The Grand Dame the Arizona Biltmore
History, Romance, Glamour and Art in the Desert
Well-known couples such as Clark Gable and Carole Lombard, as well as Ronald and Nancy Reagan, chose this desert treasure for their honeymoons. JFK vacationed here with Jackie—in fact every U.S. president from Herbert Hoover through President Obama has slept in its beds. A history wall features them all, except Obama, who was a guest twice before his presidency. His photo addition is guaranteed if he sojourns before he leaves office. Inside scoop: Of all the unique gastro chow delights, George W. Bush’s favorite snacks are peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
An oasis for heads of states and captains of industry, the Arizona’s Biltmore’s consulting architect was Frank Lloyd Wright. In collaboration with protégé, Albert Chase McArthur, Wright advocated organic architecture, meaning all parts should relate to the whole. He used indigenous materials/influences to make his structures part of the landscape, rather than dominate it. Crowned “Jewel of the Desert,” The Biltmore just celebrated 81 years. It’s part of the Waldorf Astoria Collection.
Million dollar tapestries depicting local Navajo, Zuni and Hopi tribes grace the main dining hall. The lobby’s golf leaf ceiling is second largest in the world, next to the Taj Mahal. The hotel’s newest addition: Ocatilla at the Arizona Biltmore, a boutique hotel within its walls.
Executive chef Todd Sicolo, changes it up at the formal, Wright’s. Known for creating specialty dishes with local farms’ fresh ingredients and an in-house herb garden, Sicolo wowed us with his inverted goat mozzarella ravioli. He added liquid nitrogen, which created smoke that oozed from the ravioli. “Food shouldn’t be pretentious,” says Sicolo. “I like to have fun with it.” Nearby at the Wright Bar, Angela Bassett and Wesley Snipes once filmed a scene in Waiting to Exhale.
The hotel has eight pools, seven tennis courts, golf, a 22,000 foot spa and five-star service. They will press a garment (complimentary) if you give them two hours notice, draw an herbal bath with candles, and try to make any request possible.
During these tough economic times, the decadent real estate haven is no stranger to deals. Tickets for Kevin and Michael Bacon’s (The Bacon Brothers) Memorial Day performances sold for only $15 a pop at the launch of the “Hollywood and Wine” series. Facebook/Twitter members booked rooms for $90.
Marilyn Monroe hung out at the Catalina Pool. Both the island and tile company were part of chewing-gum magnate William Wrigley Jr.’s ownership. On Friday movie nights, Wrigley, the Biltmore’s second owner, served popcorn to friends, some on the screen at the time.
Irving Berlin started composing “White Christmas” during a holiday. Edna Ferber moved in to write several novels. At a very late hour, Sammy, Frank, and Liza kicked up their heels with an impromptu concert. Bing Crosby, Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy and Ava Gardner gathered ‘round the piano to sing.
Additional clients: George Clooney, Al Gore, Diana Ross, Barbara Walters, Elizabeth Taylor, Elton John, Gregory Peck, Marlon Brando, Gracie Allen, George Burns, Fred Astaire, Jack Benny, and the Duke of Windsor.
When Kelly Ripa, Mark Consuelos and family were offered a cabana at poolside, Ripa replied, “Is it ok if we stay right here with everyone?”
Recently, Lamar Odom and Lakers teammates spent their off-court hours at the resort. An employee’s fish died at the same time. She is thinking of naming a new one after Odom, since he was so gracious.
Sue Facter writes about all things A-list. Her credits include USA Today, People, Los Angeles Times and publications worldwide.