Posted by: Brad Nixon | July 20, 2016

Arizona Biltmore; Not Finding Mr. Wright

Many of you regular readers are interested in architecture, as am I. What if you were in Phoenix, Arizona, and encountered this building?

Biltmore main Brad Nixon 8646 (640x480)

Who would you say was the architect? Here’s another view of the main building of several structures on the site, which is a hotel resort complex.

Biltmore main Brad Nixon 8647 (640x480)

You’d almost certainly say, “Frank Lloyd Wright: Look at those roof lines, those textile block walls.”

Biltmore Brad Nixon 8624 (640x480)

You’d be wrong.

That’s the Arizona Biltmore Hotel northeast of downtown Phoenix, which opened in February, 1929. The architect, though, was not Wright, but Albert Chase McArthur.

McArthur received a thorough grounding in architecture, first at the Armour Institute of Technology, then Harvard. According to Wikipedia, “McArthur continued his education in Austria and Italy, opening an architectural firm in Chicago…. He moved his practice to Phoenix in 1925.”

Why, then, the stark resemblance to Wright’s work? Between 1907 and 1909, McArthur worked as a draftsman in Wright’s firm. That’s one association. When he received the commission to design the Biltmore (from his two brothers), he determined to use the textile block design Wright introduced in his California houses earlier in the decade, although McArthur created patterns of his own.

Biltmore detail Brad Nixon 8631 (640x480)

Biltmore vert Brad Nixon 8626 (480x640)

Wright consulted on the project at McArthur’s request, ostensibly about the use of the block system. That fact is the source of much controversy, and it’s often been suggested that Wright had a significant — perhaps the guiding — hand in the project. Those familiar with Mr. Wright’s lack of humility won’t be surprised to learn that he subsequently claimed to have been the true designer of the Biltmore, and had simply been gracious in allowing the building’s attribution to his former draftsman. I wasn’t there, but it’s generally accepted that the core of the design is McArthur’s.

Wright was a domineering — some would say tyrannical — boss, and those who worked for him were certainly influenced strongly by his styles as they evolved during his career.

Biltmore Brad Nixon vert 8623 (480x640)

The interior of the building is as interesting as the exterior. Here’s the reception hall.

Arizona Biltmore Brad Nixon 8614 (640x480)

Originally, the resort was fitted out with thousands of pieces of furniture McArthur designed, but a later owner disposed of them, apparently with the intent of focusing attention more on Wright’s involvement in the project, minimizing awareness of McArthur’s own work.

Arizona Biltmore Brad Nixon 8641 (640x469)

Biltmore interior Brad Nixon 8642 (800x600)

The buildings and the grounds are impressive, beautifully landscaped. There are several pools, including this one, the Paradise Pool. I’m not certain how much of that structure was designed by McArthur (or Wright): It’s a water slide.

Arizona Biltmore Brad Nixon 8619 (640x517)

Many of the rooms are located in small buildings in the complex.

Arizona Biltmore Brad Nixon 8625 (640x480)

There are all the typical resort amenities, golf, tennis, spa (it’s now operated under Hilton’s Waldorf Astoria brand), and, of course, dining. You can stop and have a sandwich or a salad in the casual dining room, Frank & Albert’s (look who gets top billing!).

Frank and Alberts Willard Nixon 0676 (640x480)

While you sit, perhaps on the patio having a cooling beverage under the western sky, you can decide for yourself: was it, or wasn’t it?

Have an opinion on the McArthur vs. Wright issue? I welcome your comments.

The Arizona Biltmore Hotel is located at 2400 E. Missouri Ave., Phoenix, Arizona. It’s relatively easy to reach by car, there’s parking, and you can walk around without being a registered guest, although, of course, your access to some areas of the resort will be limited.

Some of the photographs in this post and select images from Under Western Skies are available on CLICK HERE to view the Underawesternsky image portfolio.

© Brad Nixon 2016, 2017. Frank & Albert’s photo © Willard Nixon 2017, used by kind permission.

Thanks to, as often, my go-to research resource.


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