Hassayampa Inn celebrates 85 years
PRESCOTT - The opening of the Hassayampa Inn Nov. 27, 1927, sprang from a community effort to attract visitors to Prescott with a first-class hotel.
Eighty-five years later, the Hassayampa continues to attract high-end guests, and has adapted to changing times and tastes with a fitness center and free wireless connections in the 67 rooms. The four-story, redbrick hotel is downtown at the corner of Gurley and Marina streets.
The need for a hotel with the Hassayampa's caliber grew as Prescott became a tourism destination, according to a brochure from the hotel. Grace Sparkes, then secretary of Yavapai County's Chamber of Commerce, pitched the idea for developing landmark accommodations in Prescott in 1919, the brochure stated. A year or so later civic leaders issued the prospectus for the Hassayampa Hotel Co. In June 1925, the Prescott Kiwanis Club appointed a committee to raise money for the hotel, and Prescott Mayor Morris Goldwater urged local residents to invest in the project.
Four hundred stockholders bought thousands of stocks for $1 per share, making the Hassayampa one of the few hotels in the country to begin as a public institution.
The hotel is named for the Hassayampa River, which flows underground on a portion of its 100-mile stretch from south of Prescott. Hassayampa is an Apache word for "the river that loses itself" or "the upside down river."
The hotel is built on the former grounds of the Congress Hotel, which a fire destroyed on July 13, 1923.
Because fires had destroyed wood buildings, hotel supporters wanted it to be a brick building, said John Langellier, executive director of the Sharlot Hall Museum.
"This was much more durable and fireproof," he said.
Architect Henry Trost designed the hotel, but his initial Pueblo-style design did not go over well with local residents, who hailed largely from the Midwest and preferred brick to adobe. Instead, he chose a mix of Spanish colonial revival and Italianate exterior rendered in redbrick trimmed in white and topped by a bell tower.
The hotel's construction took 10 months at a cost of about $200,000, plus $75,000 in furnishings. The hotel retains its covered passageway and a vintage elevator from 1927. It also features a hand-painted, wood-beamed ceiling in the lobby, a Talavera tile fireplace, Castilian walnut furniture, embossed copper panels, chandeliers and etched glass. The hotel underwent a multi-million-dollar renovation in 1985.
The Hassayampa, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, has attracted famous guests from the start who included actors Tom Mix and Clark Gable, humorist Will Rogers and Gen. Blackjack Pershing. More recent guests have included actors Tom Selleck, Sam Elliott, Kim Bassinger, and Alec Baldwin, former President George W. Bush, comedians Tom and Dick Smothers and Joan Rivers, and the Beach Boys.
Hassayampa staff brought back nostalgia Wednesday evening with a black-tie-optional fundraiser for the Sharlot Hall Museum. The $95 dinner drew about 75 people.
Hotel staff greeted dinner guests upon arrival. Spencer Bailey, a bellman and front-desk employee, dressed as the chauffeur for Sharlot Hall's 1927 Durant Star Four car, which arrived from the museum.
Staff and guests reminisced about the hotel.
Prescott matriarch Elisabeth Ruffner recalled arriving with her mother, Clara Friedrich, in August 1940 from Cincinnati to meet the family of her future husband, Budge. She stayed longer than a week at the hotel.
She met Budge while attending the University of Cincinnati, and met the family before Budge joined the U.S. Army Air Corps in World War II.
Ruffner, one of the few guests Wednesday who predate the hotel, said her first impression was the hotel was "elegant."
The white walls were glazed, and were a "beautiful, beautiful color," she said. "The newspaper described it as the color of autumn leaves."
Except for the glazing nowadays, Ruffner said she continues to like the hotel.
"I love everything else, including the original chandelier," Ruffner said.
About four years after Ruffner's arrival, Prescott native Paul Rosenblatt, who was born in 1928, started a job as a bellhop at the hotel.
"It was the best job I ever had," recalled Rosenblatt, now a U.S. District judge who presides over cases in his courtroom above the downtown post office. "All I had to do was be polite to people and carry their bags. Sometimes, they gave me a 10-cent tip or even 50 cents."
He said he was 16 at the time, adding employees needed to be that age to operate the elevator. Older guys were fighting in World War II.
The hotel now has about 65 full- and part-time employees, said General Manager Michael Kouvelas, who joined the Hassayampa in January.
Amore Cianciola, a lifelong Prescott resident who is director of catering and special events, recalled first visiting the hotel at age 6 and wearing her maternal grandmother's opera-length gloves.
Her maternal grandfather, Robbie Robbins, owned a refrigeration business, and took the family to the hotel on special occasions, she said.
A hotel employee since March 2011, Cianciola said the hotel hosts 300 catering events a year ranging in size from 10 to 200 people.
One frequent guest for meetings is Prescott philanthropist Ralph Weiger, who said he stayed overnight 20 years ago before moving to Prescott with his late wife, Katherine, from New Vernon, N.J.
Weiger said he volunteers with 12 charity boards, and encourages the groups to meet at the Hassayampa.
The Hassayampa has about 12,000 square feet of meeting space, including the adjoining Marina ballroom, Kouvelas said. Relatively new on the job, he said he does not know how many guests stay at the hotel.
Prescott nowadays has 1,400 hotel rooms, and an additional 400 rooms are in Prescott Valley and Chino Valley, Prescott Tourism Director Don Prince said.
The Hassayampa targets potential guests through traditional and social media, Kouvelas said.
Noting the competition, Cianciola said, "Everybody wants to stay here because there is no experience like a first-class experience. As far as staying relevant, we just keep doing what we are doing: service, service, service."