History of a Mid-Century Icon

The Valley of the Sun has always attracted visitors with its mild climate, sunny disposition, and stunning natural landscape. Resorts throughout the area lured travelers with the notion of recreation and relaxation. Many unique mid-century hotels and resorts were built in the 1950s and ‘60s; sadly, few now remain.

Valley Ho pre-1960

One that still has its footing is Hotel Valley Ho in Downtown Scottsdale. The hotel was built in 1956, only five years after Scottsdale was incorporated as a city. Scottsdale was mainly a farming community, but starting in the 1930s it increasingly became known as a wintertime destination and artists’ colony. At the time of incorporation in 1951, there were only 2,000 people living in the one-square-mile city. Phoenix, which had 107,000 residents, was the bustling center of business and culture, and Scottsdale was considered a far drive.

The Valley Ho was the sister property to the famed Westward Ho in Downtown Phoenix; both were owned by John B. Mills. Husband and wife Robert and Evelyn Foehl were joint owners of Hotel Valley Ho and also developed and managed the resort. They lived on-site in a private apartment with an enclosed garden. Evelyn, known for her abundant hospitality, once said, “It has always been my opinion that to be a successful hostess in the resort hotel business, the important thing is to make your guest feel he is wanted.”

Architect Edward L. Varney was commissioned to design the buildings. With offices in both Arizona and California, he was one of the wealthiest architects in the Valley. Varney was known for his minimalist, modern style. His designs included Arizona State University’s Sun Devil Stadium and H.B. Farmer Building, the Motorola Building on McDowell Rd. (now General Dynamics), and the Phoenix Municipal Building. He was undoubtedly ahead of his time, putting all of the electrical wiring, plumbing, and mechanical fixtures for the Valley Ho in underground tunnels (while nearby neighborhoods received their power through above-ground utility poles). He also sub-structured the hotel to support a future seven-story tower — at a time when growth in Scottsdale was outwards, not upwards.

The design of the hotel became instantly distinctive – it combined modern and Southwestern styles in a way never before seen. The signature element was and is the set of Native-American-motif concrete panels that line the property. Ironically, it is said that Varney opposed these panels, on the grounds that they were too elaborate. The hotel was also innovative in that it was the first in Scottsdale to have central air conditioning, thusly the first to be open year-round. Construction costs totaled $1.5 million, equivalent to $12 million today.

Guests could book one of the 99 rooms for $7.50 a night in 1956; they offered luxuries like rollaway sofa beds, televisions with rabbit ears, and central-air conditioning. Some came with kitchenettes. A diving pool at the center of the property was the hub of activity, playing host to banquets, fashion shows, and lazy afternoons.

The Foehls brought many celebrity clients with them from their previous resort in Southern California. They relished the fact that none of the paparazzi would follow them to Scottsdale, affording them more privacy than, say, Palm Springs. A few of the celebrities who visited Hotel Valley Ho included Bing Crosby, Tony Curtis, and Janet Leigh. Zsa Zsa Gabor and her daughter rode horses around the property during their visits, and perhaps most famously, teen idols Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood had their 1957 wedding reception in the hotel ballroom, upon recommendation of Wagner’s parents, who were friends of the Foehls and regular guests at the hotel.

In 1958, two wings were added to the hotel at the north end, designed by architect Joe B. Wong. This brought the total number of rooms to 178. The Ramada Inn was built just south of the Valley Ho in 1961. satellite maps In 1973, Robert Foehl passed away. Hotel Valley Ho was acquired by Ramada, added to the Ramada Inn across the street, and renamed Ramada’s Valley Ho Resort. It transitioned from an upscale, well-styled motor hotel to a property focused on family and convention business. Over the years, the buildings lost their luster. Signature concrete columns were covered in mirrors; airy, windowed walkways were made dark, and a host of other unfortunate design changes were made.

In 2002, the property went up for sale. The highest bidder wanted to tear it down. Luckily, that deal fell through and the bid went to MSR Properties, a local company run by the Lyon family. MSR elected Westroc to manage the resort, and the Westroc team executed a strong vision to restore the resort to its former mid-century splendor.

Valley Ho after 7 story tower was added in 2008

Construction began in 2004, and was done by Kitchell Construction, the local company that originally built the hotel back in 1956. Total restoration costs came to $80 million; no details were overlooked. The hotel re-opened on December 20, 2005, 49 years to-the-date from its original opening. Additions included ZuZu, OH Pool, and VH Spa for Vitality + Health. Trader Vic’s, now in the process of being converted to a new, independent restaurant concept, opened in June of 2006. The seven-story Tower was completed in January of 2008 — a continuation of Varney’s plans. The original design was always kept in mind, both for the restoration and new construction.

Alan Hess, architect and author of numerous mid-century modern texts, has called Hotel Valley Ho “one of the best-preserved mid-century hotels in the country”. Extensive renovations have brought the hotel to a new, modern standard of luxury, while honoring its classic design roots. Relax in the ZuZu Lounge while sipping on a martini to classic fifties tunes, and you’ll forget this mid-century gem exists in the present.


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