By Noah Austin | Photograph by Steven Meckler
In the decades after Lodge on the Desert opened, it was one of Tucson’s most popular overnight destinations. After that? Not so much. “The Lodge was a big deal,” says Dan Donahoe, who bought the run-down hotel in 1997. “I was very disappointed that it had gotten off the radar.”
The property was slated to be demolished and replaced with a strip mall. Instead, Donahoe — a real-estate investor whose other projects include L’Auberge de Sedona — set about rehabilitating and expanding the Lodge while staying true to its historical roots. The result: an “urban hacienda” that’s returned to prominence in Tucson. “If you want the feeling of the Old Pueblo, you come to the Lodge,” says Jim Kerrigan, the hotel’s general manager.
Originally designed as a private residence for a Massachusetts couple, the Lodge opened as a hotel in 1936, and subsequent expansions brought the number of rooms to 34. By the 1990s, though, the rooms were in disrepair and poorly appointed — people who had previously visited the property would ask, when booking a stay, whether it would still be a good idea to pack their own bedding.
Donahoe updated those spacious rooms, designed for a time when people would come to town for a month or longer. Now, most rooms feature gas fireplaces, memory-foam mattresses and luxury linens, along with high-definition TVs, refrigerators and Wi-Fi.
In 2008, the Lodge broke ground on a massive expansion, adding 69 rooms, in eight one- and two-bedroom buildings, that match the aesthetics and character of the originals. Further additions include a contemporary pool and a cactus garden (pictured). And the expanded room count allows the hotel to support an on-site restaurant, which serves breakfast, lunch, dinner and happy hour daily.
In the lobby, photos from the Lodge’s early days show a hotel on the city’s outskirts. That’s how it got its name — a name that seems inapt now that ever-expanding Tucson has grown around it. “We really ought to change it to ‘Lodge in the Neighborhood,’ ” Donahoe jokes.
Whatever you call it, the revamped hotel has once again become a destination. And it might have seemed unthinkable 20 years ago, but the Lodge is planning events to mark its 80th anniversary this year.
As Donahoe puts it: “We’ve come a long way from the guests who hadn’t been here for many years asking, ‘Should I bring my own sheets and pillows?’ ”
Lodge on the Desert is located at 306 N. Alvernon Way in Tucson. For more information, call 520-320-2000 or visit www.lodgeonthedesert.com.