By Nora Burba Trulsson | Photograph by Steven Meckler
When Moniqua Lane was working as an attorney, she would walk from her home in Tucson’s Armory Park neighborhood to her office in adjacent Barrio Viejo, passing an old motel with a distinctive curved-glass block wall. “I’ve always had a crush on downtown,” the Tucson native says, “and this building spoke to me.”
In 2012, she learned the motel was on the market, so she and her business partner, Phil Lipman, bought it. After a renovation, they opened it as The Downtown Clifton, an urban motel with a “vintage meets modern” vibe that’s been drawing everyone from millennials and Europeans to road warriors and retirees.
Built in 1947 by Tucson businessman and rancher Joseph M. King, the 10-room motel — located on old U.S. Route 80 leading south from downtown — was called the Town Motel. More recently, motel rooms were rented as studio apartments.
When the partners acquired the motel, the bones were good, the old concrete floors intact and the bathrooms clad in original pastel tiles. They worked with Tucson designer and musician Clif Taylor (hence the motel’s name) to renovate and furnish the rooms, keeping most of the original fittings. “We all grew up in Tucson,” Lane says, “and we wanted to channel an authentic Tucson feeling here.”
Taylor scoured local vintage stores for period dressers, nightstands and chairs, and commissioned custom platform beds, which sport colorful saddle-blanket bedspreads, creating an “urban dude ranch” look. Rooms are detailed with swag lamps, works by local artists and vintage highball glasses. In a nod to current times, rooms have flat-screen TVs, free Wi-Fi and minibars stocked with Mexican sodas and Tucson-made snacks.
Outside, a Día de los Muertos mural is a parking lot focal point next to a courtyard where guests are encouraged to hang out and grill. Vintage bikes are available to borrow.
In the office, manager Nick Delisle makes sure everyone gets a coupon to use toward breakfast at nearby 5 Points Market & Restaurant, and gives directions to downtown’s burgeoning restaurant and bar scene a short walk north. There’s also a curated collection of vinyl (everything from David Cassidy to Rick Danko) and portable record players to borrow.
Lane admits the partners weren’t sure how the hotel would go over when it opened in 2015, and even mulled developing the property into offices or homes, but their worries soon ceased. “We’ve had overwhelming response from guests and neighbors, because it’s something different,” she says. “It’s become a vibrant part of the community.”
The bottom line? An expansion this year on vacant land next door will add 18 rooms, a pool, a restaurant and a bar.
The Downtown Clifton is located at 485 S. Stone Avenue in Tucson. For more information, call 520-623-3163 or visit www.downtowntucsonhotel.com.