Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Architectural Dissonance at Arizona's Biltmore

Every once in a while, common knowledge is wrong. Consider the case of the Arizona Biltmore Resort and Spa. This beautiful oasis nestled between Piestewa Peak (formerly Squaw Peak) and Camelback Mountain near the heart of Phoenix is often attributed to famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright. In fact, it is the crowing achievement and probably greatest heartbreak of Arizona architect Albert Chase McArthur.

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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Sunday, January 16, 2011

Secret streaks

Locals know things. Not just where to eat or the best routes to take when traveling. They know things about their communities others may find surprising. Which is why they don't expose every visitor to them.

Consider this hidden work of art in Cologne. No wonder everyone smiles at the tourists, there's an inside joke hanging over their heads!

It's things like this that make travel so much fun. They also make writing about your hometown entertaining. I can just see the grin on the local's face when he pointed out the moon!

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Saturday, January 15, 2011

Lessons in odd places

Sometimes I discover things in the oddest places. I'm not talking about car keys in the refrigerator or a stray sock in the yard. No, I mean the fascinating facts about a place in a time that have vanished.

For instance: I'm proofreading a children's book about Turkey for Project Gutenberg. It was obviously published decades ago, maybe longer. Some of the information is still accurate. Much of it, however, has changed or vanished in time. Like the nugget about floating a disk of wood atop a barrel of water that is being transported to keep it from spilling. According to the book, it works like topping off a barrel of water with oil, a trick widely known and used by sailors.

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Monday, January 3, 2011

First thought for 2011

The first Monday of a brand new year! It like cracking open the latest work of your favorite author. That new book smell rises to greet you. Anticipation and excitement fill the air. You can't wait to jump into it.

There are no guarantees you'll like the story or that it will have a happy ending. At this point, of course, you don't care. It's new. It's untried. The possibilities are endless. That's what makes the moment so wonderful.

Here's a little thought, maybe a resolution, maybe just a reminder to help keep the wonder going for myself and all the writers out there:

You must write every single day of your life. You must lurk in libraries to sniff books..." Ray Bradbury

Happy 2011!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Miss Me?

I haven't blogged much since losing Mom. Actually, I haven't manage much of anything. That's not true, I have managed the occasional travel article as the Phoenix Travel Examiner for (check out my homepage on my Blogger profile or visit to read the travel news I've been covering).

My travel beat for is great but sometimes things just happen that make me want and need to  blog. One such serendipitous event was meeting Sedona restaurant owner and sous chef Lisa Dahl yesterday at her book signing at Saks Fifth Avenue in the Biltmore Fashoin Park in Phoenix, Arizona.

I'm not supposed to but anymore cookbooks. Before she died, I promised my mother that I wouldn't buy anymore books, especially magazines, knitting books and cookbooks. I've tried to keep my word. Lisa's The Elixir of Life was my downfall, even if calling it a "cookbook" vastly under-represents this delicious volume of photographs, travel and oh, yeah, recipes. Did I mention the DVD that comes with it full of enchanting music from local Arizona musicians and a glimpse into how Lisa fits travel and cooking together? All in all The Elixir of Life is a feast for the traveling foodie's heart, head and habits! And at only $34.95 this amazing collection is a steal.

In fact, were it not for the price, which is amazingly low given how much the book contains, I wouldn't believe this was a self-published book. Or maybe I would. I can't imagine a traditional publisher going out on a limb for a untried author (no matter how successful a chef) and producing this book. For starters, the book is overflowing with beautiful photographs that make you just want to dig in, whether that taking a trip to Sedona, Arizona to visit Dahl & Di Luca or Cucina Rustica restaurants, going all the way to Italy or just trying out one of these wonderful recipes at home. Speaking of recipes, the recipes Lisa shares are all from the Dahl & Di Luca or Cucina Rustica menus, so it's a great way to bring great food home from your Sedona trip. Each recipe serves about six, which gave me pause initially because I have a two-person household. Conversation revealed that all of the recipes were designed to be frozen, allowing you to "spend a Saturday afternoon in the kitchen, cooking all sorts of wonderful things and enjoying time at home with your family and eating wonderfully during the week when you may not want to spend a lot of time cooking." The Elixir of Life doesn't stop there, the way most cookbooks would. Instead, this book takes you on two remarkable journeys, one through Tuscany and the other through Lisa's adventure of becoming a self taught sous chef and owner of two of Sedona and Arizona's most notable restaurants.

I don't think I've ever read a cookbook before. Sure, I've thumbed through them, looked at what few pictures there are and tried the recipes that piqued my interest. But actually sat down and read a cookbook from cover to cover? No. Not once. And I boast that I'll read anything. Believe me, you'll read this cookbook. I did.

Most book signings are polished or at least orchestrated things. Lisa Dahl at Saks Fifth Avenue was not. It felt more like a popular friend was out shopping and decided to sit down and chat for a while. She seems to know everyone in town. Or maybe everyone in town knows her. It's hard to tell. The whole affair was so comfortable, despite a rather unfortunate location beside the UP escalator, that I recorded my first mobile interview. The sound quality is not great, nor is the lighting, but Lisa's insight into what traveler want and should expect of a restaurant is fascinating. Here's a portion of what she had to say:

More excerpts from the interview can be found on my YouTube channel at: You can also find my professional review of The Elixir of Life on

Lisa is by far the most inspirational persona I have met in a long time. She obviously doesn't heed to internal naysayers that dog me (and sound like my mother) or she never could have achieved the success she is now enjoying. Whether you are a writer or a chef, there is so much to learn and admire about this amazing lady. I'm so glad I went to Saks yesterday, even if I didn't get any of the Holiday shopping I was planning to do done.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Read the fine print!

United Airline's baggage fee subscription option has received a lot of attention but this is one of the few articles that mentions it may not be necessary for some frequent flyers because their option (Red Carpet Club, Economy Plus, etc) already offers to waive or discount baggage fees for members. Before subscribing, be sure to check out the benefits of your United frequent flyer program.

in reference to: United Airlines adds premier baggage option (view on Google Sidewiki)

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Writing as Therapy

Death, or so I am told, is an introspective process. Not just for the dying person, but also, for those remaining behind. Since the passing of my mother in February 2009, I have found it very difficult to write about the outside world. On the other hand, I am making great progress on my fiction, and I have begun keeping a journal in the manner of Anne Frank (that is to say, I write letters to my mother).

Along the way I am learning more about myself and who I may become as a writer. I am not exactly who I thought I was, then, again, the world isn't the same as it was three short months ago. I admit I am interested to see where this journey takes me but at the same time would willingly give it up to have my mother back. Since that isn't an option, I will just have to continue along this path and see where it takes me....