Jewel of the Desert Distinct History and Architecture Make the Biltmore Resort an Icon in Arizona

By Mirel, Diana | Journal of Property Management, March-April 2009 | Go to article overview

Jewel of the Desert Distinct History and Architecture Make the Biltmore Resort an Icon in Arizona


Mirel, Diana, Journal of Property Management


With a rich history and one-of-a-kind artistry, the Arizona Biltmore Resort and Spa in Phoenix offers guests more than golf courses and pools. The resort is, in fact, a tribute to Frank Lloyd Wright, one of America's most illustrious architects. Every inch of the 80-year-old resort showcases Wright's influence.

Wright's student, Albert Chase McArthur, built and designed the Arizona Biltmore in 1929. The Arizona Biltmore was McArthur's first hotel project, and the property still remains the only existing hotel in the world with a Wright-inspired design.

ICONIC ARCHITECTURE

Referred to early on as the "Jewel of the Desert," the Arizona Biltmore's design complements its awe-inspiring desert surroundings. Wright advocated "organic architecture," a concept that dictates all parts of a design should relate to the whole. He applied this concept by adopting indigenous materials and influences to make his structures become part of the landscape rather than dominate it.

McArthur applied Wright's organic vision to the resort by constructing each building of the resort with Biltmore Blocks--pre-cast blocks made from desert sand. There are 34 different geometric patterns, all inspired by the trunk of a palm tree.

Julia Thorn, director of marketing and public relations for the Arizona Biltmore, said the precast blocks were originally created in a factory, then erected onsite where men worked 10-hour shifts to make 250,000 blocks.

"Over the years, with the expansions, the number of Biltmore Blocks has grown to more than 6 million," Thorn said.

To bring the essence of the surroundings inside, McArthur and Wright also designed a gold-leaf ceiling in the lobby that still remains the second largest gold-leafed ceiling in the world, second to the Taj Mahal.

"The ceiling is comprised of 36,000 square feet of individual four-inch squares that were hand-applied by artisans on scaffolding," said Thorn.

Management staff at the resort have maintained the ceiling over the years. After a fire in the 1970s, the original ceiling artist was brought in to train people in restoration and preservation of a gold-leaf ceiling.

PART ART MUSEUM

Along with its architectural beauty, the historic artwork scattered throughout the resort transforms the property into an art museum of sorts. The "Saguaro Forms and Cactus Flowers" stained-glass window by Wright sits prominently in the lobby welcoming guests.

Throughout the resort's gardens sit the Biltmore Sprites, some of the most eminent pieces on the grounds. These slender statues of ethereal spirits are often referred to as the "lost children of Frank Lloyd Wright." They were conceived in 1914 by sculptor Alfonso lannelli for a project Wright was working on in Chicago. In 1985, six of the sprites found a new home at the Arizona Biltmore when Wright's wife donated them to the resort.

PRESERVATION AND EVOLUTION

Safeguarding the property's history while staying with the times, is a constant balancing act for the Arizona Biltmore. …

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