Lee Murdock plans to swim a few laps at Marriott’s Mountain Shadows Resort pool this morning just as she has on most mornings for the past 38 years.
It will be the last time. The pool is scheduled to be drained later today, and the 45-year-old Paradise Valley resort will lock its massive wood doors leaving an empty shell and several lifetimes worth of memories for those who live nearby and those who came from afar to stay and play there.
The property’s future is uncertain.
Owner Host Marriott may sell the 70-acre parcel or develop it as something else, said Paul Gilbert, lawyer for the Maryland-based company.
“We’ve been negotiating with two entities, and it’s our hope to announce future plans in the very near future,” Gilbert said. That could happen as soon as 30 to 45 days, he said.
The golf course, tennis courts and clubhouse, which includes a fitness facility, will remain open for awhile, Gilbert said.
“There is no set time to close them,” he said. “We’re hoping they can remain open until Host Marriott determines the future development.” Town officials and many community members have said they hope at least a portion of the property will include a hotel. Gilbert said Host Marriott is, “making no commitments.”
The lush property, which basks in the shadow of Camelback Mountain at 56th Street and Lincoln Drive, was zoned for 1-acre residential lots before it even was a part of Paradise Valley, Gilbert said. When the hotel was built, it got an exception to the zoning. When Paradise Valley annexed the property it granted an “entitlement as a nonconforming use,” Gilbert said.
That would indicate that either homes or a hotel or both would be acceptable options for the property’s future, although that matter is still in dispute.
Mountain Shadows employed about 250 people in the height of the winter tourist season, said Jim Ryan, the resort’s last general manager.
Only about 100 were still on board at the end.
They work for Marriott International, which manages the property but is a separate company from Host Marriott. Marriott International has found jobs at other properties for about 80 percent of those who wanted to stay with the company, Ryan said. He is one of the 20 percent on severance.
“The miracle here has been the (employees),” Ryan said. “They were committed to the last.” Several returned to their former workplace this week to say goodbye.
“It’s very sad time. We considered this our home,” said Jim Rose, who was general manager from 1987 to 2002. “It’s been a great run for Mountain Shadows. She gave us everything she had, right to the last moment.”
Loretta Armigo worked in Mountain Shadows’ beauty salon for 20 years before she retired nine years ago.
“I have a lot of great memories,” she said. Armigo remembers such celebrities as Lanie Kazan, Liz Taylor and the McGuire Sisters having their hair styled.
“That Dorothy McGuire — she was a nice gal,” Armigo said.
While the employees move on with their memories, nearby residents such as Murdock are staying put and grieving the loss of the resort. “We bought our home here because of this hotel,” Murdock said.
So did Libby Williams and her husband, who, like the Murdocks, moved into one of the residential communities clustered around the resort and used the facilities as the hub or their social lives.
“It just made this the perfect place to live,” Williams said. “When family would come to visit, it was so marvelous to just order room service.”
Gusty Ganoni remembers dancing on weekends to the swing band at the Crystal Room, rubbing elbows with such famous folks as Sammy Davis Jr., John Wayne and Bob Hope, who stayed at Mountain Shadows every January until 1994 during the Phoenix Open golf tournament. Steve Hart, now general manager of the JW Marriott Resort at Desert Ridge in Phoenix, was food and beverage manager at Mountain Shadows in the early 1980s. Hart remembers escorting JW Marriott himself around the property and bumping into Hope. The two giants sat and chatted for four hours, Hart said, while he hung on their words.
At least one person has even older memories of the property.
Penny Spray, daughter of Jim Paul, who built the resort in 1959, trained her quarter horses on the property in the 1950s. Another world-famous funny man, Jerry Lewis, stayed in her family’s home while he made movies in the area.
Spray is disappointed in Host Marriott’s decision to close the resort instead of restoring it to its former elegance.
“It’s a far better property than Camelback Inn,” Spray said of a top-of-the-line Marriott-run resort down the road. “And my father feels exactly as I do.”
Paul, now 92, built the resort in 1959 after purchasing the property from a Texas multimillionaire. Mountain Shadows opened Jan. 15, 1959.
In 1964, Paul sold it to Del Webb Corp., and moved on to his next endeavor, Rawhide, an 1880s-era replica Western town that he built in the north Scottsdale desert to house his extensive collection of Old West memorabilia. Marriott Corp., which later spawned Host Marriott and Marriott International, bought the resort in 1981.