In 1936, with the country mired in the depths of the Great Depression, an ambitious young hotel manager persuaded a group of investors to fund construction of a resort in the Sonoran Desert.
Arizona had been a state for less than 30 years when hotel manager Jack Stewart proposed the idea of a resort destination in the desert. His investor? An Ohio businessman with a name familiar to modern Phoenicians, John C. Lincoln.
Stewart and Lincoln’s partnership created a legacy. The Inn was originally constructed with 75 rooms and for a cost of about $1.2 million in today’s dollars. Removed from the hustle of city life, the Camelback Inn’s namesake view and relaxing atmosphere quickly gained a following, particularly among wealthy vacationers from Eastern states. It was hardly a weekend getaway, however. Guests endured a lengthy journey by train to Phoenix, followed by a rough and dusty 12-mile trip through open desert to reach the resort.
After arrival, the rugged beauty, mild winters and wide open spaces were a kind reward for a travelers travails, much as they are today. Guests, often city dwellers, could enjoy rustic activities like horseback riding, exploring the surrounding desert and special events put on by the hotel. Stewart’s wife, Mabel Louise Shoemaker, was known for hosting elaborate costume parties and her ability to make guests feel at home – as if a part of one big Camelback Inn family.
Mabel also developed Hopalong College, one of the hospitality industry’s first programs for children. Named for the legendary silver-screen cowboy Hopalong Cassidy, those who earned their diploma had “demonstrated those qualities of courage and resourcefulness which are a tradition of Western ranch life.”
In the years that followed, the Inn’s reputation grew along with its size. Visiting celebrities like Clark Gable, Jimmy Stewart and Bette Davis added to its allure. Then came the only guest who’s name is still on the welcome sign – hotelier J.W. Marriott. His company made it their first of many resorts after purchasing the Inn in 1967. Two years later, his investment lead to the Inn being awarded its first Five-Star rating from the respected Mobil Travel Guide. Since then, countless awards and commendations have been granted including the coveted AAA Five Diamond Award.
Continuing his father’s development of the Inn has become the charge of J.W. Marriott, Jr. In 1989, the resort unveiled The Spa at Camelback Inn and by 2000 it had been ranked as one of the finest spas in the world. And guests today increasingly prefer their Sonoran adventures to beone of the two 18-hole golf courses instead of a horseback ride down a dusty arroyo.
(Though the concierge can arrange just about anything. Hi ho Silver!) Other recent additions include pool restructuring with fountains and fire features as well as two new restaurants.
After all these upgrades and thousands of visitors, the Camelback Inn is still a place, “Where Time Stands Still.” The words remain emblazoned above the main entry way, reminding guests of their connection to the original 75-room resort, secluded on a dusty patch of desert where even seasoned travelers are known to declare, “In all the world, only one…”