The Phoenix area's resort industry can trace some of its roots to the base of Camelback Mountain, just inside the grounds of The Phoenician in Scottsdale. That’s where a Pueblo Revival-style building, the last surviving piece of the Jokake Inn, has stood for nearly a century.
The land where the building now stands once held a small frame house owned by painter Jessie Benton Evans. Her son, Robert, and daughter-in-law, Sylvia, built an adobe house for their family on the property in 1926. As the story goes, a Hopi boy saw workers mixing adobe for the structure and named it Jokake (pronounced “joe-KAH-kee”), meaning “mud house.” That year, Sylvia began hosting tea parties at the residence, and the following year, that idea grew into a larger tearoom operation. It became the Jokake Inn when it began to accommodate overnight guests in 1928, and newspaper ads from that year touted the inn’s rooms, which featured “private baths and abundant heat.”
The inn expanded over the years, and its best-known structure, the bell tower building that stands today, was added in the 1930s. The Jokake quickly became synonymous with outdoor adventure, art, Southwestern cuisine and relaxation, not to mention celebrity sightings: One story in a California newspaper noted that the inn “has always been a favorite with Hollywood entertainment notables.” Guests included Zsa Zsa Gabor and Ava Gardner, along with legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright and members of the Rockefeller and Vanderbilt families.
Sylvia kept control of the inn after she and Robert divorced in the 1940s, and it remained popular among out-of-town guests. The Chicago Tribune offered a vivid description of the Jokake in 1949: “With its two belfry towers lighted at night, it dominates a skyline which is predominantly horizontal. Like it, the cottages, which have grown up around it to house 150 guests, are the pinkish sandy brown of adobe and are dramatized by masses of yellow and orange African daisies, which grow in wild profusion here and set a good but seldom-followed example for humans by closing their eyes at sundown.”
But sundown eventually did come to the Jokake Inn. Chicago hotelier Charles Alberding bought it in the 1950s, and it continued operating as a hotel until the late 1970s. Most of its buildings were demolished, but the bell tower building eventually became part of The Phoenician, which opened in 1988.
A 2019 restoration project, which included repairing adobe walls and replacing balcony handrails, should help the building endure as a symbol of Southwestern hospitality for decades to come.