It’s good to dream about your fantasy hotels, the places you’d love to visit if you had unlimited wealth and leisure time.
The Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix is one of the hotels I’d most like to stay, mainly because I’m a huge fan of Frank Lloyd Wright, the American architect who inspired its design.
It’s a hotel built for Hollywood stars, senators, celebrities and the extremely rich.
Famous film stars like Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Fred Astaire, John Wayne, Liza Minnelli and Sophia Loren are pictured along the hotel’s corridors.
As ever, I have visions – or perhaps that should be delusions – of staying in this grand, old hotel, wandering around its stunningly beautiful gardens and lounging by one of its eight swimming pools.
It’s a temple to glorious design and Art Deco style. Aesthetically, I love the hotel’s unusual yet simple exterior, the formal gardens and sculptures, the elegant lobby and arty ballroom.
There’s just one problem – this comes at a price beyond my means. In fact, I can’t even afford the Louis Vuitton baggage to take with me to live the dream!
The Biltmore first opened its doors in February 1929 and was nicknamed ‘The Jewel of the Desert’.
It became renowned as a luxury oasis for celebrities, politicians, business leaders and famous travellers.
So what’s the Wright connection?
The resort was designed by Albert Chase McArthur, who had studied under Frank Lloyd Wright in Chicago during the early 1900s.
Wright’s influence is to seen everywhere in the hotel including the lobby which bears his trademark American Prairie style.
The cost of building the hotel was estimated at $2 million in 1930, a huge amount for the time.
Frank Lloyd Wright spent four months on site in 1928 consulting on the masonry construction and his signature is stamped on almost every aspect of the hotel’s design.
Wright’s biggest contribution was the so-called Biltmore Block design, used in the exterior brickwork which has an unusual geometric pattern which is supposed to represent a palm tree.
These pre-cast concrete blocks were designed by McArthur and sculpted by Emry Kopta.
Other Wright influences abound.
A stained glass window, entitled Sahuaros, is based on a design by Wright for a Liberty Magazine cover in 1926, and was made by Taliesin students (from Wright’s original studio) during the hotel’s 1973 renovation.
The renovation also included the conversion of the tented Pavilion into the huge McArthur Ballroom and the creation of the impressive Frank Wright Ballroom, both designed in the original Wright style.
Stars and songs
Fantasy hotels always have fabulous stories of people who’ve stayed in them down the years – and the Biltmore is no exception.
The Paradise Pool was built in 1930 by the owner, William Wrigley Junior (the chewing gum magnate, no less), and hosted diving competitions and fashion shows.
It was a haunt of glamorous starlets and movie icons. Marilyn Monroe declared it her favorite pool – and you can imagine her posing on the lounge chairs by the private cabanas.
How I would love to recreate that picture in my bikini (minus Marilyn’s curves)!
Another poolside visitor was the composer Irving Berlin who penned White Christmas while sitting by the pool during a winter stay.
It’s surreal to imagine Berlin writing his classic paen to snow and Santa Claus whilst lounging in the scorching desert heat during an Arizona winter, far from his home in New York.
President John F Kennedy and Jacky Kennedy were visitors in the 1960s. A black and white photograph of them playing tennis at the Biltmore hangs in one of the hotel’s maze of corridors.
In recent years politicians such as George W. Bush (with high level security entourage and sniffer dogs), John McCain and Sarah Palin have been overnighters.
For me, the Biltmore is a little piece of paradise in the heart of the city ‘desert’.
There’s something for everyone. Golfers can enjoy an 18-hole championship course whilst a new Olympic-sized swimming pool is ideal for Olympians like Michael Phelps or Rebecca Adlington.
At this hotel there’s no excuse for not keeping fit, well buffed and over-indulged!
Today the hotel boasts 740 guest rooms and it’s easy to get lost in its vast interior even if you’re a casual visitor to the lobby and restaurants.
The Biltmore creates an impression of vastness and grandeur… and there’s a sense of classic 1930s style with numerous clubs – the Paradise Club, the Cabana Club and the Biltmore Athletic Club, to name a few.
Take a walk in the grounds. You’ll discover acres of stunning gardens with desert blooms that make you believe you’ve woken up in an exotic paradise.
Wright’s designs also live on in the gardens. Reproductions of the geometric ‘sprite’ statues designed by sculptor Iannelli for Wright’s 1915 Midway Gardens in Chicago are located around the property.
The whole experience is beautiful and awe-inspiring.
Sadly I didn’t get to see any of the bedrooms so I have to rely on fellow travellers who say that some of the guest rooms are a little on the small side.
They recommend the spacious Cottage Rooms or the impressive Presidential Suite…
When I win the Lottery, I’ll be straight back for a two week stay – with my Louis Vuitton bags!