The Westward Ho Hotel built in 1928 in Phoenix Arizona: A Colorful History and an $18 million dollar transformation.
Westward Hotel Phoenix AZ 1930s
A New Modern Hotel for Arizona Tourists in 1928
The need for a first class modern hotel for tourists coming to Phoenix in the 1920s was clear. Construction was begun on the sixteen floor hotel, but the company defaulted and a group of prominent Phoenix businessmen formed a company and the Westward Ho Hotel was completed. (The many doors in the hotel were hung by Del Webb, a newcomer from California, who had come to Phoenix for his health.) The opening day was December 15, 1928. The luxury hotel had 2 nine hole putting courses, a ballroom, a children's playground, several dining rooms and a palm filled patio. Favorite activities included bridge and other card games, concerts, and music by "cowboys" paid to stroll through the public areas.
Lobby of Westward Ho Hotel 1930s
A Gathering Place in the 1930s
The new Westward Ho began attracting not only tourists but many of the the professional and service clubs of Phoenix such as: The Phoenix Dons, the League of Business Women, the Lions Cub, the Kiwanas Club, and insurance, banking and medical associations. The cost of lunches ranged from $.55-$.75 and dinners from $.90-$1.25. While these prices would be fantastic today, during the Depression of the 1930s these prices were expensive. Their champagne ice cream was the signature dessert.
Westward Hotel with Added Patio Suites
The Sunshine Playground of America
By the 1940s, Phoenix was growing and the tourist industry was booming. The Westward Ho was now known as The Sunshine Playground of America. A 268 foot tower was placed on top of the hotel in 1949 for KPHO-TV, the first television station in Phoenix. When the station changed their transmitters to another area, the original tower remained on top of the hotel, and was used for radio. During the 1950s, scenes from Bus Stop with Marilyn Monroe were filmed at the hotel, although she preferred to stay down the street at the San Carlos Hotel. Amelia Earhart, Niky Hilton, Elizabeth Taylor, Shirley Temple, George Burns, and John Wayne were guests at Westward Ho. Also, Harry Truman stayed at the hotel, Nixon was there and John F. Kennedy gave a fund raising dinner there to "kick off " his presidential campaign in 1960.
By the 1970s the hotel was in decline as the era of the downtown hotels all over America was ending.
Beautiful Concho Ballroom
A Sad Decline and a New Era
Efforts to keep the Westward Ho Hotel open failed. According to an article in the Arizona Republic, during the last week that the hotel was open the average room rate was $8-$10 and only an average of ten guests were booked per night. The neighborhood had declined and transients breaking in was a constant problem. The hotel went into foreclosure. Converting the hotel into subsidized housing seemed like a solution to not tearing down the building which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places
While researching Phoenix history in 1989, I decided to visit the Westward Ho. I remembered several special occasions there in the 1960s and how beautiful the lobby had been. My first observation was that the exterior had patches of stucco missing and peeling paint. The Westward Ho sign had three letters burnt out. Broken glass, beer cans, and other garbage littered the sidewalks. Surprisingly, the elements that made the lobby beautiful were still there, but the smell inside was terrible. One could only imagine the conditions that the residents lived in. Fortunately, in 2003 an 2004 improvements were made to the outside structure and the interior.
An $18 million dollar renovation was just completed to improve the units and cosmetic features such as courtyard fountain. The former hotel now houses 300 residents that are mostly seniors and disabled. Another improvement for the residents, is that Arizona State University has leased 15,000 sq ft of the ground floor for a clinic for health and social services for the residents.
While no longer a hotel for the wealthy, it's good to know that the Westward Ho has been updated and provides a safe home and services.