The Royal Palms Resort and Spa - The Embodiment of the Spirit of Alvadora
By Carol Ackerman Founder, The Ackerman Group | November 13, 2016
The Royal Palms Resort and Spa represents an exceptional example of adaptive reuse from a private estate into a beloved regional treasure, preferred and proclaimed by the sophisticated neighborhood that reflects its nearly 90 year architectural influence, as the gem of the Scottsdale-Phoenix 'resort row'. Situated approximate to such classic properties as the Phoenician, the Hyatt at Gainey Ranch and the venerated Arizona Biltmore, the Royal Palms enjoys a history and an intimacy with its Arcadia neighbors – and the greater hospitality-savvy residents in the Valley of the Sun – unequaled in affection and selection. Guests planning on a wedding, bar mitzvah or special anniversary celebrations in its several manicured event lawns or within its antique-accented meeting spaces, often plan years ahead to assure their occasions are indeed, a 'royal' event. This article attempts to recap the highlights of the property's history, largely mirroring the cyclical growth of the Phoenix real estate market, and focuses on the significance that one man's vision had to preserve, expand and protect the spirit and legacy of the property's original owners – the concept of Alvadora.
Quoting from the hotel's website, "Just minutes from Scottsdale's shopping, galleries, golf, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport and the Camelback financial corridor, Royal Palms is an ideal retreat for business, pleasure and special occasions, offering luxury, privacy, romance and convenience." While these are the facts, the spirit of the Royal Palms – like all great romantic properties – must be experienced to be truly understood and remembered.
Built as an estate for a wealthy family in the 1920's, the property experienced several changes in ownership and configuration until in 1948, it opened to the public as the Royal Palms Inn – complete with a heart shaped pool – deriving its name from the dual palm-lined entry to the original residence. During the 1950's and '60s, the Inn became a darling of the New York and Hollywood set, known as an elegant, comfy getaway where your privacy would be vigorously protected. Luminaries such as Eva Gabor, Grocho Marx, the Gish sisters, Walter Pidgeon, Buster Keaton were regular guests; when Howard Hughes arrived – to romance starlet Terry Moore – their wing of the property was a firm 'do not disturb' for weeks at a time.
The next twenty five years saw the Inn largely favored by locals for its relaxed environment and live music, dancing and affordable dining. In 1995, during a peak in real estate development, the deteriorating property was primed to be sold, razed and converted to million-dollar homes, as the site is located in the heart of the state's most coveted neighborhood – Arcadia. Mere weeks before the transaction was to close, the Royal Palms Inn came to the attention of developer Fred Unger, who had recently completed an entire overhaul of the nearby Hermosa Inn in Paradise Valley, a bordering community to Arcadia where homes must be built on a minimum of one acre. The Hermosa was another long time, quiet local favorite with aging aficionados of the area who remembered its Western literary heyday and local color – a property with potential and an historical heritage, but in serious need of love. Unger's Springcreek Development sold his vision for the possibility of the Hermosa's rebirth to a group of cash-rich investors and today's boutique hotel gem was the result.
History of the Original Estate
Nestled in a lushly vegetated nine-acre site near the southern base of Camelback Mountain - the most impressive natural landform in the greater Phoenix area – today's Royal Palms Resort and Spa had its beginning as the Andalusian-inspired estate of Delos and Florence Cooke. Cooke, a prominent New York industrialist and financier (and nephew of J.P. Morgan), was a transportation tycoon. In addition to the running the Erie Railroad he served as a top executive in the Cunard Steamship line, which facilitated the Cooke's love of world travel. After the bitter winter of 1924-25, with his wife's health weakening and his retirement imminent, Delos decided to seek the soothing qualities of the Southwestern sun and dry air as a healing tonic for Florence. In 1926, with their young son Chauncey, the Cookes moved to Phoenix and began planning their grand estate modeled in the Spanish Colonial style, El Vernadero.