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A journey that starts in Phoenix can take you to the Grand Canyon and the historic El Tovar hotel, whose architect, Charles Whittlesey, also designed Flagstaff’s rustic A&C Riordan Mansion.

Arts & Crafts in Arizona

by Dan Cooper on December 12, 2011

in Travel

ABOVE: A journey that starts in Phoenix can take you to the Grand Canyon and the historic El Tovar hotel, whose architect, Charles Whittlesey, also designed Flagstaff’s rustic A&C Riordan Mansion.

Your mission should be this pilgrimage in the Southwest.

Arizona isn’t high on the must-visit list of typical Arts & Crafts fanatics; they’re usually busy running around Pasadena, Asheville, and Oak Park. But Arizona offers a different flavor of the times, with sublime interpretations of the Mission style. In the midst of the desert, the influences of Spanish colonialism and Native American design come together in a unique manner.

Arizona map

It’s best to start in Phoenix, meandering about, and then work your way northward, stopping at points along I-17 until you reach Flagstaff, roughly 150 miles away. From there, it’s just another 90 miles to the south rim of the Grand Canyon. When you’re finished, you may return to Phoenix. For those with other appetites willing to go just a bit farther, Las Vegas is only 270 miles to the west. And there awaits an architectural tour both fascinating and appalling—design being a venial infraction in a town known for its cardinal sins.

For Northeasterners used to the historical, seemingly random and arbitrary layouts of their municipal streets, greater Phoenix is a reasonably simple grid that’s easy to navigate. (When booking a flight from the East Coast, try to take advantage of the earlier time zone to gain a half-day’s sightseeing.) Phoenix has many historic districts, mostly residential, and housing stock dates to the first third of the 20th century.

As so much of Arts & Crafts design was influenced by Native American decorative arts, your education will benefit from a visit to Phoenix’s Heard Museum. Opened in 1929, it boasts 39,000 objects of decorative and fine arts created by or devoted to Native American culture.

Taliesin West was Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter residence and studio.

Taliesin West was Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter residence and studio.

Just outside of Phoenix, in Scottsdale, lies Taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright’s home and studio. Built in 1937, this later work reveals Wright’s evolution into modernism, but the obvious relation to his earlier buildings is evident.

As you travel north on I-17 to Camp Verde, a visit to Montezuma’s Castle, a National Park Site, confirms the correlation between Native America architecture and the Arts & Crafts movement. The site is a preserved cliff dwelling, thought to be the finest in North America. While the façade is viewed only from the base of the cliff, the visitors’ center and virtual tour enlighten guests about the 1,000-year-old residence.

Flagstaff’s Riordan Mansion is a house museum well worth a visit.

Flagstaff’s Riordan Mansion is a house museum well worth a visit.

If you have time for a diversion off I-17, pass through Sedona to see the spectacular red rock formations. You can then make the short, 35-mile trip up through the dramatic, winding Oak Creek canyon to Flagstaff and the historic Riordan Mansion, the highlight of your journey. Flagstaff is a delightful, restored small city, a college town with the typical amenities, and a great place to explore historic Route 66.

The El Tovar Hotel at the Grand Canyon opened its rustic doors in 1905.

The El Tovar Hotel at the Grand Canyon opened its rustic doors in 1905.

We all know about the Grand Canyon’s scenic virtues. Those on an Arts & Crafts pilgrimage must also take time to visit (and stay at) the El Tovar Hotel, Charles Whittlesey’s rustic masterpiece, before returning home. This is the same architect who designed the Riordan Mansion; his fascination with the rustic, and his complex and artful interpretation, can be seen at both sites.

Historic Neighborhoods of Phoenix
Phoenix boasts upwards of 35 historic districts, and the best known may be the Garfield and North Garfield districts, with most of their housing built from 1890 to1930. Ten neighborhoods are in the process of being listed on the National Register; they include places with such names as Encanto Manor, Los Olivos, and Villa Verde, along with the aforementioned Garfields. Visiting them, you’ll find Queen Anne houses, Bungalows, and Prairie homes coexisting peacefully. Also prevalent are Romantic Revival styles such as Tudors and Spanish Colonials, the latter the local expression of Mediterranean style. Even though their built history (excluding indigenous peoples) is much briefer than that of the East Coast, residents of Phoenix are as proud of their homes and the organizations they’ve founded to preserve them.

Standin’ on a corner…
There’s more to Winslow, Arizona, than the verse from the famous Eagles’ song “Take It Easy” —though there is indeed a life-sized statue of the song’s writer, Jackson Browne, standing on a corner to commemorate the era. Winslow has been re-establishing its historical significance, and the most notable example in its historic downtown is the La Posada Hotel and Gardens, a beautifully restored Mediterranean Revival structure. Winslow was chosen to be the home of the Santa Fe railway; La Posada was the epitome of the elegant railway hotel. Located a fast 60 miles east of Flagstaff on I-40, it can also be reached at a leisurely pace by retracing of Old Route 66 and savoring what remains of roadside culture from the mid 20th century, a nostalgic pilgrimage of its own. www.laposada.org

Notable Stops

• Heard Museum Phoenix: (602) 252-8848, heard.org
• Montezuma Castle Camp Verde: (928) 567-3322, nps.gov/moca
• Riordan Mansion Flagstaff: (928) 779-4395, pr.state.az.us
• Taliesin West Scottsdale: (480) 860-2700, franklloydwright.org

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