Arizona Inn: a historic and elegant Tucson retreat

 “A simple, home-like, cottage hotel, complete in its luxuries and convenience of service, and built with the desire to give its guests quiet and privacy.” Isabella Greenway, at the Arizona Inn opening, December 18, 2019.

Arizona Inn

Arizona Inn photo/courtesy of Arizona Inn

Eight-five years after Isabella Greenway made this statement at the opening of Tucson’s Arizona Inn, these words still ring true. Twenty-first century guests at the 92 room boutique resort will discover the same understated elegance that attracted the likes of the Rockefellers and Roosevelts and a who’s who of Hollywood stars.

Arizona Inn then

Arizona Inn

Isabella Greenway (in white dress) in 1932 with Eleanor Roosevelt at the Inn during Franklin Roosevelt’s initial campaign for the Presidency, courtesy Arizona Inn

Who was Isabella Greenway and why she opened Arizona Inn

FDR, Isabella Greenway and Eleanor Roosevelt

Isabella Greenway with FDR and Eleanor Roosevelt photo/courtesy Arizona Inn

Isabella Greenway was a force to be reckoned with. Her family, North Dakota ranchers became friends with neighbor Teddy Roosevelt. Through him, Greenway met Eleanor Roosevelt and the two became life-long friends. She was even a bridesmaid at Eleanor and FDR’s wedding. The relationship led her to a successful run for Arizona’s lone congressional seat in 1933.

Affected by the plight of disabled WWI veterans, she opened the Arizona Hut, a furniture workshop in Tucson in 1927. Over 40 veteran’s, many gassed in the trenches, produced furniture that was sold at places such as Marshall Field’s in Chicago and Abercrombie and Fitch in NYC. They were selling fine workmanship, not sentiment. They produced “everything that goes in a house except the carpets, stoves and refrigerators.”

The Hut made furniture for Arizona Inn

Arizona Hut provided jobs for disabled WWI veterans photo/courtesy Arizona Inn

Then the Depression hit and people weren’t buying furniture anymore. To keep the men working, Greenway bought the furniture and filled warehouses with it. Realizing this wasn’t a viable business model, she conceived the Arizona Inn both as a place to offer hospitality to the wealthy and as an outlet for the furniture Arizona Hut produced. She was successful on both counts.

The Greenway family tree has a few impressive branches. One of Isabella’s sons married the daughter of Supreme Court Justice Learned Hand and a granddaughter married novelist Pat Conroy. Their son, Will Conroy is the fourth generation of the Greenway family to run the inn. His short book, Arizona Inn, A History, found in each guestroom, is worth a read. It will give you a sense of who Greenway was and it provides a good overview of the inn, past, present and future.

The good old days at the Arizona Inn

Arizona Inn pool

The pool inthe early days photo/courtesy Arizona Inn

When the inn opened, it was seasonal. It attracted people who wanted to winter in the Arizona desert because moderate climate. They typically arrived by train laden with luggage enough for months; hence the guestrooms’ spacious closets. Some even brought their indispensible servants who were often housed in connecting rooms. The pace was slow, the ambiance gracious. It was a haven for the wealthy.

While the Arizona Inn prides itself on its discretion about who’s stayed there, some announced their own presence at the inn and the inn shares their names. Such luminaries as Eleanor Roosevelt, John D. Rockefeller and JFK were guests. Some lived in houses that Greenway built on the property. It was a home away from home for them. A-list Hollywood stars including Spencer Tracey, Katherine Hepburn, Gary Cooper, Cary Grant, Bob Hope and Bing Crosby also came to stay.

Arizona Inn in the 21st century

Arizona Inn

Grounds of the Arizona Inn, photo/courtesy Arizona Inn

The inn’s timeless design pays homage to Tucson’s Spanish Colonial heritage. Low stuccoed buildings with Pueblo Revival details reminiscent of Santa Fe, and the occasional kiva-style ladder spotted on roofs reflect the southwest’s American Indian and Spanish cultures.

Today the inn is much as it was in the early days. While its interiors and exteriors are continually, yet subtly updated and repaired, décor remains the same. Public rooms sport a combination of Greenway family pieces alongside Arizona Hut ones and newer additions. Many of the original Arizona Hut furniture have been refurbished and grace both guestrooms and public areas.

While the workshop is long-gone, the inn retains a full time carpenter who restores old furniture and created new pieces. Our tour of the inn grounds took us o the carpenter shop which occupies an out of the way former stable. There we found the current carpenter hard at work making tabletops for guestrooms.

Arizona Inn

The pool lit up at night photo/courtesy Arizona Inn

The inn is timeless. There have been very few major updates since opening. A bar was added at the end of Prohibition, the swimming pool was built in 1937, and rooms were added during WWII to house the military. In 1072 with the addition of air-conditioning the inn went from being a winter retreat to a year-round resort. Each room has an independent heating and cooling system allowing guests to set their preferred temperature.

The Arizona Inn is not a place of granite bathrooms and walk-in glass showers. While the small bathrooms have been updated, style-wise, they’re very much as they were in 1930. Flat-screened TVs, WiFi and a modern phone system are the only concessions to technology in the guestrooms. People who want glitz need to look elsewhere. General Manager Patrick Cray, who has been in his position for over two decades (a feat in the fluid hospitality industry), puts it well. “These days we get more heads of state than movie stars. Someone like Madonna doesn’t want to stay here.” And, that’s fine with them. Trendy celebrities bring entourages and a certain vibe that’s out of place at understated inn.

Arizona Inn

Orange trees on the verdant grounds, photo Steve Collins

Grounds within the 14 walled acres that encompass the inn are lush. Colorful flowers are changed twice a year. Guests walk on a carpet of perennial Bermuda grass in warm weather and on rye grass seeded annually when nights get cooler. About 40 citrus trees planted in the early days are in leaf all year. Continuing the charitable spirit that led Greenway to open Arizona Inn, fruit produced by these trees is donated to Santa Maria, a non-profit that feeds the hungry. Cray calls it “a nice relationship.”

Will Conroy stresses in his book that the Arizona Inn “does not and will not charge for amenities.” This is refreshing in the world of upscale hotels where often everything besides the room often sounds a cha-ching. Everything except meals is included from parking and WiFi to bottled water and daily newspapers. In addition, guests are welcome to borrow any films from the inn’s extensive DVDs collection housed in the welcoming Library just off the lobby. They stock a collection of movies starring the inn’s former Hollywood guests through the 1960s as well as a complete collection Disney titles for the kids. In warm weather, evenings bring a nightly Ice Cream Social in the pool area. Ice cream and toppings are set out for guest’s enjoyment. There are also two clay tennis courts and a ping pong table. It’s all very retro and very comforting in a fast-paced world.

Arizona Inn

Listen to piano music in the Audubon Room while having a cocktail or meal , photo Steve Collins

The Audubon Bar, with retro rattan furniture is a popular gathering place for guests. Sip a cocktail or some wine while listening to live piano music from 6 to 10pm nightly. One of the pianists has been there for over 40 years. The adjacent patio is the perfect place to enjoy breakfast from 6:30 to 11am. Their “all-day” menu is available from 11:30am to midnight. From 5:30 to 9:30pm the full dining room dinner menu is available. For a meal in a more formal setting, the Arizona Inn Dining Room serves three meals a day from its own menu.

Our room

Guest room Arizona Inn photo Steve Collins

The sleeping portion of our Premium Room at the inn photo/Steve Collins

Room 162 was a spacious second story corner room. The king-sized bed barely made a dent in the space. In addition, we had an ample sitting area as well as the large signature large closet, equipped with robes and a bar area equipped with coffee machine and small refrigerator. These days while almost all hotels offer in-room coffee makers, very few stock half-and-half for them. Steve, a dedicated morning coffee drinker was delighted to discover an ample supply of the this in our room. If you don’t want to make coffee it’s offered in the Library each morning.

Library Arizona Inn photo Steve Collins

The Library offers a comfortable place to relax or socializ3, photo/Steve Collins

The Arizona Inn prides itself in unobtrusive yet excellent service, calling itself “a beacon of civility.” We loved the welcoming attitude of the staff and their attention to detail. In a time when excellent service is no longer the norm we appreciate this throwback to a bygone era when service was king. Conroy credits the exemplary hospitality to the staff, many of whom have been with the inn for decades, but it’s more than that. After spending time with Cray, it’s was clear that the Arizona Inn’s management is committed to creating a culture of service that all employees are proud to be a part of.

If you’re heading to Tucson and love historic upscale properties, check out the Arizona Inn. This low-key resort provides a quietly elegant, timeless, peaceful setting just minutes from downtown Tucson. The long ago promise of privacy, quiet and sunshine is alive and well in the 21st century.

Want to read Will Conroy’s Arizona Inn, a History, you can download it here. But it you go, you’ll find a copy of the book on the desk in your room. You’ll get a sense of the history of this enduring inn.

Author’s note: We were guests of the Arizona Inn for review purposes. Their generosity hasn’t affected this post in any way.



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2 Responses to “Arizona Inn: a historic and elegant Tucson retreat”

  1. Robert @BoomerPlaces
    December 13, 2019 at 9:36 pm #

    Such history the Arizona Inn has. Thanks for posting those photos. But I like today’s version better. I could see having cocktails in The Library. The Premium Room looks so spacious.
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    • Billie Frank
      December 20, 2019 at 4:32 pm #

      I would love to have been there back in the day, but it’s pretty fab now, as well. The 3os is a time that fascinates me. Would have loved rubbing elbows with some of those guests!

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