With gas at 22 cents a gallon and Elvis Presley’s “Heartbreak Hotel” on the radio, the Hotel Valley Ho in Scottsdale, Arizona embodied fifties appeal in a town booming with post-war tourism. Today, the hotel, unlike most of its peers, maintains its legacy both culturally and historically as one of the principal examples of mid-century touristry. While the hotel has passed through many hands, it still possesses integrity of location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association – and is therefore a historically significant property.

Established by hotelier Bob Foehl and his wife Evelyn Foehl, and built by Frank Lloyd Wright protégé Edward L. Varney, the resort found itself continuously on the cutting edge with an elevator shaft built into the front portion of the hotel and the structural system necessary to support additional construction. [1] The hotel also had a parking lot and air-conditioning, making the Valley Ho the first motor resort in the area and the first to open year-round. Varney utilized organic materials – concrete, brick, stone, and glass – to blend the pool-centered property into the natural desert landscape tourists sought. In addition, the property utilizes mid-century modern techniques like glass walls, floating partition walls, cantilevered balconies, and over a mile of concrete paneling in geometric formations. Consistent with his training, Varney added a high ceiling entrance in the lobby as was traditionally used by Frank Lloyd Wright.

Before opening their doors, Hotel Valley Westward Junior Corporation held a contest in March of 1956 looking for a name with “westward flavor” to match its parent the Westward Ho in Phoenix. [2] The competition boasted over 400 entries, building anticipation for the Southwestern inspired accommodations. [3] A month later, the $1.5 million project “broke ground in a cotton field surrounded by barbed wire” on 8.86 acres. [4] From its inception, the city supported the hotel, and even received one of the first dancing permits from the city council in December of 1956, making the hotel one of few places in Scottsdale where dancing was permitted. [5]

The Hotel Valley Ho opened on December 20, 1956, just days before the Christmas holiday. [6] Before the resort attracted a steady stream of clientele, the Valley Ho hosted Motorola employees moving to the valley, building a nationwide network of individuals with Valley Ho on their mind. The picturesque mid-century modern hotel opened in the golden era of southwestern tourism and postwar optimism, and tourists quickly flocked to the first year-round hotel in Scottsdale by viva voce. The hotel quickly began to compete with Scottsdale’s other resorts, including the Safari Resort, which closed in 1998 in preparation for the build of a $143 million Marriott hotel that never broke ground. [7] Located on the southeast corner of Indian School Road and 68th Street in Old Town Scottsdale, the Valley Ho became the anchor of an ever-changing arts colony and shopping district, hosting fashion shows, and celebrities like Bing Crosby, Tony Curtis, Janet Leigh. [8] [9] [10] Most notably, Hollywood elite Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood held their wedding reception in the ballroom in December of 1957. [11]

Just two years after their grand opening, the Valley Ho added two additional northern wings to the hotel, skyrocketing the room count to 180. [12] The new buildings followed the same motif as the original, with concrete roofs and each exterior wall made of only one material – brick, desert stone, or glass. In 1961, the hotel’s lounge was transformed into the “Arabian Room” in honor of the Arabian horse breeders vacationing in the Scottsdale area. [13] Until 1973 when the property was sold to the Ramada hotel chain following the death of Robert Foehl, Evelyn Foehl meticulously redesigned and updated the hotel, keeping in touch with the “South Western” and “Indian” trends popular throughout Scottsdale. [14]Although the Hollywood clientele like Clark Gable, Humphrey Bogart, and Betty Grable still came to stay at the noteworthy Valley Ho in the years following the 1973 sale, the Ramada gradually stripped the resort of its mid-century roots by covering the original brickwork with plaster, redecorating, and straying away from the schemes that put the hotel on the map. [15]

In 2001, Ramada closed the property and quietly listed it for sale. While the hotel sat on the market for over a year, a preservation effort emerged in Scottsdale. Former Scottsdale Historic Preservation Officer Debbie Abele brought in renowned architect Alan Hess to aide in writing the Scottsdale Historic Register nomination. [16] His research closely followed the architecture of the suburban West.  Hess was responsible for also writing the National Register nominations for the oldest McDonald’s stand in Downey, California as well as the nomination for the Stuart Pharmaceutical factory in Pasadena, California. Hess pointed out that, while the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum built in New York by Frank Lloyd Wright and the Capital Records Building in Hollywood continuously hold the attention of the public, properties with a less provocative history like the Hotel Valley Ho frequently fall to the wayside. He argued that that the hotel could be the most substantial, intact example of a fifties resort, making it not only a local landmark, but also nationally significant. [17] On July 1, 2002 via Ordinance number 3453, 7-ZN-2002, the Hotel Valley Ho’s three main buildings were placed on the Scottsdale Historic Register thanks to a heavily successful campaign. [18]

On May 15, 2002, two months before the register placement, Scott Lyon and Bill Nassikas of Westroc Hospitality purchased the property for $12 million, one day before the scheduled foreclosure. [19] The company had previously renovated John Gardiner’s Tennis Ranch in Paradise Valley, Arizona, putting preservationists across the state at ease. Over the next year, Westroc worked in conjunction with the Historic Preservation Commission to build a preservation plan to the tune of $80 million aimed at restoring the hotel to what Scottsdale Area Chamber Executive Vice President Rick Kidder called “a kind of Rat Pack elegance.” [20] [21] The plan ultimately allowed the City to draw on the publicity and tourism generated by the hotel in hopes to revitalize aging Old Town Scottsdale. Without the local register designation, however, the project may have fallen flat. The project was economically possible due to tax credits given in hopes to rejuvenate not only the Valley Ho, but also the appeal of Old Town Scottsdale, making the renovations an economically sound investment.

With the aide of architectural firm Allen+Philp, the Hotel Valley Ho reopened on December 20, 2005 revitalized: exactly 49 years after its original opening. [22] The architectural firm worked with the original plans conceived by Edward L. Varney and followed through on his plans to build a seven-story tower of guest rooms. The interior design was restored to its mid-century boutique furniture but maintains the 21st century amenities necessary like 32-inch flat screen televisions, full modern kitchens, and WiFi. Westroc also opened a pool bar in homage to the pool-centered lifestyle the hotel previously prided itself on as well as a spa. The materials used in the renovation stayed true-to-form, as the architectural firm Allen+Philp used only materials true to the organic design intended by Varney. By renovating the location so closely to the original plans, Westroc maintained the true continuity of the property that ultimately put it on the register.

The Hotel Valley Ho’s preservation prevented the loss of a community landmark spanning 60 years and  marks a time in historic preservation where buildings like the Valley Ho hold a piece of American history.. Throughout the fifties and sixties, the Valley Ho held events spanning from local Rotary Club meetings to fashion shows, influencing not only their guests, but also the community around them. With the addition of a parking lot, the hotel influenced their surrounding competitors, and aiding in the national transition to motor resorts. Hess described the hotel as “a creative expansion of the prototypical motel type for the climate, economy, and culture of Arizona.” [23] While the Valley Ho fell in and out of style throughout the late 20th century, its significance in the Western region never faltered. History litters the hallways of the resort, letting guests experience 1956 without leaving modern day. Unlike many properties of its day, the Valley Ho is still in the same location it was in 1956 with original design motifs throughout the resort like the cantilevered balconies and geometric concrete paneling. Even today, it remains an impeccable illustration of postwar tourism and southwestern appeal with original parking lot and architectural orientation. Although the clientele today no longer arrives at the hotel with Elvis Presley on their mind, guests still enjoy the ambiance of a pristine mid-century modern hotel.

 

Featured Image Courtesy of Tony Santiago


[1] Historic Significance and Integrity Assessment Report for Listing Hotel Valley Ho on the Scottsdale Historic Register. Accessed May 2, 2017. http://www.scottsdaleaz.gov/Assets/ScottsdaleAZ/Historic+Preservation/SHRrpt+Hotel+Valley+Ho+I.pdf.

[2] Historic Significance and Integrity Assessment Report for Listing Hotel Valley Ho on the Scottsdale Historic Register. Accessed May 2, 2017. http://www.scottsdaleaz.gov/Assets/ScottsdaleAZ/Historic+Preservation/SHRrpt+Hotel+Valley+Ho+I.pdf.

[3] “Scottsdale’s New Hotel to Be Called ‘Valley Ho’.” Arizona Republic, April 20, 1956.

[4] Duffy, Jean. “Down in the Valley… Ho.” Arizona Republic, December 31, 1967.

[5] “Town Eases Dancing Ban.” Arizona Republic, December 19, 1956.

[6] “Our Story.” Hotel Valley Ho. Accessed May 02, 2017. https://www.hotelvalleyho.com/hotel/our-story.

[7] Yantis, John. “On Safari in Scottsdale.” East Valley Tribune, April 8, 2006. Accessed May 2, 2017. http://www.eastvalleytribune.com/money/on-safari-in-scottsdale/article_ea875c79-b6f8-559a-a2f4-53ec41e1fe0e.html.

[8] Fashion Show. Scottsdale Public Library, Scottsdale. In Scottsdale Public Library Digital Collection. Accessed May 2, 2017. http://scottsdale.polarislibrary.com/polaris/search/title.aspx?ctx=1.1033.0.0.3&cn=463937.

[9] Celebrities. Scottsdale Public Library, Scottsdale. In Scottsdale Public Library Digital Collection. Accessed May 2, 2017. http://scottsdale.polarislibrary.com/polaris/search/title.aspx?ctx=1.1033.0.0.3&cn=463935.

[10] Celebrities. Scottsdale Public Library, Scottsdale. In Scottsdale Public Library Digital Collection. Accessed May 2, 2017. http://scottsdale.polarislibrary.com/polaris/search/title.aspx?ctx=1.1033.0.0.3&cn=463933.

[11] “Hotel Valley Ho.” Historic Hotels of America. Accessed May 02, 2017. http://www.historichotels.org/hotels-resorts/hotel-valley-ho/.

[12] Scottsdale Historic Register. Accessed May 2, 2017. https://www.scottsdaleaz.gov/Assets/ScottsdaleAZ/Historic+Preservation/ScottsdaleHistoricRegister.pdf.

[13] Duffy, Jean. “Down in the Valley… Ho.” Arizona Republic, December 31, 1967.

[14] “Robert Lawrence Foehl, hotel owner, manager.” Arizona Republic, December 24, 1973, Obituaries sec.

[15] McFarland, Lois. “Historic label sought for Valley Ho Resort.” Arizona Republic, April 27, 2002.

[16] “The Hotel Valley Ho.” E-mail to Alan Hess. Appendix 1 May 1, 2017.

[17] Historic Significance and Integrity Assessment Report for Listing Hotel Valley Ho on the Scottsdale Historic Register. Accessed May 2, 2017. http://www.scottsdaleaz.gov/Assets/ScottsdaleAZ/Historic+Preservation/SHRrpt+Hotel+Valley+Ho+I.pdf.

[18] Scottsdale Historic Register. Accessed May 2, 2017. https://www.scottsdaleaz.gov/Assets/ScottsdaleAZ/Historic+Preservation/ScottsdaleHistoricRegister.pdf.

[19] Corbett, Peter. “New era ahead for old hotel.” Arizona Republic, July 24, 2002.

[20] Hotel Valley Ho Historic Preservation Plan. Accessed May 2, 2017. https://www.scottsdaleaz.gov/Assets/ScottsdaleAZ/Historic Preservation/HPPlan Hotel Valley Ho Design Guidelines.pdf.

[21] Balazs, Diana. “Valley Ho Resort sale confirmed.” Arizona Republic, May 15, 2002.

[22] “Hotel Valley Ho.” Historic Hotels of America. Accessed May 02, 2017. http://www.historichotels.org/hotels-resorts/hotel-valley-ho/.

[23] “The Hotel Valley Ho.” E-mail to Alan Hess. Appendix 1. May 1, 2017.

2 thoughts on “The Hotel Valley Ho

    • Thank you for the wonderful comment! The history of the Valley Ho is absolutely amazing. It’s a wonderful mid-century example. I’d love to see pictures of your daughter’s wedding! Their spaces are beautiful.

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