JMGartly Design Studio

As we stood on the rooftop patio of the Hotel Valley Ho and overlooked a beautiful Phoenix landscape and the Arcadia community, the tour guide shared that “Before the walls were erected, a young Stephen Spielberg (who grew up in Arcadia), as he told a friend of Mrs. Foehl’s (original hotel owner) in later years, romped through the construction site looking for fun or trouble”.

Trained as an architect and further working in city building and urban design, it's not a surprise that when experiencing a city, architectural tours are top on my list of to do’s.  Experiencing a city or a building on ones own by walking, exploring and observing your surroundings is definitely the ideal way to enjoy a new city.  Yet, I have always found my observations to be substantially enhanced when I take the opportunity to learn about the history of a place.  Prior to visiting a city, I seek out the historic tours, as I know my ultimate experience of the place will be that much more fulfilling for having connected to some aspect of its history – the layering of how the city developed and grew.

If one were to stay in the Hotel Valley Ho, you would experience the hotel, as it is today, which is vibrant, colourful, and most inviting.  If not staying there, then the 90-minute historic tour took us behind the scenes to spaces we wouldn’t have experienced and the sharing of people and development stories we would not have learned (i.e. the construction grounds being Stephen Spielberg’s creative playground).  My architectural appreciation of this Frank Lloyd Wright influenced and well-preserved example of mid-century architecture now had a depth that I may not have experienced on my own.  My sense of what the hotel brought to the community in the late 1950’s and the role it played in the development and vibrancy of Historic Old Town Scottsdale left me with unexpected observations.  They are observations that furthered my commitment to heritage conservation and its value as we plan, grow and develop our cities.

I believe the best cities are the cities that have a depth of built-form layering that has developed over time.  Heritage conservation ensures those layers of architecture remain to reinforce a cities or community’s identity and “sense of place”.  I was most grateful to experience a strong “sense of place” in and around the preserved hotel including the stories that were shared as a part of Scottsdale’s history.  Despite economic challenges at the time, ownership and architectural changes, and a building expansion, the hotel was preserved and continues to contribute significantly as an anchor to Main Street.  My take away from that tour experience has been observations of not only the building but also one that has enhanced my professional reflection in city building.

What I have found interesting is that, although, they may be historic architectural experiences, my family and friends walk away from such tours with their own enhanced experience of that place that they take back to their own work or neighourhood perspectives.  For them, it may be some other aspect of appreciation than the building itself, such as the stories, which have an impact on their quality of life.  I certainly know it comes up in future conversations in some manner of encouraging reflection.

I share the Hotel Valley Ho story, as the heritage value of mid-century architecture has been one of the areas at the forefront of my architectural appreciation in heritage conservation efforts.   Over the last several years, renovating and investing in mid-century homes has become a trend so one would think, or hope, that this architectural style won’t be lost.  I, however, have also experienced that we never want to underestimate the impact of established community intensification and redevelopment in cities.  We want to make sure that our heritage inventories included evaluation and protection of a diversity of architectural styles in order to achieve vibrant and interesting people places.

Other historic tours that have inspired me professionally and personally are Frank Lloyd Wrights Taliesin West in Scottsdale, AZ, his Studio, Unity Temple and residential projects in Oak Park, Illinois and recently Heritage Square, Block 14 in Downtown Phoenix, AZ.  It was good foresight by the Mayor of the day to say that this historic block would be preserved in amongst a downtown core developing and growing as its there that one learns of the beginnings of Phoenix.  It’s not the easiest to share on paper such experiences rather I would hope this one tours reflection for me encourages new experiences in your home city or a new visited city to include a little more of its history.

More about the history of Hotel Valley Ho.

Happy Valley Ho Tours are through Ultimate Arts and Cultural Tours.