Thursday, November 08, 2007

Old Arizona resides within these hotels

[Source: Kelli M. Donley, Arizona Republic] -- Interested in seeing a new area of Arizona, but don't know where to stay? Before you log on to a mass-market travel Web site or jump into the car without a reservation, consider making your visit entertaining and educational by staying at a historic hotel. Rolling your eyes at the thought of a dusty saloon and trite cowboy decor? Hold your horses: Historic doesn't mean clich├ęd or that your room will smell as though Wyatt Earp just checked out. With spa services, museums and even reported ghosts (and, to be fair, the occasional dusty saloon), historic hotels from the Mexican border to Route 66 provide a different and less standardized experience.

To be considered a historic hotel by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, hotels must be in a building that is at least 50 years old, recognized locally for their historical significance, or listed on or eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.

Hotel Gadsden. The Gadsden is easy to find in downtown Douglas: A large sign stands tall atop the historic building in this border town. The quiet street draws little traffic and seems like a set from a 1950s television show. The lobby is impressive. Your eye is drawn past marble columns and up the white Italian marble staircase to a series of stained-glass windows on the second floor. Light pours through the desert scenes depicted in the Tiffany glass, casting a rainbow of colors on the lobby floor.

Pancho Villa once rode a horse up those very stairs, which were among the few things to survive a sweeping fire that nearly destroyed the Gadsden in 1929. The hotel opened in 1907 and is named after the Gadsden Purchase of land that is now part of Arizona and New Mexico. Famous guests have included movie stars - much of the 1994 movie Terminal Velocity featuring Charlie Sheen was filmed at the hotel - and dignitaries, including Eleanor Roosevelt. The hotel has 130 rooms, a coffee shop, dining rooms and a beauty salon, among other amenities. In addition to heading across the border for a day trip to Mexico, Gadsden guests often visit the Cochise Stronghold, an Apache hideout in the Dragoon Mountains; Kartchner Caverns; and the ghost towns of Gleeson and Paradise.

Some people come here to visit doctors and dentists in nearby Agua Prieta, Sonora, says hotel manager Robin Brekhus. "Others come to escape the heat. It's a great place to stay for a weekend to visit the Wonderland of Rocks (in Chiricahua National Monument) and go hiking or have a picnic, or to visit nearby places like Rodeo, N.M., or Bisbee or Tombstone." The hotel was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976, in part because of its manual telephone switchboard, installed in 1929. The switchboard was the first in the state and can be seen behind the front desk.

Where: 1046 G Ave. Douglas is about 230 miles southeast of central Phoenix. Take Interstate 10 east through Tucson to Exit 303 at Benson. Go south on Arizona 80 past Tombstone and Bisbee to Douglas, where the state route turns into G Avenue. Rates: $60-$150 per night. Details: 520-364-4481 or

Copper Queen Hotel. Bisbee is a quaint town often overlooked by Phoenicians seeking cooler climates. Although plenty of residents of this former mining town are happy that their rolling hills haven't turned into a regular weekend retreat like Payson or Pinetop-Lakeside, cooler weather, antiques and curio shops also are found here. And a great hotel. "I moved here for the small-town life I'd been looking for in Tucson," says Adam Lamb, operating manager at the Copper Queen, tipping back his large straw cowboy hat. "You can walk down the main street and have people look you in the eye and say hello, or invite you in for a beer. Plus, we run an average of 10 to 15 degrees cooler than Tucson and 15 to 20 degrees cooler than Phoenix."

Phelps Dodge began building the Copper Queen in 1898 and finished it four years later, providing the perfect atmosphere in which to entertain potential investors. With a few significant changes over the years, the hotel now has 52 rooms, no two alike. The five-story building has four levels of rooms, with the fifth floor housing the mechanics of the elevator, installed in the 1940s. "The hotel went on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980," Lamb says. "The hotel is Arizona's longest continuously operating hotel; her doors have never been closed in all 106 years."

Many visitors come to see the hotel's rumored ghosts; the Copper Queen was featured on the television show Ghost Hunters. The most popular "haunted" request is to stay in the Julia Lowell room. Lowell was a prostitute who reportedly took her life at the hotel after being left brokenhearted. "I do believe it is haunted," Lamb says. "I've seen a confused little girl several times." A ghost register at the front desk features vivid stories written by guests. Lamb says the staff is working to have the stories published.

It is easy to fall in love with the Copper Queen. The rooms are clean, and the hotel grounds are tidy. Breakfast is served on the patio under hanging baskets of colorful flowers, guests can take in panoramic views of the surrounding hills, and even the bowl of root-beer candies on the front desk is welcoming. Guests come to enjoy the Bisbee Pride festival in June, blues festival in September and wine festival in October. Fuel your day with a cup of Eureka, espresso and coffee at the Bisbee Coffee Co., across the street from the hotel. "There is a lot of history here in this little old mining town at the bottom of the canyon," Lamb says.

Where: 11 Howell Ave. Bisbee is about 200 miles southeast of central Phoenix. Take Interstate 10 east through Tucson to Exit 303 at Benson. Go south on Arizona 80 past Tombstone to Bisbee. Go left at the Old Bisbee exit, then left on Naco Road, right on Brewery Avenue and immediately left on Howell Avenue. Rates: $122-$200 per night. Details: 520-432-2216 or

Hotel Congress. Maneuvering through the construction and one-way streets in downtown Tucson can be tricky, but the reward is worth the hassle. The Hotel Congress, built in 1919, is where John Dillinger and members of his gang hid out before they moved to a nearby apartment, where police arrested them in 1934. Today, the Congress is a hip alternative to a chain hotel. The Cup Cafe boasts a mean cup of joe and an impressive display of baked goods, and the floor is made entirely of copper pennies. The sounds of jazz pour out of Club Congress, just off the lobby. The front desk sits aptly between the two worlds: caffeine on one side and alcohol on the other. Similarly, the hotel seems to meld rich history with a contemporary vibe. "The Hotel Congress is in the heart of downtown, which includes an amazing arts and entertainment district, including the Rialto Theatre, the Fox Theatre and Tucson Children's Museum," says Todd Hanley, general manager.

Rooms are clean and vintage; they have radios and reading lamps but no televisions. The decor varies, with the most noticeable being the garish paint by artist Larry Boyce. He described his style as "Southwest Deco" when he painted the lobby and staircase in 1989. The orange, green and purple jump out from the walls, which also hold framed pieces for sale from local artists. The old-fashioned telephone booths on the lobby floor top the urban feel with an antique icing. Pets are welcome, and the hotel has Wi-Fi service. The Hotel Congress was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2003.

Where: 311 E. Congress Ave. Tucson is about 110 miles from central Phoenix. Take Interstate 10 east to Speedway Boulevard (Exit 257), go left on Speedway, right on Fourth Avenue, then right on Congress Avenue. Rates: $69-$119 per night September through May. Rates are lower in summer. Details: 520-622-8848 or