They stayed for weeks—or even months.
Tucson wasn’t easy to get to back in the ‘30s. As a tiny desert city in Southern Arizona (the city’s population hovered right around 30,000 back then), the trip required taking lengthy train voyages, hauling big steamer trunks, and devoting a good chunk of time to a holiday. Getting to the Inn itself wasn’t an easy feat, either: once the trains arrived in Tucson, guests had to take a bumpy ride in a carriage or small car two miles out of town until they reached the Inn. They also had to clean out their wallets: a one-night stay in 1930 cost a mind-boggling $12, which would have been the equivalent of $316.80 today (Out of my own curiosity, I used this to approximate).
So when my husband Ryan and I went to visit the Arizona Inn last month and it took us less than ten minutes to get there—on foot—I had to take a minute to look around me and think about the 84 years that have come and gone, culminating in the Tucson I now know as home. The Inn is still essentially the same as it was at it inception, save for some updates, renovations, and additions, but the city around it would be hardly recognizable to its guests, guests for whom the desert held a delicate charm, unprecedented landscapes, and infamous legends of the Wild West.
I’ve lived in the Old Pueblo now for a few years, pursuing my graduate degree in English, travel writing on the side, and teaching writing classes. To clear our heads, Ryan and I often take evening walks around our neighborhood, and every so often, we take the path that leads us to the Arizona Inn. Tucson has literally grown up around the Inn: neighborhoods, churches, shopping centers, and the university have dramatically changed the landscape of the Inn’s original exterior, which was, at the time of its inception, nothing but the lush, high desert that makes Southern Arizona so breathtaking—dusty rocks, a few saguaro cacti, and a couple of prickly pears, barrel cactus, and blooming flowers. Now, it’s right in the mix with busy city life.
The guests and their reasons for coming to the Inn might have changed over the past 80 years, but the reverent and calm beauty of the pink-washed walls of the Arizona Inn is as much about banquets, holidays, and celebrating the gracious, stoic beauty of the Sonoran desert as it’s ever been. The Inn, too, has done an extraordinary job of preserving its history and original atmosphere while keeping the Inn updated, clean, and modern. The reception area is filled with old photographs, stories and photos of famous guests (from Gary Cooper to Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt to Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders, the Inn has had quite the list of celebrities staying in its beds), and artifacts from the time period of the original construction. Like a lot of places in Tucson, everything isn’t perfect, cosmopolitan, sleek, or industrial: instead, the owners have gone for preserving a 1930s feeling by using period-appropriate antique furniture, casita-style decor, and warm accent pieces. Inside the main house, there is even a library full of books, chess boards, over-sized reading chairs, and early 20th century chests, drawers, and tables. (As it used to be a room for only the men to retire in after meals, I can say I definitely prefer the more open-minded and welcoming library).
During our stay, I spent the afternoon poolside, sitting in a lawn chair and reading a collection of short stories I’d been meaning to read for a while, while Ryan tried out the treadmills and weights in the gym. Before dinner and as the sun was setting, we sat in the Audobon Bar and listened to live piano music and sipped on chilled vinho verde.
For dinner, we moved to the main dining room and enjoyed cocktails, grilled fish on top of a tomato-based risotto, and fresh blueberry cheesecake. At the end of the meal, our server, an extremely professional and very lovely man named Clayton, brought out tiny silver fingers bowls with lemon slices and cooled water in them. To my credit, I haven’t had that many gourmet meals in my twenties, so even though I had absolutely no idea what it was or what I was supposed to do with it, I followed the other diners’ leads around the room and gently dabbed my fingers into the bowl and dried them on my napkin. Finger bowls, I’d learn (hooray for smartphones!), were very common in the early part of the 20th century for cleaning hands after a messy meal, but fell out of favor as the century progressed. Good thing I didn’t go with my first instinct and drink the water, and that would have been a very embarrassing moment, indeed.
The verdict? If even for a night, I love this place. And I might just walk over again soon and listen to the classical piano music and drink a vinho verde under our warm Arizona sunshine.
The Arizona Inn is located on 14 acres just one mile from the University of Arizona and three miles from Downtown Tucson in the Sam Hughes neighborhood. Though prices do vary throughout the year, at the time of this review prices were between $179-$249 per night (except for the standalone house on the property, which sleeps six and runs $499/night). Our room, a two-room Suite which included all amenities, runs $199/night. Compare rates at Expedia and Hotels.com.
2200 East Elm Street
Tucson, AZ 85719
Article and all photographs by Kristin Winet.
A special thanks to the Arizona Inn for hosting my stay.