By Maryal Miller | Photo by Craig Smith
When times are tough and rents are high, the hospitality industry can be a little inhospitable. Weary travelers must sometimes endure the contempt of underpaid and overworked hotel staff, fees for everything from toilet paper to tap water, and a D.I.Y. vacation style that takes the word “vacation” right out of your vacation. For travelers in metro Phoenix, the team at the Wigwam Resort is committed to reversing that trend and sticking to the fundamental principles of hospitality.
In 2010, Jerry Colangelo (the NBA Hall of Famer and legendary architect of the Phoenix Suns and Arizona Diamondbacks) and his partners poured
$7 million into the restoration of Colangelo’s favorite West Valley retreat. A year later, the spectacular 440-acre Wigwam Resort is once again turning heads.
Built in 1918 amid the cotton fields of Goodyear, the Wigwam was originally known as the Organization House, a small gathering place for visiting executives of the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. In 1929, the owners expanded the property, renamed it the Wigwam, and opened it to the public as a full-service dude ranch. Years later, it was transformed once again into a sprawling resort that boasted a whopping 54 holes of golf and a trendsetting clientele.
Around that same time, the owners also hired allegorist Les Sossaman, who, after four-plus decades of service, still stands in the Wigwam’s entrance, eagerly greeting guests with a “Hi, folks!” and all the enthusiasm of a kid on Christmas morning. Sossaman, who was brought on as a bellman in 1968, is the archetype of the Wigwam’s excessively hospitable and undyingly loyal staff, and he can tell you all there is to know about the resort’s intriguing history. Among other things, he’ll tell you about the time he manned the Wigwam’s 1973 Elektra Records bash with Carly Simon and Bread; how he chauffeured sports legends like Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio and Jackie Robinson; and how he watched gaggles of famous ladies like Mary Tyler Moore and the Judds breeze through the lobby.
He’ll also tell you that after a heartbreaking decade of watching the Wigwam battle the perils of multiple ownerships and economic downturns, Sossaman is thrilled to see that his beloved resort is back among Arizona’s elite. And that its iconic wood-beamed archway is back in its rightful place at the entrance, its reimagined and rejuvenated Main Lodge is at once opulent and inviting, and all of its 331 casita-style rooms honor their Old West inspiration with style.
Combine those things with Colangelo’s dedication to preserve the vintage charm and old-fashioned spirit of service that made so many fall in love with the resort in its younger years, and the Wigwam glimmers like a mirage at the end of a dark desert highway. It’s magnificent, and if you squint hard enough, you can almost see a young Don Henley emerging from the mist and serving up wine. It’s exactly what a vacation should be.
The Wigwam Resort is located at 300 E. Wigwam Boulevard in Litchfield Park. For more information, call 623-935-3811 or visit www.wigwamarizona.com.