Westward Look Wyndham Grand Resort & Spa, a historic hotel in Tucson, grew from an elegant hacienda-style family home built less than six months after Arizona became a state in 1912. Tucson’s population was a mere 13,000 residents when William Watson and his wife, Maria, bought 172 acres of homestead land that was considered desolate and isolated and a long ride on a bumpy dirt road, far from the emerging city in the valley below. Yet, the Watsons set about building their dream home. They sought the services of well-known Tucson architect Merritt Starkweather. The Watsons envisioned a traditional adobe home, so popular in the American Southwest in the early 1900s. Under Starkweather’s guidance, their romantic dream was realized. An elegant adobe-style home was built, complete with artist’s loft, spacious living quarters, Spanish-style courtyard and glorious views of the lush Sonoran Desert and the Santa Catalina Mountains. So convincing was Starkweather in his design and construction of this authentic “adobe” home that it was decades before anyone realized that the walls are not really adobe, but cleverly disguised concrete and steel, finished with adobe.
Today, the Watsons’ inviting living room is the cozy heart of the resort. It’s named the Vigas Room because of the exposed log beams, which were brought from nearby Mount Lemmon. When used in this Southwestern style, the beams are called vigas. This inviting room also features the original stone hearth, fireplace, wrought-iron chandeliers and hardwood floor, which is most likely mahogany, brought to Tucson by train. The native ocotillo branches that intricately cover the ceiling provide natural insulation and have been there since the house was built. Another section of the historic Watson home now houses our Southwestern Gift Shop, which was once a guest suite and features the original wood floor, built-in bookcases and beehive fireplace. In the 1920s, tourism began to be an important part of the Tucson economy. The owners added 15 cottages around the original home and welcomed guests to enjoy the ranch experience. It is not known what the Watsons called their guest ranch then.
Westward Look was named in the 1940s when the estate had grown into a thriving dude ranch operated by Bob and Beverly Nason. The name “Westward Look” came from an emotion-packed speech to the British nation by Sir Winston Churchill on April 27, 1941, after World War II began – though Sir Winston was actually quoting a 19th century English poet, Arthur Hugh Clough. It was Clough’s poem, “Say Not the Struggle Naught Availeth” that Sir Winston made famous, including these lines from which the resort took its name:
In front, the sun climbs slowly, how slowly
But westward, look … the land is bright.
From this christening, the legend of Westward Look Wyndham Grand Resort & Spa took root. Many guests returned year after year, some staying for a few weeks and others for months at a time at our Tucson hotel. The Nasons partnered with American Airlines, inviting the pilots and stewardesses to stay at the ranch and renting rooms to the families of pilots who came to Tucson for flight training. In the 1950s. Walt Disney filmed his award-winning documentary, “The Living Desert,” in this area and housed some desert animals in the stables. Once the filming was over, Mrs. Nason contacted the fledgling Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and offered to donate the prairie dogs and coatimundi that were left behind. That was the start of the museum’s small mammal collection. A regular winter visitor to Westward Look was Chicago artist Haddon Sundblom, who created icons of advertising, including the Gerber baby, Aunt Jemima and the Coca-Cola Santa. In 1953, he painted two of the Nason daughters serving Santa a Coke. That endearing image endures today on highly collectable greeting cards, serving trays and other memorabilia.
In the late 1960s, the Nason family sold the property and it was expanded into Tucson’s first resort, offering fine dining, deluxe accommodations and banquet facilities overlooking the city, which had grown to more than 260,000 residents. In 1972, the restaurant was named the Gold Room and began a 25-year tradition of tuxedoed waiters preparing continental dishes tableside. In 1996, the restaurant evolved into a more casually elegant style with menus that reflected Southwestern and Sonoran ingredients. That year, the resort also added a spa, featuring therapies inspired by the desert and ancient healing traditions.
Today, Westward Look Wyndham Grand Resort & Spa encourages guests to discover the unique qualities of this lush Sonoran Desert setting, including abundant wildlife and clear, starry nights. Recently, the resort underwent a $14 million dollar renovation, updating the look and feel of virtually every resort area including the main lobby, guest rooms, meeting spaces, fitness center, outdoor areas, Lookout Bar & Grille and GOLD restaurant. A fusion of tradition and innovation, our resort is a desert oasis for business, recreational and family guests. The new color scheme draws inspiration from natural elements such as the lush desert landscape and warm Arizona sunshine.
Rooms are adorned with lavish features such as Sealy Posturepedic pillow-top mattresses, all-natural bedding, walk-in showers, 42-inch flat panel televisions and high-speed wireless Internet access. As Westward Look Wyndham Grand Resort & Spa has evolved over the decades, it remains steeped in authentic Southwestern charm and is committed to preserving its pristine Sonoran Desert setting – where, indeed, “the land is bright.
SANTA GREW UP SURROUNDED BY SAGUAROS, NOT SNOW!
The jovial red-suited Santa Claus we know and love may reside at the North Pole – but he came to life on the warm sunny balcony of the Westward Look Resort overlooking the saguaro-studded desert in Tucson. In early 1930s, artist Haddon H. Sundblom, who wintered at the historic Westward Look Resort, was commissioned by The Coca-Cola Company to create a Santa that would be more appealing to children than the tall, thin somewhat stern Kris Kringleof European legends. Sundblom created a jolly Santa with rosy cheeks, twinkling eyes and fur-trimmed red suit that lifted the spirits of Americans during the Depression and quickly became the definitive image of Santa Claus around the world.
Between 1931 and 1966, Sundblom brought this new North Pole Santa to life in 40 paintings for Coca-Cola – and created many of them while basking in the warm Arizona sunshine on the balcony of his room at Westward Look Resort. Today Sundblom’s Santa still appears on holiday Coke cans and collectors seek out Sundblom’s Santa creations – particularly several that feature two adorable bright-eyed youngsters. Those children were Lani and Sancy Nason, daughters of the owners of Westward Look Resort. The models for Santa were Lou Prentice, a retired car salesman in Chicago, and “Hap” Arnold, a Tucson radio and television personality. In later years, Sundblom used his own face for Santa.
A 1953 article in Refresher magazine, published by Coca-Cola, shows Sundblom ,with “Santa” Arnold and the Nason girls gathered around his easel at Westward Look Resort. The girls’ mother, who still lives in sunny Tucson, recalls that she had to search for a place to special order the thick, warm pajamas that the children wore in the popular “Pause That Refreshes’” advertisements. Today the original Sundblom collection is housed at Coca-Cola’s “World of Coke” museum in Atlanta and Sundblom’s old room at the resort is a desert gallery – which includes a display about Santa, the Nason girls and the artist who painted these enduring holiday images.