The architectural authorship of the Arizona Biltmore has never really been in question. Original drawings of the resort held in the Arizona State University Library archives clearly indicate McArthur, who was a licensed architect in Arizona at the time while Wright was not, is the architect of record. Although Wright is often credited with, and indeed is said to have frequently claimed authorship of the hotel, he did try to set the record straight among his professional peers in a carefully crafted letter to The Architectural Record, published in 1941 which states:
All I have done in connection with the building of the Arizona Biltmore, near Phoenix, I have done for Albert McArthur himself at his sole request, and for none other. Albert McArthur is the architect of that building -- all attempts to take the credit for that performance are gratuitous and beside the mark. But for him, Phoenix would have nothing like the Biltmore and it is my hope he may be enabled to give Phoenix many more beautiful buildings as I believe him entirely capable of doing.
The confusion over who the architect was stems from the block system used in the hotel lobby. McArthur's "Textile Block" stem is similar to that previously used by Wright in California and he oversaw the original installation. McArthur's rectangular block design, however, differs from the square blocks Wright preferred on several levels.
[The blocks represent] Albert Chase McArthur's chop (stylized signature stamp). This design is based on the logarithm of a B-flat minor. Albert was a brilliant mathematician and believed in the correlation between light and sound. The drawing of this mathematical equivalency from which this chop was formed exists within Albert's family.
The confusion was exacerbated during the 1970's when the property was acquired by the Talley family. Though their ownership lasted less than a decade it left indelible marks on the Arizona Biltmore, as well as McArthur's and Wright's association with the iconic hotel. A devastating fire struck the building in 1973. Although the lobby area and lower floors were not damaged by the flames that virtually destroyed the hotel's 3rd and 4th floors, the extensive water damage sustained by the lower floors led to an almost entire rebuilding of the facility under the guise of a renovation and restoration.
It was during this renovation the much of the dissonance evident in the property was introduced. The rebuilding and renovations were completed in only 90 days. Three construction teams worked around the clock to complete the repairs and allow the property to reopen on schedule in September 1973. Whether because of the tight timeframe or from a misunderstanding of McArthur's chop, the reconstruction of the block system was bungled. Damaged blocks were replaced with new blocks cast from desert sand in the original molds. The re-installation, unfortunately was flawed. The blocks were not replaced according to the original design but rather in a haphazard manner better suited to Wright's stylized block system which relied on square, not rectangular, blocks. The result has led some to see palm trees where once the was music and math.
The 1973 renovation also saw the conversion of the original solarium into a restaurant (named Wright's) and the installation of Sahuaros, a Wright-designed stained glass window. Sahuaros was fabricated by the students at Taliesin from Wright's design. Taliesin Archtectural Associates was the architect of record for the renovation.
The Arizona Biltmore remains one of Phoenix' most luxurious resorts and identifiable landmarks. It just isn't the Wright one so many visitors and residents believe it to be.
More information about the Arizona Biltmore can be found in "Arizona Walls: if only they could speak" by Judy Martin (Double B Publications. 1997).
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