Light dsigns

Light dsigns

September 23, 2010

The mysterious Westward Ho

April 27, 2010

Downtown Phoenix’s Westward Ho is one of the city’s most famous buildings. The structure located on the northwest corner of Central Avenue and Fillmore Street, opened in 1928 as a luxury hotel. The hotel has fifteen floors and stands at 208 feet tall. The Spanish Colonial Revival building has smooth stucco walls, arched walkways, and iron trims. The building has multiple rectangular supports which resemble flat columns, known as pilasters. Surrounding the pillars are cast ornamental designs that decorate the exterior. The flat roof has red barrel tile that is only visible from nearby. Hung sash and casement windows with several vertical panels are also part of the building’s design.

In 1949 the hotel became the foundation to a broadcast tower. The antenna was the first to transmit television programs in the city; it was leased by KPHO Channel 5 until 1960 when the corporation moved its transmitter to South Mountain. Standing at 268 feet tall, the massive red and white antenna is taller than the building itself. When KPHO ’s tower was added, the 15 th floor had to be reinforced with glass and steel. The antenna made the Westward Ho hold the title of the tallest building in Arizona until 1960. The tower has become an iconic element in downtown Phoenix’s skyline.

During the early 20 th century the Westward Ho hotel was very expensive compared to its competitors. It was mostly frequented by well-known people. The hotel housed Hollywood stars, politicians, and other recognized figures such as Marilyn Monroe, Martin Luther King, Jr. Elizabeth Taylor and Al Capone. However, it became even more famous after U.S. President John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon’s visit in 1960 during their presidential campaign. Kennedy delivered his speech during breakfast in the Thunderbird Room, a high-ceilinged ballroom. The room accommodated approximately 1,200 people for dinner and 1,500 for meetings.

Due to the mass migration of homes and jobs to the suburbs and the hotel’s rapidly decreasing clientele Westward Ho had to close in 1979. After considering the demolition of the building it reopened two years later with a different function—housing for senior citizens. The Westward Ho was converted to a federally subsidized housing structure consisting of 289 apartments with approximately 300 residents. Most of its residents are over 65 years of age and pay rent for less than $200 a month. The National Register of Historic Places recognizes the Westward Ho as a historic building since 1982.  In 2003 the building was acquired by the Phoenix Preservation Partnership, a Rhode Island-based group of investors that made plans for the remodel.

Westward Ho’s structural framework is applied masonry, a façade that covers the concrete material. Its exterior façade is a tan color that has changed over the years. The building has a courtyard with a tile fountain and a patio pool. The courtyard is surrounded by semicircular arches and balconies in the upper levels that have a view to the patio and downtown Phoenix.

The lobby has golden crowned two-story columns that reach towards an intricate ceiling, which was originally covered in gold leaf. The white walls and round archways have a dark brown design that accent the top. Tiles with shades of reds, browns, yellows, white and black create a circular pattern have replaced but are similar to the original Spanish Colonial tiles. The lobby is rather dark, for the only source of lighting is a large chandelier that hangs in the center of the room and two sets of wall sconces on the side walls. Standing in this space one is able to see a few wall openings done very similar to the mission pueblo styles, which look out on the lobby from the second level. The first floor is decorated with western themed art work mostly consisting of colorful scenes on stained glass lit from behind. Also near the entrance we can find an original drinking fountain made of tile with a pattern very much like the floor.

West of the lobby is the Kachina Lounge, a library that was available for guests to read or relax in. The room has an electric fireplace and a vaulted ceiling with a stenciled pattern painted in reds and greens. This space is now empty but still offers a view to the 1930s post office across the street, through stained glass windows. During its early years, the floors above the lobby contained the hotel’s guest, dining, and conference rooms, today apartments occupy those spaces.

The second floor of the Westward Ho holds the Turquoise Room where many political meetings, dinners and conventions took place. This room also offered a bar and private club for 300 people. The Turquoise Room is now an activity center where its residents can use to play games, puzzles or surf the internet. Concho Room was originally a dining room housing another of the seven bars in the hotel, and its tile floor was designed with inlayed real turquoise. The Thunderbird Room in the 15 th floor was renovated into two floors with a 32 one-bedroom apartments. Skylights were installed in the ceiling and space was made on the second level to bring natural light into both levels. This floor also contained a club exclusively for gentlemen, though it is not accessible to the public it is said to be very quiet but offers a wonderful view of the downtown area through its horizontal windows.

Westward Ho’s $8 million renovation ran from 2003 to 2004 and was funded through tax credits, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and a variety of other sources. The new project attempted to preserve the building’s history by restoring its façade. During the renovation an air conditioning unit, new carpeting and tile were installed, and the building was made more accessible to the disabled. Some rooms preserve their original flooring, ceiling, and significant features. Orcutt Winslow. the architecture firm that managed the building’s remodel, faced several challenges in the process. The extensive renovation took place while the building remained occupied. Vents and ductwork had to be installed for the new air conditioning unit and windows had to be replaced in every room to meet new safety codes. Another challenge was that due to the building’s historic status. Designers experienced difficulties making repairs especially in areas designated as historic. In addition, the antenna cannot be removed from the structure because it is also protected by The National Register of Historic Places .

The Westward Ho earned two outstanding achievements after its renovation. It was the winner to the 2005 Southwest Contractor award for the best “Renovation/Restoration Project over $5 million.” That same year the Governors Heritage Preservation Honor Award was received from the Arizona State Historic Preservation Partnership for the building’s exceptional Rehabilitation & Adaptive Reuse Project.

According to the Maricopa County assessor, the Westward Ho is currently valued at $18.4 million. The building has been able to preserve its distinctive features, many memories and collectibles from its early years. This landmark has limited access to the general public with tours given by Erling Eaton, the building’s unofficial historian and 13 year resident.


Leave a Reply