Verde Heritage 1917-2017: COTTONWOOD HOTEL CELEBRATES 100 YEARS
Although the original wood building was destroyed during a 1925 fire, the business survived as the Cottonwood Hotel. It is a reminder of the old town and its historic past.
The building at the corner of Main and Pinal in Cottonwood has been a hotel for 100 years. The business began during 1917.
"Early in the winter of 1916-1917, Charley Groves erected a small cabin on land belonging to Charles D. Willard, and worked around at anything that came handy until Willard decided to cut his acreage up into town lots and place them on sale. Early in March, 1917, Charles D. Willard, and Charles C. Stemmer began laying off the town site and with Charles Groves had to cut out the brush so they could run the lines. It was ascertained that the Groves cabin was directly in the middle of Mingus Street (now, Cactus), as was another cabin erected by a Mr. Peterson. Soon after the town site was thrown open a man named Beber built the original Cottonwood Hotel and Groves opened his first shop in that hotel and has been engaged in the business ever since." (Verde Copper News; Jerome; December 11, 1923; page 4.) Charles Groves, the genial pioneer barber, had his shop at several locations in Cottonwood from 1917 until 1923.
"The first two-story building to be erected in this thriving city will be put up by Mr. Beber, late of Ajo. He is putting in a tailor shop and shoe store on the ground floor and upstairs he will have rooms for rent. The building is about half completed at the present time and is of lumber." The new 2-story "frame building of Mr. Beber, which is to be used for a tailoring establishment below and a rooming house on the second floor, has been completed." (The Jerome Sun; April 27, May 15, 1917.)
By July of 1917, there were 30 to 35 businesses in Cottonwood, all operating without electricity or water in their buildings. Water was available outside the general store at the north end of town and was carried in a bucket to where water was needed. Cottonwood water was turned into the main pipes for the first time on August 3, 1917. The O.K. Hotel was taxed to capacity every night.
Joseph R. and Minna "Minnie" (Meyer) Hall traveled by train from Hurley, New Mexico, to Jerome, Arizona, then took a taxi to Cottonwood arriving on July 17, 1917. They checked into the O.K. Hotel for a few days. Joe Hall, a steelworker, had been hired to help build the United Verde Extension Mining Company smelter south of Cottonwood. Joe and Minnie moved into a small cabin on the corner of what is now Pinal and Cactus. They were soon in business across the street back of the hotel. According to the newspaper, "J. R. Hall has purchased the Tucker chili and lunch stand and reopened the place last Saturday. The only place in Cottonwood to get chili, together with quick lunch service at reasonable prices, will make the chili stand a very popular place to eat." (Verde Copper News; August 27, 1917.)
The O.K. Hotel changes ownership: "B. Beber, who built and has conductd the hotel since Cottonwood first 'wooded up' sold the building and contents to S. Steinberg, a business man from Williams, who will take charge in a few days. A number of improvements are contemplated by the new owner, chief among which will be the enlargement of the hotel to take better care of the transient trade, now so noticeably on the increase." (Verde Copper News; August 29, 1917.)
Charles Willard often sold lots on a time-payment plan, and the arrangement he had with Mr. Beber, the builder of the hotel, is not known. Charles Willard sold lots 11 and 12 to Andris Mostario on April 19, 1917. Mr. Mostario sold lot 12 [where the hotel was built] to Samuel Steinberg on August 29, 1917.
"Sam Steinberg, of Williams, who was here some weeks ago and purchased the O.K. Hotel property, returned yesterday, accompanied by J. S. Button, an architect of Williams. Mr. Steinberg states that it is his intension to move the present building to the back of the lot and put up a modern two-story building. Mr. Button is here to prepare the plans and specifications for the new building." (Verde Copper News; October 3, 1917; page 5.)
Connections for electricity on the west side of Main Street were made Friday, November 30, 1917.
A fire burned the buildings in the block north of the hotel on December 3, 1917, including Joe Hall's new 2-story restaurant and boarding house.
Sam Steinberg apparently continued to operate the hotel business during most of the construction and began using the name "Cottonwood Hotel."
"Sam Steinberg, proprietor of the Cottonwood Hotel, has the frame work for the reinforced concrete firewall he is building on the south side of the hotel, up and ready for the cement to be put in. He also has the lumber on the ground to build an extension on the back end of the hotel, and the carpenters will get busy on the job today. When this addition is completed he will have the entire lot covered with buildings and will be short of room to accommodate his fast increasing business." (Verde Copper News; February 7, 1918; page 5.)
Sam brought his wife and 3 children to Cottonwood. Besides running the Cottonwood Hotel, he bought other properties and businesses. Sam and Sophia sold the Cottonwood Hotel and a business across the street to Antonio and Mary Giordano on May 27, 1922.
Antonio and Mary were born in Italy and arrived at Jerome during the 1890's. Antonio worked for the United Verde Copper Company. Their daughters, Mary Virginia and Catherine Marian were both born at Jerome. After 1914, the family lived and worked on the old Haskell Ranch until they moved to the Cottonwood Hotel. The family had a dry goods store in the front part of the building, lived behind the store, and the hotel was upstairs.
A fire in the middle of Cottonwood, on the east side of Main Street, destroyed 3 big frame structures containing 4 businesses during the last of February, 1925. "The fire stricken area of Cottonwood presents a desolate waste to the residents and the stranger alike. ... The weather was never drier, the buildings that burned went like tinder." (Verde Copper News; Monday, March 2, 1925.)
Cottonwood Postmaster, Charles Stemmer, had heard Rev. George Harvey Brooks speak in Phoenix, then met him in Prescott in 1925, and invited him to speak at Cottonwood. "Rev. G. H. Brooks, member of the National Spiritualists' Association and recently of Los Angeles, is in Cottonwood and will hold a regular Spiritualist church service at the Rialto Theater in Cottonwood on Sunday afternoon. His topic will be, 'Spiritualism; What Is It?' This man has been before the public for the past 40 years and has appeared in all of the largest cities on the public platform and is at once convincing and eloquent in his discourse. He is a trance medium of high order and will during his stay in the country give private readings and the church services will be followed by messages. ... He will be in Cottonwood at least a week." (Verde Copper News; Saturday, April 18, 1925.)
Rev. Brooks was given a free room at the Cottonwood Hotel, use of the theater, and a sum of money was raised to pay him to come from Prescott. Rev. Brooks was a relative of Minnie Hall and Bessie Siler, so while he was in Cottonwood he visited his relatives and old friends. On Saturday night a few friends were invited to a private home where Rev. Brooks talked, and when asked about the future, was not able to predict or "see" events as usual. During the Sunday meeting, April 19, Rev. Brooks predicted a great catastrophe for the town. His prediction came true a few hours later.
"DISASTROUS FIRE SWEEPS COTTONWOOD:" Fire Destroys Half of Business Section, 10 Homes, 1 Dead (Rev. Brooks). Flames swept through "taking every building on the west side of the street from the Requena place [now an empty lot] to the Post Office [now a driveway]. ... Cottonwood Hotel burned and the flames jumped across the street to the Verde Bakery ... and Joe Hall's place, which quickly caught fire." Residences back of the business street were burned, 3 being owned by Joe Hall. (Verde Copper News; Monday, April 20, 1925; page 1.)
"13 STORES, 10 HOMES LOST IN CONFLAGRATION: ... G. H. Brooks, spiritualist minister, of Los Angeles, met his death in the fire which destroyed the Cottonwood Hotel this morning. ... The charred body could be seen in the smoking embers of the hotel after the flames had been extinguished. ... The blaze was of brief duration, starting about 5 o'clock this morning." (Prescott Evening Courier; Monday, April 20, 1925.)
While the ruins of their Cottonwood Hotel and store were still smoldering, Antonio and Mary Giordano made arrangement to continue their retail business in Cottonwood. They purchased "The Sport Shop" from M. T. Cargill on April 20, and took over that business on May 1, 1925. (Verde Copper News; May 1, 1925; page 2.)
Clearing the ruins of their hotel began on May 13. "People in Cottonwood were startled when a series of heavy blasts went off. The explosions were the result of blowing out the old cement wall and foundation that marked the site of the ill fated hotel during the recent fire." Plans architect J. S. Buttons had drawn in 1917, were used for the new building. "The contract was let yesterday to W. F. Edens for the construction of a 25 feet wide and 72 feet long concrete building on the site formerly occupied by the Cottonwood Hotel." (Verde Copper News; May 27, June 17, 1925.)
"W. F. Edens, who has the contract for the Giordano building, is making rapid progress and has the second floor walls up to the plate line and is now putting the ceiling joists in place. When completed this building will be one of the finest buildings in the Verde Valley and will reflect considerable credit on the builder." (Verde Copper News; July 30, 1925; page 3.)
"GIORDANO STORE MOVED: The Giordano dry goods store with a fine new line of ladies' and misses' winter dresses, sweaters, shoes, and a world of fine clothes for all classes of people, was moved to its permanent location after being temporarily located in Joe Bechetti's building [theater] for 5 months, it being 5 months exactly yesterday, since the big fire, April 20, that burned their hotel and store along with 22 other buildings. They are in a fireproof building now that also is a fine building, the tallest in town." (Verde Copper News; September 21, 1925; page 3.)
The Giordano family had lived in the Cottonwood Hotel, on the ground floor. Their living quarters in the new building were not completed until October 1, when they moved in. The carpenters were busy finishing the upstairs hotel, which was not completed until November. The gallery (similar to a balcony, but supported from the ground by posts or columns) on the front of the building over the sidewalk was built by E. Cuencas. "The entire top was surrounded by a 3-foot balustrade of concrete." Later, signs were hung between the posts. "John MacIntyre received a [railroad] car of furniture. A goodly portion of the car is for the furnishing of the new Giordano hotel. It comes from the big furniture houses in Kansas City, Missouri." (Verde Copper News; October 1, November 10, 20, 1925.)
Cottonwood Hotel was built with 10 rooms upstairs, each with a sink. The shared bathroom was at the west end of the central hallway. Joe Hall, a hotel guest in 1917, installed plumbing in the new building.
Antonio and Mary Giordano managed the Cottonwood Hotel and their mercantile business until they retired for health reasons. Antonio was admitted to the United Verde Hospital with a heart problem while his wife was sick at home. Mary Giordano died at 2 a.m., and when Antonio was told at 4 p.m. that day, he had a heart attack and died December 9, 1933. The newspaper headline was, "Cottonwood Husband and Wife Refuse To Be Parted By Death." (Verde Copper News; December 15, 1933.)
Mary Virginia Giordano had married Edmond "Eddie" Henry Snyder. They managed the Cottonwood Hotel and also had a dry goods business. Catherine Marian Giordano had married William Glenn "Bob" Robinson, and they had a clothing store on the first floor of the Cottonwood Hotel. An addition was built onto the back of the hotel to house both families on the property.
"Robinson's" officially opened on April 4, 1934. Bob Robinson, a native of Colorado, had worked in mines there. He worked at the United Verde Extension smelter in Clemenceau for $2.70 a day, and then for $3.75 a day. Bob explained that he got into the clothing business because he was tired of being a hard-rock miner. When the opportunity came to take the store, he and his wife figured that if they only made $5 a day, it was better than him working at the smelter. "'Robinson's' started out as a small shop, strictly women's ready-to-wear. Robinsons went into partnership with Snyders in 1936, and expanded into dry goods. By then the store was named "Robinson's Style Shop." Robinsons bought the Snyder interest in 1939, and Mary and Eddie Snyder moved to California. (The Verde Independent; October 31, 1974; page 23.)
Bob and Catherine Robinson purchased the building south of the Cottonwood Hotel and the 2 lots across the alley. They cut a wide doorway between the buildings and expanded their clothing and dry goods business. Robinson's advertising slogan was, "We Clothe The Whole Family." Upstairs, the hotel guest list gradually began to include names of people who are still famous. George Raft and Mae West were guests during the 1930's; John Wayne and Gail Russell were guests during the filming of "Angel and the Badman" in 1946. "Stay Away Joe" was filmed in 1967, and Elvis Presley purchased western wear in "Robinson's" and was photographed in front of the hotel and on the back street signing autographs.
"Arizona Highways" promoted the state and listed, "Your Hosts In The Sunshine Land" in their magazine for September, 1948. Included was the "Cottonwood Hotel: 10 rooms from $1.50."
After the Clarkdale smelter was shut down in 1950, Cottonwood businesses began to close even before Jerome mining ended and the Clarkdale concentrator closed. Pop Clanton, a survivor of the OK corral shoot-out at Tombstone, began parking his covered wagon in front of the Cottonwood Hotel. He advertised for "Robinson's" by wearing clothes sold in the store, and for the hotel with the sign on the wagon, "Pull in and Spend the Night. It's a Good Town." Town residents and tourists made friends with Pop's burros and were amused because the dog smoked a pipe. Advertising kept the hotel and store profitable.
Catherine (Giordano) Robinson worked with her husband managing the store and hotel, and she was active town affairs. She helped organize and was the first president of the Community Civic Club. After a long illness she died June 13, 1960. (The Verde Independent; June 16, 1960; page 1.)
Bob Robinson continued to manage the Cottonwood Hotel and the clothing store as well as being involved in the community. He married Deborah May Calvert. She helped him manage the store. "Now in the 40th year of operation, Robinson's is one of the oldest, still active businesses in the Verde Valley." Robinson's celebrated its 40th Anniversary during October of 1974, with "The Good Ole Days" featuring "Fashions and Fords." (The Verde Independent; October 31, 1974.)
Finally, the residents of the town voted for incorporation, and the Town of Cottonwood came into existence. W. G. "Bob" Robinson was elected twice to be the Mayor of Cottonwood, serving from 1971 until 1975. William Glenn "Bob" Robinson died on June 15, 1975.
Cottonwood Hotel, the neighboring building, and the 2 back lots were sold several times during the following years. Mike S. Medigovich, representative of the estate of W. G. Robinson, sold the property to Albert and Leila M. Jene on April 20, 1976. They sold the property to Elwood L. and Mildred S. Justin on February 18, 1981. They sold the property to Donna J. Martin on November 8, 1984. Randy Nussbaum acquired the property on November 7, 1990, then sold it to Maurice Matamoros on May 14, 1991. He sold the property to Karen Leff on October 25, 1996. She took over management of the Cottonwood Hotel on September 22, 1996, and is the current owner and manager of the Cottonwood Hotel properties.
After 1976, various owners tried to "improve" the hotel. Partitions were removed to make the rooms larger and add bathrooms. By 1996, there were 2 studios, 2 apartments, and 1 small room upstairs. The new rooms had showers, but 2 claw-foot tubs were still in place upstairs.
Karen Leff had moved to Cottonwood in 1980, and opened "Madame's Mercantile," a clothing store. She had watched the Cottonwood Hotel decay and when the opportunity came, she bought the buildings. She moved out of the old Joe Hall Building and relocated "Madame's Mercantile" in what was formerly "Robinson's." Repairing and painting the exterior of the buildings was a huge undertaking. Karen worked from one room to the next overhauling and remodeling rooms and bathrooms. By June of 1997, four units were completed, each with a "southwestern flavor and touches of yesteryear." Already familiar with the history of Cottonwood, Karen was described as "keeping one foot firmly planted in the past while the other steps into the future." She hoped the Cottonwood Hotel would "bring guests into Old Town and rejuvenate the historic core of Cottonwood." (The Verde Independent; June 4, 1997; page 6.)
Cottonwood Hotel was listed as an historic property, worthy of preservation, when the survey of historic properties in Cottonwood was done by Linda Laird & Associated in 1985, when Charles Garrison was Mayor. Later, the "Main Street Program" was initiated with the goal of revitalizing historic Cottonwood. Karen Leff worked on various projects, including the "Farmer's Market," craft fairs, and the "Jail Trail." Businesses filled all the storefronts in "Old Town." A survey of historic properties during 1999, evaluated the Cottonwood Hotel as individually eligible to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and also as a contributing structure in a potential historic district. The Cottonwood Commercial Historic District [Main Street from bridge to bridge] was placed on the National Register of Historic Places during 2000.
In 1997 Karen said, "I want to see the town prosper and" I want it to be fun. "I don't mind using my business for that." She advertised the Cottonwood Hotel on the internet and included information about the history of Cottonwood, listing places to visit in the area. Karen Leff conducted walking tours of "Old Town" and created a "self-guided tour brochure" available online. Interest in historic Cottonwood brought tourists to "Old Town" and businesses began to prosper. Tourist needed to be fed and restaurants began to make a profit. Cottonwood was a thriving town before the rents were raised and tasting rooms arrived to fill high-priced storefronts. Marketing "Old Town" as a place for tourists to get drunk, may benefit the tasting rooms, but it seems to be a false basis for economic growth, because little income goes to other businesses.
Karen Leff explained, "I meet a lot of people who are looking for authentic places where they can enjoy a unique experience. They discover something different at the Cottonwood Hotel. It is a glimpse into the past with all the modern conveniences." Unfortunately, each new owner or renter of an "Old Town" building seems to be motivated to "modernize" and destroy the historic integrity of their building. "Cottonwood Hotel is the only lodging that still maintains its historic integrity." Some people ask about the hotel being haunted. "It could be," Karen said, "if you believe in such things, but that's a story for another time."