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Times Past: Hotel Westward Ho

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An early photo of the Hotel Westward Ho taken from the westalong Fillmore Street.

At the gala celebration for the opening of the newly constructed, $2.5 million ($29.6 million when adjusted for inflation), Hotel Westward Ho, recently elected Gov. John C. Phillips was asked to speak. He said, “I am not a great man and I have never done great things. With your friendship and cooperation and the assistance of Divine Providence, however, I sincerely hope that I will make you a good governor.”

Hotel Westward Ho began construction as the Hotel Roosevelt at Fillmore and Central Avenue in Phoenix. The Roosevelt name was supposed to be an honor to the “gallant statesman and fighter Col. Theodore Roosevelt.” When the ownership of the project changed hands, the new owners felt that many of the existing establishments bearing the Roosevelt name were only mediocre hotels. The owners felt “we could not afford to have our enterprise classed in such a category.”

The investors for the new hotel were from the East Coast. It was noted “as the Eastern financial and industrial heads are today looking to the West for new and better opportunities.what could be more significant or appropriate as a slogan of welcome than Westward Ho?”

Of course, Westward Ho was also the name of a novel written by Canon Charles Kingsley in 1854.

When ground was broken for the new hotel in 1927, the Phoenix Kiwanis Club ran the ceremony. The construction firm originally hired to do the work was required to move more than 12,000 cubic yards of dirt within the first 30 days. Steam shovels were to be used to move the massive amount of earth.

More than 100 shovels were used at the ground breaking. Every member of the Phoenix Kiwanis Club turned a shovel of dirt at the command of the club president. A representative of the contractor commented that dirt was being moved so quickly that the steam shovels might not be needed!

Due to financial difficulties of the contractor at another construction site, construction quickly came to a halt. A new contractor was found and the hotel was sold to George Johnson, another East Coast investor. Throughout the project, the architect Louis Dorr, a Canadian who worked for Fisher, Lake and Travor, made the project move forward on a strict timeline.

Dorr designed the Hotel Westward Ho as a 16-story building in a symmetrical Maltese cross. At the time of construction, it was the second tallest reinforced concrete building west of the Mississippi River. It was also the first skyscraper in Phoenix to use refrigeration instead of evaporative cooling.

At the opening of Hotel Westward Ho in late 1928, more than 700 guests arrived for the grand party put on by the new staff. More than 1,000 lights illuminated the outside of the building. As the guests arrived they were greeted by Indian doormen and attendants who wore the ceremonial clothes handed down by their tribal ancestors.

Since the doors to the hotel were never going to be locked, general manager Roy Emery was going to launch the front door key via a balloon from the 16th floor with trumpets blaring. Instead, he had to throw the key a short distance since “.a special gas being necessary.and none was available in the city.” The key was buried somewhere on the hotel grounds.

The excited guests were served a lavish banquet at the Come-’N'-Get It Restaurant. The menu said that early Arizonans sat around the chuck wagon and enjoyed each others’ company. The menu declared “.having builded here this veritable monument to those hearty pioneers, Hotel Westward Ho bids you welcome.”

During the banquet, waiters brought in many cases of bottled goods. It was reported “John A. Udall, United States prohibition officer, made immediate investigation and emerged with two of the bottles and a grin.” Demon alcohol would not be consumed. The bottles were merely noisemakers.

The party went deep into the night. Guests included most of the high society of Phoenix and Arizona. News reports went into great detail about the evening wear of the many of the guests.

Since this was one of the first fine hotels for Phoenix, the luxury items were of great interest to the citizens of Arizona. It was reported that the hotel contained more than 12 miles of carpet, five miles of sheets, 650 blankets, 600 bed spreads, 1,500 pillows, 13,000 pieces of silverware and more than 60,000 pieces of china and glass.

The staff of 250 served guests for several decades. Over the years, some of the noted guests included Al Capone, Richard Nixon, George Burns, Harry Truman, John Wayne and the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. After famous guests checked out of the hotel, one of the bellmen would apparently sleep in the unmade beds of the famous guests before the rooms were cleaned for the next guest.

Time took its toll on Hotel Westward Ho. By the 1980s the hotel had closed and was converted into subsidized housing.

-Mike Miller.

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