Tuesday, February 24, 2009

I'm Dreaming of the Arizona Biltmore

The day we made our way to the Arizona Biltmore for lunch it was quite blustery and there was an All Star Basketball game in town so the lobby was filled with really famous tall people, none of which we could readily identify, not being avid fans. That morning we had visited Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin West, so we were already aware that he had been consulting architect on the project.

I was a little surprised by the austerity of the place at first, but as we walked closer, the gray building came alive with Wright's famous detailing. We had just learned about Wright's "Textile blocks" that morning at Taliesin West, and they are used generously here. Another detailing, I became infatuated with was a copper roof overhang that featured cut out detailing. Familiar with Wright's design edict "form follows function" which he adopted from his former boss Lois Sullivan by the way, I'm pretty certain this design element serves the purpose of defraying runoff water.

Not wanting to blow our budget on a power lunch, we opted to eat outside in the garden, at a little cafe. It was a little chilly, but nearby we could watch as a circle of cigar smoking cronies were busy being seen, and seeing.

The only existing hotel in the world with a Frank Lloyd Wright-influenced design, The Arizona Biltmore has been an Arizona landmark since its opening on Feb. 23, 1929. Chicago chewing gum magnate William Wrigley, Jr. was the developer, and the architect of record was Albert Chase McArthur, a Harvard graduate, who had studied under Frank Lloyd Wright from 1907 - 1909 in Chicago. He hired Wright as a consulting architect.

Using indigenous materials, the "Biltmore Block," as the textile block became known, were designed by McArthur, not Wright, sculpted by Emry Kopta, a prominent southwestern sculptor, and feature a geometric pattern said to represent a freshly cut palm tree.

Some fun facts about the hotel include: the classic "White Christmas" tune was penned here by famed song composer Irving Berlin while sitting poolside, and Marilyn Monroe is said to have called it "her favorite pool."

Art is everywhere you go, including the buildings we use. Next time you find yourself in a new landscape look around and find the mystery of the art that surrounds you.--Ruth Mitchell

(c) 2008 - Ruth Mitchell - all rights reserved

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