Forty years ago, public sentiment was in favor of new, modern buildings – motels with swimming pools, air conditioning and icemakers – recalls Henry Taylor. “It was a sad time for old buildings and history. It didn’t seem like anybody cared.”
But after growing up in a historic Holbrook hotel, The Brunswick, Taylor had a fondness for the past and a passion for preserving important relics of the American West. Thus, it seemed fate placed him between the Weatherford Hotel and its scheduled demolition. May 19, 2015, marked 40 years since Taylor bought the deteriorating building. Sitting at his desk on the second floor overlooking Leroux Street, Taylor recalls the journey he and his wife, Sam (Pamela Green), have traveled to restore the now celebrated centerpiece of Flagstaff’s historic district and home to Northern Arizona’s New Year’s Eve tradition, the Great Pinecone Drop.
Looking back to 1975, Taylor said, “It was exciting to think that maybe such a piece of history could be saved. I read the book ‘Call of the Canyon’ in college and knew Zane Grey wrote it in an upstairs room of the Weatherford Hotel.”
Businessman John W. Weatherford opened the elegant Victorian hotel on New Year’s Day of the new century, Jan. 1, 1900. Early news accounts raved about its grand entryway, its sunroom and called the hotel “first class in every way.”
Through the years, the building had many owners and many purposes. Among those were a bowling alley, a Chinese food restaurant and a radio station. For the first two years Taylor owned the building, it was used as a rehabilitation facility and also as a hotel that attracted European travelers in search of Route 66 and the Old West.
“We opened Charly’s restaurant in 1978, which started as a coffee shop, to generate income and to get people interested in the downtown again,” said Taylor.
From 1980 to 1995, the hotel was used as an American Youth Hostel to take pressure off a nearby church that had run out of room. “That saved the building because nobody would stay in it except Europeans who have a love of history. They didn’t mind four or five people in a room, and they loved the American West.”
In the early ‘80s, Taylor traded lodging for labor to help him build Charly’s Pub. Bringing in bands created nightlife in the downtown and brought in more revenue for the hotel. “The building started coming back,” he said.
Sam and Henry continued to work to restore and remodel the hotel. But it was a grant from the State of Arizona to restore the building’s decorative wrap-around balconies that really got the Weatherford noticed.
“We didn’t even know the hotel had balconies until we came across a 1906 photograph that John Weatherford had used as a Christmas postcard to send to his relatives in Weatherford, Texas. That was a big moment. When I bought the building, I had no idea it had porches on it. It was ugly. The balconies had burned in 1927 and no one in town knew about them except Henry Giclas.”
As a boy, the late astronomer had recalled being shooed off the porches by Mrs. Weatherford who chased after him with a broom. Giclas had snuck onto the porches to get a better view of a Fourth of July parade, but reportedly Mrs. Weatherford let him know the decks were for guests only.
Other big moments included restoring the Zane Grey Ballroom and opening it on Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14, 1997.
“When we were planning the grand opening celebration, somebody mentioned in a staff meeting that we ought to drop a pinecone off the roof. We laughed and thought, ‘Why not?’ Sam made a pinecone out of a garbage can and covered it with lights and we lowered the pinecone on midnight, Dec. 31, 1999. A lot of people came to see it, so the next year we did it again. So many families came down and said they couldn’t make it until midnight, so we had two lowerings, one at 10 p.m., for the East Coast, and one at midnight the following year.”
Another major restoration effort resulted in the Gopher Hole Pub in the hotel’s basement, which opened last July offering food, beverages, a game room and banquet space. A significant aspect of that project included fortifying the entire building from the bottom up.
“Next year, we plan to complete the elevator in the back of the building, extend the porches and restore the lobby to its original grandeur with a 19-foot ceiling. We also plan to put hardwood floors back into the dining room and replace five hotel rooms that were in the mezzanine.”
“These two [Henry and Sam] have done more than anyone else to restore the downtown and I truly appreciate their dedication and refusal to quit until the entire job is done,” said Flagstaff historian Dick Mangum.
The Flagstaff Convention and Visitors Bureau considers the Weatherford Hotel an iconic symbol of Flagstaff and host to travelers from around the world.
“Of the 4.6 million annual visitors to Flagstaff, 49 percent of those visit the Historic Downtown area while here,” said Heather Ainardi, CVB marketing and public relations manager. “Each winter, visitors not only see the wonder of Flagstaff’s historic district, but also get to experience the magic of the Great Pinecone Drop. The restoration efforts that Sam Green and Henry Taylor have done at the Weatherford Hotel, and their influence in maintaining the historic beauty of downtown, have helped formed what Flagstaff has become known for.”
Taylor says he does feel good about what he and Sam have been able to do. “It took us so long to get here, but when you restore an old building, if you did it all at once, you’d go bankrupt,” he said.
He added, “We don’t really feel like we own the building, we feel like the community owns it. People want to show it off to their out-of-town guests. The community built it; the community supports it. Without them, we wouldn’t be here.” FBN
For more information about the Weatherford Hotel, visit www.weatherfordhotel.com.