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Discover the Hotel San Carlos, whose blend of modern amenities and classical charm has drawn celebrities and Southwest travelers alike for over a century.

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Hotel San Carlos, a member of Historic Hotels of America since 1991, dates back to 1886.

Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the Hotel San Carlos has been a member of Historic Hotels of America since 1991. It has hosted many powerful dignitaries and Hollywood celebrities for well over a century. Its history harkens back to the beginning of the 20th century, when the prestigious Babbitt family acquired the land after the schoolhouse that sat upon the land was condemned for demolition. Descendants of former Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt (and Arizona Governor), the family yearned to create a magnificent hotel that would elevate Phoenix’s rising status as a luxurious holiday destination. Yet, their plans languished for several years, forcing the Babbitts to ultimately sell the plot to two businessmen, Dwight D. Heard and Charles Harris. The men shared the Babbitts desire to construct a spectacular vacation retreat though, noticing the uptick in tourists arriving into the city by means of both train and the automobile. Despite sharing the prospective business as equal partners, the two decided to oversee different aspects of the hotel’s pending operations separately. Harris would serve as the hotel’s manager, while Heard would use his expertise as a real estate developer to manage its construction. Heard financed the construction through his “Dwight D. Heard Company,” hiring renowned architect G. Witecross Ritchie to craft its unique appearance. Ritchie designed a gorgeous façade for Heard and Harris’ wonderful new building, using a brilliant blend of Italian Renaissance architecture as the source of his inspiration. Construction commenced in 1927 and took nearly the entire year to complete. The work did no come cheaply to Heard’s construction company either, costing a grand total of some $850,000!

Yet, when the business debuted as the “Hotel San Carlos” a year later, it was one of the most resplendent buildings in all of Phoenix. Its lobby featured an amazing assortment of travertine tiles imported directly from Italy, and its entrances possessed marvelous vertical-ribbed terra cotta tiles. Neoclassical columns and ornamentations dominated the second and third floors, while the fourth floor had a stunning balcony complete with lintels that rested on a superb corbel. But the building also had many state-of-the-art amenities that distinguished it from its competitors, including steam heat and chilled ice water taps. Perhaps the most stunning service that the Hotel San Carlos provided was its air conditioning, circulated via a pump and evaporator into each guestroom. (Other hotels at the time made their guests sleep on mattresses outside on porches to combat the heat.) As such, the Hotel San Carlos became one of the most popular vacation retreats in all of Phoenix for many years thereafter. Harris supervised the emergence of the hotel’s surging popularity, living in a penthouse on the top floor of the hotel with his family. He continued to manage the business over the next 18 years, becoming its sole owner when Heard passed away in 1929. By this point, the Hotel San Carlos was attracting some of the most influential people in the country to its doors. Mae West stayed inside the hotel while performing at the Orpheum Theatre, requesting that she be awakened every afternoon with a bottle of champagne. Marilyn Monroe would also spend time relaxing in Room 326 when she filmed Bus Stop, which overlooked the building’s turquoise pool. Lovebirds Clark Gable and Carole Lombard even hid inside the Hotel San Carlos on several occasions, frequently residing in Room 412. Many more celebrities would visit the Hotel San Carlos over the years, including the likes of Spencer Tracy, Humphrey Bogart, Jean Harlow, Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, Gary Cooper, and Gene Autry.

Following Harris’ won death in 1946, his descendants assumed complete control over the Hotel San Carlos. The Harris family continued to operate the business until the late 1960s, when Charles Harris’ widow, Elise, decided to sell it to an investment group that was interested renovating it. The capitalists struggled to acquire the necessary funds to start the project, however, and began looking for a new owner. Fortunately, the investors found an enthusiastic buyer in Gregory Melikian, who purchased the building in 1970. A World War II veteran with a prestigious military career, Melikian invested heavily into preserving the hotel’s rich heritage so that future generations could appreciate it. The greatest testimony to Melikian’s commitment toward protecting the business’ heritage was the million-dollar renovation that he initiated in 2003. All of its glorious guestrooms were outfitted to provide the best in modern comfort, while every aspect of the hotel’s original architectural details were diligently conserved. The work of Melikian and his family to safeguard the Hotel San Carlos has not gone unnoticed, either. In 1993, for instance, their stewardship over the building earned it a listing on the National Register of Historic Places by the U.S. Department of the Interior. And in 2020, Historic Hotels of America acknowledge General Melikian’s lifetime of work with an Award of Excellence for “Steward of History and Historic Preservation.” As such, the Hotel San Carlos continues to be one of the best vacation getaways in the southeastern United States. Its unrivaled hospitality and fascinating history make it one of the state’s most cherished destinations. 

The Italian Renaissance style building formally opened on March 20, 1928 as the most modern hotel in the entire Southwest United States. It was the first air-conditioned, high-rise hotel in Phoenix and the first high rise with hand-operated elevators in the state. During the mid-twentieth century, the hotel continued to be a hub for the Phoenix elite, political, social, as well as a destination for Hollywood stars. Mae West, Clark Gable and Carole Lombard, Marilyn Monroe, Humphrey Bogart, Harry James, and Kay Starr all spent time at the Hotel San Carlos.

In 1974, it was recognized as a State Historic landmark and its been in continuous operation since its opening. In 2003, Hotel San Carlos underwent a multi-million dollar renovation that modernized its amenities, but preserved its historic fabric.

  • About the Location +

    Hotel San Carlos is located in Phoenix, Arizona, one of America’s most vibrant cities. It also bears the distinction of being the fifth largest city in the United States in terms of population and is the only state capital to have over a million residents. Phoenix’s history is also quite extensive, having been founded three centuries ago by American pioneers. Frontiersman Jack Swilling specifically founded the city in 1868, who was interested in establishing a homestead that could feed the area’s outlying mining towns and outposts. He subsequently developed a massive canal that could irrigate the land upon discovering the remnants of several trenches dug by the Pima Indians years earlier. Swilling quickly took to growing several different crops, establishing his quaint farm in what is now central Phoenix. Other settlers quickly noticed his success and migrated en masse to the area to create their own farms. A town rapidly evolved around Swilling’s quaint estate, which its first residents referred to as “Phoenix.” Phoenix had grown so much during the first few years of its existence that President Ulysses S. Grant even issued an official land patent for the community. In fact, some 2,500 people called Phoenix home by the start of the 1880s. As such, Arizona’s territorial legislature officially charted Phoenix as a city shortly thereafter, eventually making it their capital in 1889. The population boom also gave rise to a thriving local economy, as well as an extensive railroad network. An influx of new capital into Phoenix subsequently spawned a massive wave of both residential and municipal construction at the start of the 20th century. Some of the city’s most iconic municipal buildings debuted, too, such as the Arizona Capitol Building and the Carnegie Free Library. Perhaps the greatest project developed at the time was the Salt River Dam, which the administration of Theodore Roosevelt built just outside of downtown Phoenix via the National Reclamation Act. (The dam today is known as the “Theodore Roosevelt Dam.”)

    Phoenix became Arizona’s state capital when it was finally admitted into the Union as the 48th state in 1912. But Arizona was becoming more than just an important economic and political center—it was also transforming into a prominent vacation hotspot for tourists all over the United States. The proliferation of both the passenger train and the automobile made it increasingly easier for vacationers to travel all over the country, including the once remote American Southwest. Many Americans soon discovered that Phoenix’s perennially warm climate made it an attractive getaway, especially among those who wished to escape the harsh winters of the nation’s northernmost states. Real estate developers and hospitality professionals began creating a series of magnificent hotels and resorts over the next few decades, including the likes of Dwight D. Heard and Charles Harris. Phoenix continued to grow in both populations, as well, giving birth to its modern skyline in the 1940s. (Many servicemen also temporarily lived in Phoenix at the time, with many flying military aircraft at Luke Field, Falcon Field, and William Field nearby.) The city eventually attracted the manufacturing operations of powerful corporations, such as Motorola, Intel, and McDonnell Douglas. Dozens of skyscrapers opened in the 1960s and 1970s, as such—including the likes of the Rosenzweig Center, Phoenix Corporate Center, U.S. Bank Center, Valley Center, and the Phoenix Financial Center—with some based around the famous Phoenix City Square. Noted Phoenix city resident Sandra Day O’Connor even managed to break the gender barrier on the U.S. Supreme Court, when President Ronald Reagan nominated her for the office in the 1980s. Today, Phoenix continues to occupy a special place in America’s cultural landscape. It is home to many fascinating cultural attractions, such as the Desert Botanical Garden, the Heard Museum, and the Phoenix Museum of Art.

  • Famous Historic Guests +

    G. Witecross Ritchie of Los Angeles designed the hotel in the Italian Renaissance style. The entrances are decorated with vertical-ribbed terracotta tiles. Above the entryway, at the 2nd and 3rd floor levels, are neo-classical column ornamentations, with shaft and capitol. Textured concrete, scored to simulate stone masonry, is used on the first-floor level. On the 4th floor level, a projecting balcony with lintels resting on corbel is seen. Lintels also project on both manor facades along the bottom of the 2nd story level. The lintels recur over the tops of the second story windows and are more richly decorated with scrolls and relief carvings. Above the 7th floor is a penthouse, of original construction. Charles Harris, the original owner and General Manager, resided in the penthouse with his family. Italian Renaissance Revival architecture itself is a subset of a much large group of styles known simply as “Renaissance Revival.” Renaissance Revival architecture—sometimes referred to as "Neo-Renaissance”—is a group of architecture revival styles that date back to the 19th century. Neither Grecian nor Gothic in their appearance, Renaissance Revival-style architecture drew inspiration from a wide range of structural motifs found throughout Early Modern Western Europe. Architects in France and Italy were the first to embrace the artistic movement, who saw the architectural forms of the European Renaissance as an opportunity to reinvigorate a sense of civic pride throughout their communities. As such, those intellectuals incorporated the colonnades and low-pitched roofs of Renaissance-era buildings, with the characteristics of Mannerist and Baroque-themed architecture. Perhaps the greatest structural component to a Renaissance Revival-style building involved the installation of a grand staircase in a vein similar to those located at the Château de Blois and the Château de Chambord. This particular feature served as a central focal point for the design, often directing guests to a magnificent lobby or exterior courtyard. But the nebulous nature of Renaissance Revival architecture meant that its appearance varied widely across Europe. Historians today often find it difficult to provide a specific definition for the architectural movement.

  • Famous Historic Guests +

    Clark Gable, actor known for his roles in It Happened One Night, Mutiny on the Bounty, Gone with the Wind.

    Betty Grable, actress known for her roles in such films like Mother Wore Tights and How to Marry a Millionaire.

    Mae West, actress known for her roles in She Done Him Wrong, I’m No Angel, and My Little Chickadee.

    Gene Autry, singer and actor known for such roles in The Phantom Empire, In Old Santa Fe, and The Old Corral. 

    Carole Lombard, actress known for her roles in My Man Godfrey, Nothing Sacred, and To Be or Not to Be.

    Spencer Tracy, actor known for such roles in Adam’s Rib, Woman of the Year, and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.

    Marilyn Monroe, actress known for her roles in Bus Stop and Some Like It Hot.

    Humphrey Bogart, actor known for his roles in movies like Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon, and The Big Sheep.

    Jean Harlow, actress known for her roles in such films like Red Dust, Dinner at Eight, and Hell’s Angels.

    Cary Grant, actor known for such roles in To Catch a Thief, Charade,and North by Northwest.  

    Ingrid Bergman, actress known for her roles in such films like Gaslight, Notorious, and Casablanca.

    Gary Cooper, actor known for such roles in High Noon, Sergeant York, and For Whom the Bell Tolls.

    Gene Tierney, actress best known for her roles in such films like Laura, Leave Her to Me, and Where the Sidewalk Ends.

    George Raft, actor known for his roles in such films like Scarface (1932), Each Dawn I Die, and Some Like It Hot.

    Robert Cummings, actor best remembered for his roles in Princess O’Rourke, Saboteur, and The Devil and Miss Jones.

    Harry James, big band leader and celebrated trumpeter from the era of World War II.

    Woody Herman, leader of the big band known as “The Herd” and renowned jazz musician.

    Kay Starr, pop and jazz singer who rose to fame during the 1940s and 1950s.

    Del Webb, prominent real estate developer and former owner of the New York Yankees.

  • Film, TV and Media Connections +

    Psycho (1960)