The Arizona Inn has been family owned and operated since its creation in 1930 by Isabella Greenway, Arizona's first Congresswoman and a lifelong friend of Eleanor Roosevelt. Since 1930 four generations of the Greenway family have lovingly protected, renovated and restored the Arizona Inn, which has become a world-renowned resort. Guests today find an Inn that feels like a family's country estate, a sophisticated desert retreat which continues, after eight decades, to fulfill Isabella Greenway's excellent, long ago promise of privacy, quiet and sunshine. The Inn was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1988.
Backstory and Context
As a member of the business community, Mrs. Greenway saw the pressing economic need to promote tourism. As a person concerned with aesthetics, Mrs. Greenway envisioned a different kind of hotel that would give a limited number of guests "privacy, quiet, and sunshine." The Inn opened on December 18, 1930. A second phase was started in May of 1931 and completed that November. By 1974 all the buildings were air conditioned so the guest houses could be occupied in the summer, and the Inn changed from a winter resort to a year-round operation.
Financed with her own money at the start of the depression era, Mrs. Greenway's Arizona Inn was an immediate success with both tourists and Tucson residents who use its facilities for meetings, weddings, charity events, and celebrations of all kinds. In addition to being listed among 34 best hotels in America, it is a well-loved Tucson landmark. It has always had a policy of not revealing names of guests, but the Library is often the background for television interviews with prominent national newsmakers. Eleanor Roosevelt, Spencer Tracy, Marian Anderson, and John D. Rockefeller are known to have been guests. (5)
Mrs. Greenway's dominant idea was to build small houses set around a garden. With the assistance of landscape architect James Oliphant, she created a park where the one and two story buildings are masked by tall hedges and trees. The cool green of the leaves softens the bright pink of the walls, and the spatial relationships appear to change in the play of the light and shadow on the angles of the buildings.
In the center is an open space for lawn and flower gardens which balances the mass of the Main Building and gives an unobstructed view of the surrounding mountains. The perimeter of the site is enclosed by tall oleander or privet hedges and low pink adobe walls. Except for the flowers, plants were chosen because they are native species or have adapted to Tucson's arid climate. Included are cypress, palm, mesquite, palo verde, and citrus trees. The buildings and gardens follow the contour of the land.
The Inn grounds now comprise a rich landscaped environment, an oasis in the desert. The feeling is formal but natural, an idealic representation of native desert plantings. Bermuda grass lawns (winter-seeded with rye grass), well-trimmed ornamental shrubs, bedding plants, and mature shade trees are the principle features. Walled yards and courtyards are a common design element. Walls are masonry types consisting of exposed brick, stuccoed brick, and tile. Other design features are paths paved with brick and tile, colorful wall decorations, fountains, and iron work that has its roots in Tucson's Hispanic heritage. (5)