There’s something about Arizona that evokes the great American road trip of the 1950s. Maybe it’s those long desert roads with nothing but the horizon in sight. Maybe it is the mark that Mid-Century Modernism made on the state—its own particular brand of Atomic cool.
After all, the road trip was nurtured in the era of Mad Men: a time when roadside attractions, motels and motorways were all thriving.
Robert Plant’s vintage MTV music video for his song, “Big Log” evokes those images: a beautiful woman, a vintage car with tail fins, a gas station at twilight, a hotel pool and lyrics about distance and longing: something travel-craving social isolationists can dream about.
This week, two hotels in Scottsdale, Arizona are putting those vibes on a pre-Thanksgiving sale.
Both The Hotel Valley Ho and The Mountain Shadows Resort will let road trippers book two nights and get the third night free through Benchmark Hospitality’s grab-it-now deal, something style and architecture-obsessed travelers with a penchant for sunsets, gas stations at twilight and midnight swims in turquoise pools will want to book.
The Hotel Valley Ho and Mountain Shadows Resort are restored gems from the heyday of Mid-Century Modernism. The Hotel Valley Ho (whose very logo evokes tiki lounges and Ray Ban Wayfarers) was built in 1956.
Originally owned by John B. Mills, Robert Foehl and his wife Evelyn, the property, located in downtown Scottsdale, was designed by architect Edward Varney in a minimalist style that soon lured travelers from Hollywood, such as Marilyn Monroe and Frank Sinatra. (Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner honeymooned here.)
In 2002, the hotel was restored to its Mid-Century Modern birthright, and was then reopened in 2005 with new features including the VH Spa and the OH Pool (very “Big Log”). Both the pool and spa are currently open, but adhere strictly to the property’s “pristine clean” Covid-19 protocols.
Rooms in the hotel and in the hotel’s extended property, The Tower, are evocative of Mid-Century Modernism but not slavishly so. You’ll find dashes of Eames, Knoll and Noguchi, but with bright splashes of modern color and tweaks that make these stylish interiors sink-into-able. Outdoors, the OH Pool is all lime, yellow, and orange: a perfect place for a Cabana-side margarita.
The hotel’s restaurant, Zuzu, evokes the fun of a tiki bar with more upgraded amenities. The Rosie Room offers private dining for small groups which can use the space to sit six feet apart while maintaining stylish social distance in true Mid-Century mode.
Although The Hotel Valley Ho is a resort, there is no resort fee, another plus. Nearby and also on sale for this short offer is Mountain Shadows Resort.
The hotel is also an Atomic Age gem, opened in 1959. It sits at the base of Camelback Mountain and was named for the shadows that the mountain casts on the property. Like The Hotel Valley Ho, Mountain Shadows was also a hit with Hollywood celebs back in the 1950s.
The Mountain Shadows Resort saw its original heyday in the early to mid-1960s, even serving as the site of an episode of The Monkees TV show. It closed its doors in 2004, but emerged, completely rebuilt and restored in 2017 after a two-year makeover.
Today, roadtrippers can evoke the “distance and longing” in their own lives by strolling the property’s extensive grounds and pool complex (two 75-foot watering holes) or by dining in Hearth ‘61, the hotel’s nod to its origins of style.
Rooms at the Mountain Shadows are a bit more muted in color scheme than those at the Hotel Valley Ho, but no less style-centered. The feel has a reminiscence of Mid-Century Modern flair but is more contemporary than the Ho’s.
Both properties are ideal places from which to explore Scottsdale and the region’s design aesthetic that offers a window into another world: the world of the 1950’s roadtrip that Robert Plant musically evoked in his MTV video in the 1980s.
VisitPhoenix has a mid century modern neighborhood road trip planned out on its website. The local areas of private homes and other architectural landmarks from the era are all within easy driving distance of Scottsdale.
Mid-Century Modern fans must also visit Taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Arizona school for architecture. After closing at the beginning of the pandemic, the museum (it is no longer a working school) is now open for guided and self-guided tours. There’s also a great Frank Lloyd Wright shop on property. Also, visit the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art where one can get a long road view of where all that mid-century modernism led.
Finally, go and indulge in an intoxicating Mid-Century Tiki-inspired Scorpion Bowl at Hula’s Modern Tiki, one of several sites that Visit Scottsdale has on its very own Mid-Century Modern Road trip map. While sipping from the ice-sweating bowl, hum a few bars of “Big Log” for good measure and revel in the (social) distance and (fulfilled) longing for both style and substance in Scottsdale.