Historic Tucson Hotel & Resort ~ Westward Look Resort History
Westward Look Resort 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, a long ride on a bumpy dirt road, far from the emerging city in the valley below. Yet, William Watson and his wife Maria 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 Watson’s 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 nation (Britain) 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 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 at Westward Look. 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 Resort 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 like 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 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.”