Living a few hours from Palm Springs, I’m no stranger to mid-century design. There’s an entire week in February, in fact, devoted to the architecture and design style.
What’s been termed “one of the best-preserved mid-century hotels in the country,” however, is in Scottsdale Arizona: The Hotel Valley Ho.
Valley Ho entrance
Built in 1956, the Valley Ho was immediately successful, and primed Scottsdale for decades of future growth. The property quickly attracted Hollywood stars: Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood threw a wedding reception at the Valley Ho; Jimmy Durante played the piano in the lounge when he couldn’t sleep. The list goes on: Bette Davis, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Humphrey Bogart, Betty Grable, Janet Leigh, Marilyn Monroe, Cary Grant and others all checked into the chic new digs in the desert.
Ramada bought the property in 1973 and covered some of the “outdated” 1950s design. After a few more decades, the property slipped into disrepair, and closed in 2001. No one wanted to buy the relic. The bulldozers circled.
But so did the preservation buffs.
A fashion show at the Valley Ho in the 1950s
A fashion show at the Valley Ho in the 1950s
The building was placed in the Scottsdale Historic Register. Business partners Scott Lyon and Bill Nassikas of Westroc Hotels bought the site, meticulously returning it to its mid-century origins at a cost of $80 million.
The Valley Ho reopened in late 2005, 49 years after its first grand opening – to repeat immediate success. And it again spurred Scottsdale’s business and tourist growth. It’s hard to now imagine the city without the Valley Ho.
The OH pool at dusk today
The arrival of the hit series Mad Men premiered two years later in 2007, helping to amp the interest in mid-century architecture, design, art, fashion and culture.
One of Valley Ho’s inherent strengths: the property tends to appeal to all age groups. Who is not familiar with, and doesn’t respond to the clean and elegant lines and look of mid-century design?
Frank Lloyd Wright student Edward L. Varney designed the minimalist building, extending wings out from a central pool and lounge. He placed red, cast concrete blocks that resemble abstract arrowheads around roof edges. The 2001-2005 makeover made use of other Varney techniques (masonry, cast and poured concrete, natural stone, and lots of glass) to marry the building to the landscape.
Original architectural details were retained during the extensive 2001-2005 makeover
Scottsdale-based Allen+Philip finessed the renovation, adding a seven-story guest tower based on blueprints found in original designs. All is built and designed to mid-century style – it’s hard to determine where the original building leaves off. Even the new elevator is mid-century dated.
Moreover, the hotel retains the sense of home and comfort that Robert and Evelyn Foehl, who first conceived the property, so carefully cultivated. A retro American restaurant, ZuZu, was also added, mimicking the property’s jet-age design.
Valley Ho lobby
Guest rooms range from tower suite, two-bedroom suite, and loft suite to standard, studio, cabana, terrace and executive suites. The entire interior was gutted during the renovation, turning the rooms into 21st-century versions of their former selves. The only off-putting design element in the suite I occupied were overhead IKEA halogen string lights, which seemed relics from the 1990s.
Loft suite living room
The spa and fitness center includes eight private treatment rooms, a spa deck, and 24-hour hi tech fitness center.
Terrace suite living room
Stroll over to downtown Scottsdale
The west end of downtown Scottsdale is a mere block from the Valley Ho. Parking, it should be noted, is free and behind the hotel, but it was great to leave the wheels behind and just walk.
Old Town Scottsdale mimics a vintage western town, and a free trolley will ferry you around to the arts district, shops along Fifth Avenue, the Fashion Square and the waterfront.
A Thursday night Art Walk winds through scores of galleries. Scottsdale has one of the country’s best public art programs. Highlights include the Paolo Soleri Bridge and Plaza, the Doors and Sound Passage, which is much like climbing inside a kaleidoscope, and the Horseshoe Falls – among many others.
Old town Scottsdale
Superb hiking along the Cholla trail to Camelback Mountain’s eastern side is a few minutes drive from Valley Ho. It’s a 1.6-mile moderate climb with an elevation gain of about 1200 feet. There’s no parking near the trailhead on Cholla Lane. Park instead on Invergordon Rd. and walk up Cholla Lane to the trailhead – just follow the hikers heading up the lane and you’ll spot the entrance.
For other ways to explore the Sonoran Desert, check out this guide, or consider this Scottsdale tourism site that details off-road tours, horseback riding, a hot air balloon adventure or water sports along the Salt and Verde rivers.
Other sites in Scottsdale worth a visit: Desert Botanical Garden, the American Indian riches of the Heard Museum, Frank Lloyd Wright’s summer home, Taliesin West and Paolo Soleri’s Cosanti, which yet operates a foundry turning out the designer’s signature bells and chimes.
Scottsdale has about 600 restaurants dishing up everything from the requisite Southwestern to Asian fusion. A great place to start is True Food Kitchen, in the hip and friendly Scottsdale Quarter. The locally and regionally sourced menu is based on Dr. Andrew Weil’s anti-inflammatory diet. The oversized, central room has a lot of buzz, and is backed by an open kitchen. I stopped for lunch and sipped a Medicine Man antioxidant blast, saving room for an eggplant pizza.
The Old Town’s Mission serves up modern Latin cuisine, starting with guacamole mixed from a cart right at your table. The food is succulent – I had the Pollo A La Brasa, and for dessert: the signature Pumpkin Bread Pudding – a four-day recipe (it’s soaked overnight in Scotch) that, turns out, has a whole Yelp page devoted to its ambrosial wonder. I’m not surprised.
Old Town Mission restaurant - guacamole made to order
There are back and front patios, the latter with fireplace and fountain. The interior, dark room is warmed and brightened by a wall built of Himalayan rock salt blocks (tequila drinkers purportedly lick it).
Popular happy hour hangouts include the Culinary Dropout, Brio Tuscan Grille, Roaring Fork, and the Citizen Public House, among others. Also - read my review of Citizen Public House.
• Fortunate for tourists, Scottsdale has a top-rate convention and visitor’s bureau, its website broken down into near endless choices and niche markets, a great tool when planning a visit.
• Vist this site for more information about Scottsdale’s Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired architecture, as well as tours.
• Ninety minute architectural tours of Hotel Valley Ho are available by appointment through the Ultimate Art & Cultural Tours of Scottsdale.