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Flagstaff’s Crowning Jewel Sparkling

Weatherford Weatherford 3At one time, Flagstaff residents and visitors could enjoy an evening of billiards, card games and refreshments in the basement of the elegant Weatherford Hotel. That was a hundred years ago, but history is about to repeat itself. The latest phase of the nearly 40-year restoration project will bring major improvements to the historic Victorian building from the bottom up, including an underground 1920s speakeasy-style game room, an expanded ballroom and the completion of the decorative wrap-around balconies.

“The Weatherford Hotel is to Flagstaff what the cable cars are to San Francisco,” said Flagstaff Mayor Jerry Nabours. “It is the jewel of Flagstaff, a direct connection to our roots and a working piece of history.”

That working piece of history is still in the works. Green, blue and clear glass medicine and ketchup bottles, arched stone doorways, and even a wooden door with a bullet hole through it all seem to be begging to tell the story of early Flagstaff. Such items are among the artifacts recovered from the hotel as owners Henry and Pamela “Sam” Taylor continue their lifelong quest of returning the building to its original grandeur and preserving Flagstaff’s colorful past.

“My hat is off to Sam and Henry for being willing to make the commitment to finish their restoration efforts,” said Flagstaff historian and former judge Richard Mangum. “They have done a lot to preserve the history of downtown and are my heroes.”

That heroic work began when Taylor bought the hotel in1975, saving it from demolition. He turned the hotel into a hostel and then brought in bands that attracted crowds and made it possible for him to pay the mortgage. When he married Sam in 1980, the couple lived above the bar. Their baby, Chelsea, was rocked to sleep by rock and roll, blues and jazz. But that was a long time ago. They no longer live in the building, much of the hotel has been restored, Charly’s Pub & Grill was created and is thriving, and the Zane Grey Ballroom hosts gatherings amidst the simple elegance of the early 1900s. So, let’s get back to the basement.

On Jan. 24, 1913, the Broadway Pool Hall opened in the underground space. “At that time there was an informal effort to change the name of Leroux Street to Broadway, so the name made sense,” said Mangum. “The basement probably first served as a storage room when the building housed a mercantile general store in 1897.”

But businessman John W. Weatherford saw his future in tourism as travel to the Grand Canyon became more popular. He opened the Weatherford Hotel on New Year’s Day in 1900 and ushered in an era of sophistication with the new century, transforming the image of the dusty frontier town.

Standing out like an elegantly decorated sore thumb, the 20,000-square-foot, three-story building rose above the shanties on the dirt streets. It was no doubt a welcomed sight to travelers arriving by train from the East Coast, but also an ever-changing challenge for Weatherford and later owners.

In the last century, there have been many, many very different uses of the building, including a bowling alley and Flagstaff’s first telephone exchange service. Before the Broadway Pool Hall opened, the basement was a dining room with a kitchen.

Once called The Gopher Hole and also home to Flagstaff’s first radio station, KGPH, the basement will be accessible from the outside, as well as the inside, and is expected to open sometime next year. Street-level windows will provide a soft glow for game tables and cornhole boards. In addition, the first bar in Flagstaff after Prohibition ended in 1933 has been purchased by the Taylors and will be set up down there.

A major component of the restoration work is fortifying the building throughout. “At one time there were 32 hotel rooms. Walls kept being added as larger rooms were carved up into smaller rooms to accommodate more guests. The building was becoming heavier and heavier,” said Henry. “We’ve removed plaster and walls, reduced the number of hotel rooms to 11 and are replacing 30 tons of weight from the roof with much lighter material. We’re taking off 20 pounds per square foot and putting back three pounds per square foot. The building is breathing a sigh of relief and springing back.”

A portion of the second floor will be removed as well, allowing for 19-foot ceilings in the hotel lobby.

The ornamental gingerbread steel balconies that now grace one-and-a-half sides of the hotel will be expanded to three sides of the building, as they were in the early 1900s. Longtime Flagstaff residents have recalled watching 4th of July parades from the balconies, then made out of wood, before they were damaged by fire in 1927 and removed.

“We are finally getting to a point where the building will be functional everywhere and designed in the spirit that it was intended,” said Sam Taylor.

The current restoration work is expected to take two years, with safety as the first order of business. The fire escape on the west side of the hotel is being rebuilt and an elevator will be installed.

“Flagstaff is growing and changing so fast that it is even more important to hang on to significant pieces of our past,” said Magnum. “Downtown Flagstaff is becoming recognized as a well-preserved historic gem and much of that recognition is due to Sam and Henry’s unwavering personal commitment.”

The Taylors say the restoration work had stalled during the economic downturn, but is now revved up and running. The hotel, Charly’s Pub & Grill and the Zane Grey Ballroom will remain open throughout the project.

“The Weatherford is Flagstaff’s portal into history,” said Mayor Nabours. “It is the current focal point of the downtown just as it has been for more than 100 years. It is a tourist attraction in itself.” FB

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