For some people, a building that’s been abandoned for half a century and once was flooded with 6 feet of water might not be the ideal fixer-upper. For Karen and Matt Frye, though, reviving the Clifton Hotel was exactly what they were looking for. “The coolest thing was saving an old building in a town like Clifton,” Matt says. “It’s the project of a lifetime to do something like this.”
The Fryes — Karen, a software engineer, and Matt, a carpenter — were living in Tucson several years ago when they took a road trip to this old mining town at the foot of the Coronado Trail. “We fell in love with the landscape,” Matt recalls, but a dilapidated building along Park Avenue, on the east side of the San Francisco River, also caught their eye.
The couple later learned that the hotel dates to the 1890s, when the first floor was built of blocks made from slag, a byproduct of the smelting process. Later, conventional bricks were used to add a second floor, and in its heyday, the resulting hotel had more than 20 small rooms that were used primarily as accommodations for miners and cowboys.
Over the years, the property also served as a halfway house and an apartment building. But after a flood in the 1970s, it was abandoned. An even bigger flood, in 1983, left a waterline still visible on the first floor (pictured). Although many nearby buildings were wiped out, the Fryes believe the slag construction kept the structure intact. And the second-floor rooms were well preserved.
The couple bought the property, and Matt began a multiyear, mostly solo effort to restore it. In the process of combining guest rooms to make them larger and give each a private bathroom, he dealt with the collapse of part of the building and a hard-to-remove colony of bees. The hotel’s bar, with an ornate back from the early 1900s, opened on New Year’s Eve in 2018, and guest rooms opened one at a time in the months that followed.
Now, the Clifton Hotel has nine rooms available to rent. The six standard rooms each have a kitchenette, a newly tiled bathroom and large windows for viewing the river and the steep cliffs surrounding the town. For more space (and a claw-foot tub), upgrade to one of the three suites. All rooms feature modern amenities such as TV, air conditioning and Wi-Fi.
But the town itself, from its natural scenery to its other historic buildings, is a draw, too. And whether their guests are Coronado Trail tourists or people in town for work at the nearby Morenci Mine, the Fryes feel they’re doing their part to revitalize an often-overlooked Arizona destination. “I want them to fall in love with Clifton,” Karen says. “It’s a nifty town.”
163 Park Avenue