White ChristmAZ (hint: there’s no snow involved)

By Courtney Drake-McDonough

No doubt there were brilliant blue skies, palm trees swaying, children frolicking in the swimming pool and a frou-frou drink within reach as Irving Berlin tapped into his creative side poolside at the Arizona Biltmore Hotel.  Berlin may have been wishing for a white Christmas but I’m betting he was more than happy to be Arizona Biltmore exterior: The Arizona Biltmore Hotel, known as the “Jewel of the Desert.” Photo courtesy The Arizona Biltmore Hotel.right where he was, in a historic, glamorous hotel frequented by celebrities.  Not much has changed over the years. Today, the Arizona Biltmore Hotel is still considered the “Jewel of the Desert,” as fitting for celebrities as it is for a family with kiddos in tow, especially during the holiday season. 

Palm trees everywhere you look

The unique-ness of the Arizona Biltmore starts its consulting architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. He collaborated with a former student, Albert Chase McArthur, the architect of record and brother of the resort’s original owners Charles and Warren McArthur (wealthy Chicagoans drawn to the desert who also owned the local Dodge franchise). It was Wright’s first hotel project and today is the only remaining hotel in the world with a Frank Lloyd Wright inspired design. Before setting foot inside the hotel, the exterior is eye-catching due to its construction using “Biltmore Blocks,” a variation on a textile block first used by Wright in private homes. The pre-cast blocks were made onsite from desert sand, inspired by the trunk of a palm tree. In a salute to Arizona being the Copper State, the hotel’s Lawn: Here’s a fine place for toasting marshmallows on the Squaw Peak Lawn with Squaw Peak in the background. Photo courtesy CDM Communications.roof was adorned with copper. The lobby’s gold-leaf ceiling was, those 82 years ago, the second largest in the world after the Taj Mahal. It was Arizona’s first resort and sparked their tourism industry. But construction costs started to mount and the McArthur brothers lost the hotel to chewing-gum magnate William Wrigley, Jr. For the next 43 years, the Wrigley family owned and operated the Arizona Biltmore Hotel, honing its reputation as a luxurious destination for important people.

World War II and the Depression didn’t make a dent in the success of the place. Prohibition simply gave rise to a clever “mystery room,” a men’s-only smoking room where precious bottles of liquor were hidden behind trick bookshelves. A roof-top spotlight that served to both draw guests to the hotel but also to warn the men about approaching police raids which would send them scurrying through secret tunnels back to their rooms. Oh, those naughty fellows!

Pool:  The Paradise Pool, one of eight swimming pools at The Arizona Biltmore Hotel. Photo courtesy CDM Communications.Playground of the famous
Irving Berlin was in good celebrity company at the Arizona Biltmore Hotel. Over the years celebs including Fred Astaire, Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra, Elizabeth Taylor, Julia Child, Kate Spade, George Clooney and Steven Spielberg have walked through the doors. As have every U.S. President since Hoover. Marilyn Monroe declared the Catalina Pool to be her very favorite swimming pool. 

Is that Santa by the pool?

Today, the Arizona Biltmore Hotel sits on 39 acres at the foot of the Phoenix Mountain Preserve with 740 guest accommodations, a full-service spa, salon and fitness center; two 18-hole golf courses, six restaurants and lounges and eight, count ‘em, eight swimming pools. Imagine getting away for the holidays (make it a destination for family from around the country), letting someone else do all of the cooking and cleaning while you relax, get pampered, wined and dined and make new memories for the holidays.Chess: Life-size game of checkers, anyone? Photo courtesy CDM Communications.

To help that along, The Arizona Biltmore is offering a Holiday Cheer Package through January 6 with rates starting at $189 per night. The deal includes goodies like the hotel’s annual holiday ornament, sales on retail and spa services, multi-course holiday meals and plenty of activities for the kids including marshmallow roasting, story time, mailing letters to Santa and visits with Mr. & Mrs. Claus. Use booking code “CHEER” when making reservations online at www.arizonabiltmore.com or by calling 800-950-0086. 


While a white Christmas has its charms, I’d trade scraping ice off of car windows and dressing in layers for a swimsuit under the shade of a palm tree. Mr. Berlin was a really wise man. The golden-ceiling of the Arizona Biltmore Hotel catches the light of the lobby decked out for the holidays. Photo courtesy The Arizona Biltmore Hotel.


Courtney Drake-McDonough is a Denver-based writer, editor and photographer who writes for www.InGoodTasteDenver.com. For ideas for diversions while staying at the Arizona Biltmore Hotel, visit the blog’s related posts:
Weekend in Arizona: Taliesin West.
Weekend in Arizona: The Musical Instrument Museum
Weekend in Arizona: Food!

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