is repeated in the carpeting and area rugs throughout the hotel.
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