FLAGSTAFF’S MOST HISTORIC BOUTIQUE HOTEL
Like many frontier towns in the late 19th century, early Flagstaff was a victim of numerous disastrous fires. Following a particularly bad series of blazes in 1897, the city passed an ordinance requiring all buildings in the business area to be built of brick, stone, or iron. John W. Weatherford (1859-1934), a native of Weatherford, Texas, constructed one of the first buildings that conformed to these rules, which housed general store on the first floor and living spaces for the Weatherford family upstairs.
Within two years, John Weatherford realized that tourism would offer an economic boom to the growing town, and in March of 1899, he began construction of a three-story modification of his building. On New Year’s Day, 1900, it officially reopened as the Weatherford Hotel.
For the next thirty years, the Weatherford was the most prominent hotel in Flagstaff, entertaining guests such as artist Thomas Moran, publisher William Randolph Hearst, and western author Zane Grey. Grey’s novel “The Call of the Canyon” was written in an upstairs room, now part of the Zane Grey Ballroom. In 1903, Weatherford constructed a beautiful sunroom on the top floor which was used for dances and parties, while numerous civic groups engaged the rooms downstairs. At various times during this early period, the hotel housed a theatre, restaurant, billiard hall, and a local radio station.
When transcontinental telephone service first reached Flagstaff in 1909, Weatherford constructed a small brick building with a three-bay façade of red Coconino sandstone on the south of the hotel to serve the telephone company. That building served its original purpose until the 1930s when it underwent the first of two “modernizations”. The sandstone façade was stuccoed over in a modified art-deco style and the building became the La Brea Café. In the 1950s, current fashion resulted in aluminum siding and for many years the Wong family operated The Weatherford Café, an iconic Chinese-American restaurant.
Bn the late 1920s, the Weatherford was showing its age, and new hotels like the Monte Vista conformed more to modern tastes. In 1929, three-sided balcony was damaged by fire and removed, and 1933, the Weatherford family lost the hotel, and J.W. Weatherford died in Phoenix the following year.
FAST FORWARD TO 1975
Henry Taylor, the current owner, purchased the hotel in 1975 along with his brother Lloyd, with the two hoping to save the historic building from demolition. Since 1980, Henry and his wife Pamela (Sam) Green have completed a long string of renovations, with a goal of restoring it to its original grandeur. In 1978 and 1981, Charly’s Restaurant and Charly’s Pub opened on the first floor on the site of the original lobby, and some hotel rooms. At the same time, the upper floors operated as a youth hostel.
In 1995, the Taylors restored the original appearance of the telephone exchange and renamed it The Exchange Pub. The casual ambience of the Exchange Pub and Charly’s dining room next door are reminiscent of Flagstaff’s heyday at the turn of the century. Original photographs and memorabilia enhance that reflection of the town’s history.
In the late 1990s, the Taylors obtained one of the largest commercial grants in Arizona history, intended for the restoration of the original balconies. On the third floor, the Zane Grey Ballroom opened in 1997, in preparation for the reconstruction of the balconies. The first stage of reconstruction the wrap-around porches was completed in December, 1998.
In the building’s basement, The Gopher Hole was opened in 2014, recreating an earlier club that occupied that space. This initiated the complex engineering feat of reinforcing the interior floors of the entire building. In June 2016, the remainder of the restoration of the structure of the building was completed with stacking steel posts and beams through the first and second floors, and the building became fully operational with the restoration of 17 hotel rooms. Many of these rooms retain the original claw-foot tubs, showers, and other fixtures. Downstairs in the lobby, the Taylors restored the ceiling to its original height of 19 feet, and added a new concierge desk to replace the 1930s-era mezzanine. Meanwhile, a new Victorian-style staircase returned the entrance of the hotel to its original grandeur.
The Taylors consider themselves to be caretakers of the Weatherford Hotel, and can confidently say that they have left it in a much better state than when they had acquired it! Through all of its history, it has remained one of the most renowned hotels in Flagstaff and is also known for having the best restaurants in Flagstaff. The only remaining project is an addition at the rear of the building to accommodate a new fire escape and elevator tower, planned for completion in the near future.
A Weatherford Hotel Reading List
The Weatherford Hotel is a fantastic place to read, and winter is the best time of the year to do so. There are cozy nooks all over the hotel that suit this purpose, both public and private, as well as plenty of books that involve the building itself, the personalities who spent time here, and similar themes.
Before we get to the actual books, here’s my totally subjective list of the best places to read in the building:
- Of all the warm spots to enjoy an Irish Coffee and a book during the lazy winter months, the pair of small tables surrounding “Wanda,” the pot-belly stove in the Exchange Pub, might be the most iconic.
- While the hotel’s original balcony burned down in 1929, it was rebuilt by the current owners in the late 1990s, just in time for the hotel’s centennial. There are plenty of tables and chairs for relaxing, and a gas heater that heats part of the east-facing end. While this is only open to the public when the Zane Grey Bar is open (for up-to-date hours, please check here https://weatherfordhotel.com/zane-grey-ballroom/) hotel guests can hang out in this area at any time.
- The fireplace in Charly’s restaurant area was once the centerpiece of the hotel’s lobby. Be sure to ask owner Henry Taylor the story of how he dug it out from under layers of drywall after reading of its existence in an account by western author Zane Grey. Grab a seat nearby, order a bowl of Sam’s pozole, and relax.
- Directly above that aforementioned fireplace and sharing the same chimney is another beautiful spot in the Zane Grey Bar. While the area can be noisy on busy weekend nights, earlier in the day it is a nice place to relax with a book while sampling Brittley’s seasonal cocktails.
- The basement used to have several fireplaces, as evidenced by the many coal shoots still scattered around the Gopher Hole Pub. Unfortunately, these fireplaces have long since disappeared as the area transitioned from a legitimate bar to a speakeasy, and then to a series of fraternal organizations’ headquarters, a cobbler’s shop, storage, and finally the resurrected Gopher Hole. Thankfully, during the latest renovation, the owners added a new fireplace, which may be the prettiest one in the building.
- If you have superb concentration abilities, the bustling lobby has some great reading areas right out in the open. While the configuration of the area changes frequently, there is currently a pair of chairs right next to the radiator, under a portrait of our founder, J.W. Weatherford.
- Finally, Room 42 is my personal favorite room in the hotel and probably the greatest reading nook of them all. As a queen suite, it is less pricy than our king suite, and is the only private room that has its own potbelly stove for heating. Next to the stove is a chaise lounge, two comfy chairs, an antique bed, and several large windows. Check out this short video for look at the room: https://youtu.be/kmc-CtNm9_4.
While reading any book (or magazine, or blog post…) is enjoyable at the Weatherford, here are a few suggestions to really help immerse yourself into the hotel’s unique atmosphere:
- We’d be crazy not to start with Zane Grey’s The Call of the Canyon, which was written (at least partially, as there are several accounts) while Grey was staying in what is now the ballroom area that bears his name. It takes place in nearby Oak Creek Canyon and mentions the “Wetherford” several times. Being in the public domain, you can find it as a free ebook here: https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/1881
- While this list mostly focuses on the past, George Breed’s book Walking Flagstaff: A Photo Journalshows how Flagstaff continues to be a vital, interesting place full of amazing people. Visit https://soulsticepublishing.com/product/walking-flagstaff-book/ or wander over to Bright Side Books, just over a block away from the hotel, where you can find this as well as many of the other books on the list.
- Platt Cline’s Mountain Town, an updated version of his earlier book They Came to the Mountain, is considered the definitive history of Flagstaff, and it features John Weatherford and the Weatherford Hotel prominently. Out of print, you can usually find used copies in local used bookstores like Bookmans.
- Jimmy Swinnerton: The Artist and His Work by Harold Davidson, is an entertaining and enlightening account of the long life of the man who invented the modern comic strip at the age of 17 and then became a celebrated landscape painter after drying out at our hotel. This one is relatively hard to find, but it occasionally pops up on eBay for about $25. The many high-quality prints of his paintings featured in the book make it well worth the price.
- Susan Johnson, founder of “Haunted Flagstaff” ghost tour business Freaky Foot Tours, wroteFlagstaff’s Walkup Family Murders: A Shocking 1937 Tragedy about a sensational local murder that had been nearly forgotten. Find it online at https://www.arcadiapublishing.com/Products/9781467147156.
- Lowell Observatory’s Kevin Schindler and local philanthropist Michael Kitt collaborated on Historic Tales of Flagstaff, a very entertaining collection of stories about the history of our town, including some info about the hotel. https://www.arcadiapublishing.com/Products/9781467142410
- Odetta: A Life in Music and Protest is Ian Zack’s biography of the late folk legend Odetta, known as the Voice of the Civil Rights Movement. She was one of the hundreds (maybe thousands?) of amazing artists who graced the stage at Charly’s over the years, and many longtime locals can still attest to watching her captivating performance.https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/621094/odetta-by-ian-zack/
- There are a few major differences between the Weatherford and the Overlook Hotel of Stephen King’s The Shining. For instance, we don’t have a topiary garden or roque court (Winslow’s La Posada has croquet, which is similar), we don’t shut down over the winter, and our ghosts are mostly friendly. However, late at night, the halls in our hotel areas can conjure images of little kids on tricycles, creepy twins, and the occasional river of blood. Pick up this book literally anywhere books are sold, or from the bookshelf of nearly anyone between the ages of 40 and 80 in any English-speaking country.
- Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None is a fantastic locked-room mystery in a setting that I can’t help but imagine looks a lot like the Weatherford, despite taking place on an island of the coast of Devon in the UK. You can probably find this one lying around at any grandma’s house, and if not, any other Christie book will do.
- On the surface, it may seem like a riff on the tropes that were established in The Shining and reused over and over since then, but Scott Kenemore’s The Grand Hotel is actually an entirely unique approach to the haunted hotel genre. This one is really enjoyable, and the audiobook version is a great listen. https://scottkenemore.com/the-grand-hotel/
*Honorable mentions: Any biography of Zane Grey, William Randolph Hearst, Barry Goldwater, etc. Also, anything by Edward Abbey, who used to drink at Charly’s.
Have you read any of these, or are there any books that I missed? If so, please let me know in the comments.
-Drew Purcell, January 20, 2022