Chandler was far from the glitz of Chicago or the glamour of Los Angeles when it opened for settlement in 1912. But the man whose name the town bore, Dr. A.J. Chandler, envisioned drawing such visitors.
So Chandler opened a 35-room, mission-revival hotel and named it for Franciscan Friar Marcos de Niza, believed to be the first European settler in the Valley nearly 400 years earlier.
The San Marcos Hotel opened to the fanfare Dr. Chandler sought. Five hundred guests attended the opening gala, including U.S. Vice President Thomas Marshall, Arizona Governor George W.P. Hunt and Arizona congressman Carl Hayden.
That night was 100 years ago last month.
The first fully electrified building in town when it opened, the San Marcos anchored downtown Chandler and was a magnet for guests from around the world.
The resort still anchors much of Chandler’s downtown district, was recently remodeled and is situated on 123 acres at 1 N. San Marcos Place.
“The San Marcos has been at the heart of the community for the last 100 years,” Chandler Museum administrator Jody Crago said. “Postcards of Chandler usually featured the hotel, and many still do.”
The San Marcos promised the most modern amenities, such as a telephone in every room. The Chandler Arizonan newspaper in 1913 said guests could “sit in your room with a view of the green valley before your eyes while you are talking to snow-covered Chicago or shivering New York.”
The hotel boasted the first grass golf course in Arizona, as well as tennis, horseback riding and polo. The original golf course was across the square from the hotel and later moved to its present location west of the bungalows and behind the hotel.
Such amenities led Dr. Chandler to refer to the resort as the “jewel in the desert.” It was a favorite winter-vacation spot for wealthy and prominent businessmen and political elites — the San Marcos advertised in newspapers throughout the Midwest and along the East Coast — and drew celebrities Fred Astaire, Joan Crawford, Bing Crosby, Clark Gable and Jimmy Stewart as guests. Even President Herbert Hoover stayed at the San Marcos.
Other resorts in Phoenix, Scottsdale and Tempe began to siphon some of the celebrity clientele in the middle of the century. The resort, however, with its ballrooms for weddings, banquets and galas and a renowned restaurant, remained popular with Chandler residents.
“The San Marcos has been on top and had its troubles,” Crago said. “But it always seemed to come back because it’s so important to the downtown community.”
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the hotel went through financial turmoil and changed ownership in recent years, not unlike its early days.
Dr. Chandler lost control of the hotel during the Great Depression and it was sold to E.W. Edwards in 1936. John Quarty in 1943 was brought on to manage the resort and he is credited with regaining the hotel’s glitz and glamour.
Quarty eventually took ownership after Edwards’ death in 1961, until Quarty passed in 1979.
Quarty’s death signaled a dark time ahead for the San Marcos. The resort featured multiple owners the next 18 years but was remained closed until Sheraton reopened it in 1987.
The San Marcos came under its current Crown Plaza flag following a 2006 remodel, though the ownership group San Marcos Capital Partners defaulted on its loan and filed for bankruptcy in 2011. The property was foreclosed.
Interwest Capital Corp., based out of the San Diego area, purchased the San Marcos in January for $11 million and recently completed a multi-million-dollar renovation. GM Management, which manages the now-249-room resort for Interwest, sought the help of Crago and his staff at the Chandler Museum during the renovation.
“We wanted to maintain the integrity of this historic property,” said Marquis Rust, San Marcos director of sales and marketing. “This is definitely a landmark and we wanted to keep the history with the property.”
Modern luxuries like technology upgrades and transforming the courtyard into a prime wedding location were part of the renovation. A makeover of the golf course is planned for the spring and summer.
“All of the stakeholders believe in blending the property’s history with the new,” Rust said. “But the new comes without forgetting where the property came from.”
To help in that, a hallway from the lobby to the hotel’s cafe features San Marcos history. The “windows into the past” were created by Crago and his staff, who acquired nearly 2,000 historic San Marcos photos from the Chandler, Edwards and Quarty families, and plans to debut a museum exhibit on the hotel next month.
“It’s been an aspirational goal for the museum for some time,” Crago said. “This gives us the opportunity to show the depth of the materials we have, as well as share the many stories that really bring the place to life.”
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