Hotel History

The Gadsden Hotel was designed by famed architect Henry Trost who dominated the     architectural scene in the Southwest and designed hundreds of buildings in El Paso, San Angelo, Albuquerque, Phoenix and Tucson. This grand hotel was named after the historically significant Gadsden Purchase; A purchase of 30,000 square miles from Mexico made in 1853 for 10 million dollars, negotiated by James Gadsden, who was then the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico. The land purchase was to ensure territorial rights for a practical southern railroad route to the pacific coast.

The Gadsden opened for business in November 1907; the hotel soon became a meeting place for cattlemen, ranchers, miners, and businessmen. We can now only imagine how Arizona was before it was a state and at a time when Wyatt Earp, Geronimo and Pancho Villa rode rough shod over the West.

Unfortunately, on February 7th 1928, fire ripped through the hotel leaving nothing but the elevator car cabin, the marble stair case, and marble columns. Luckily, like much of Arizona’s old west figures and culture, it was just too tough to die. The hotel was immediately rebuilt using the same architect but on a grander scale with no expense spared.

At the time, not many hotels of the day could boast about having an electric lift to reach one of its 4 floors. Travelers were amazed at the modern accommodations and to this day the lift is one of the oldest manually operated elevators still in use west of the Mississippi. The hotel was also one of the first to feature individual bathrooms in all 160 air cooled rooms.

Now in the museum is the original 1929 telephone switchboard; reportedly the first of its kind to be used in Arizona.

Upon entering the majestic lobby the first thing you notice is the impressive staircase made of white Italian marble and the massive pink marble columns. The column capitals are hand layered with 24k gold leafing. To add to its beauty, the window at the top of the grand staircase was designed and crafted by Ralph Baker. The stained-glass mural  depicting the southwest desert runs a full 42 feet long and 6 feet tall. Baker studied under Louis Comfort Tiffany and his style is of Tiffany heritage. Encompassed by the mural is an original painting “Cave Creek Canyon” by famed artist Audley Dean Nichols. There is also stunning stained-glass skylights that bring in the golden Arizona light and illuminates the lobby.

Throughout the 20th century, the Gadsden was a happening place. Hollywood discovered the grande dame and many movies, TV shows and videos. By the 1980’s the hotel was showing her age, until successful North Dakota grain farmer and aviator, Hartman Brekhus and his wife purchased the hotel in 1988. Mr. Brekhus owned and operated the hotel up until 2016 when predeceased by his wife, he passed away, leaving the hotel for sale. Local couple Florencio and Anel Lopez have always admired the  beauty and history of the Gadsden and understood its place in the community of Douglas. The Lopez couple decided to purchase the hotel in late 2016 and are currently upgrading and restoring the hotel to bring it back to the prestige it once had.

History of Douglas

The Douglas area was first settled by the Spanish in the 18th century. Douglas was founded as an American smelter town for the prosperous copper mines in Bisbee, AZ. The town is named after mining pioneer Dr. James Douglas, and was incorporated in 1902. Two copper smelters operated at the site; the Calumet and Arizona Company Smelter and the Copper Queen.

The area also has a history of cattle ranching and agriculture dating back to the 1800’s that continues to thrive to this day. The region also figures prominently in the history of the old west. Cochise County was home to many famous historical figures such as Cochise, Geronimo, John Slaughter, Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday and their stories played out across the tapestry and grasslands of Cochise County.

The San Bernardino Ranch is a site in the Southern San Bernardino Valley in the region of the San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge. It is significant for its association with the beginning of cattle ranching in southern Arizona and northern Mexico. The ranchland and valley are part of the headwater region of the Yaqui River.

In 1911, during the conflict known as the Border War, a United States Army camp was established at the ranch and was called Camp San Bernardino Ranch or the Slaughter Ranch Outpost. The site is now known as the Slaughter Ranch, for it once was the home of a famous Old West gunfighter, “Texas John Slaughter.” The compound includes the ranch house, wash house, ice house, granary, car shed and commissary. The car shed contains a fully restored 1915 Model T Ford.

On June 28, 1854, the valley became part of the Gadsden Purchase from Mexico. The original Mexican land grant of 73,240 acres, where the ranch sits today, was purchased by Ignacio Perez in 1822 for 90 pesos. He was chased from his land by Apaches in the 1830’s. In 1884 John Slaughter purchased 65,000 acres from Perez’s heirs for approximately $80,000. Two-thirds of his property lay in Mexico, with the remaining third in the Arizona Territory. An interesting note is that there are ruins on the property now owned by the US Fish & Wildlife Service where a Mormon employee of Slaughter’s built a home (called the Mormon House) straddling the US-Mexico border so he could keep a wife in the US and a wife in Mexico. The home has two rooms, one on each side of the border, with a breezeway connecting them.

The El Paso and Southwestern Railroad depot was an important train station. It transported copper to large manufacturing concerns in the east. The depot is considered one of the finest examples of railway architecture of the early 20th century. The building is now used for the Douglas police station and is just one of 400 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places in Douglas.

The Douglas Grand Theater was built in 1919 and was the largest theater between Los Angeles and San Antonio. Ginger Rogers, Anna Pavlova and John Phillip Sousa are some of the famous faces to have graced the theater’s stage. It also housed a tea room, candy store and barbershop in its glory days. Today the theater is undergoing a reconstruction, using private donations of money, supplies and labor.

Famous Guests
  • Eleanor Roosevelt spent the night in the Governor’s Suite when visiting in 1934 with pilot Amelia Earhart to open the Douglas International Airport, the 1st International Airport
  • Nearly every Arizona Governor has spent the night in the Governor’s Suite
  • AZ Senator, John McCain, visited the hotel to check out the legendary tunnel in the basement which was allegedly used to transport alcohol during prohibition
  • John Dillinger spent the night at the Gadsden the night before he was apprehended in Tucson, leaving a $100 and a Derringer pistol as a tip
  • Actress Shelly Winters supposedly greeted room service staff in the buff when filming a movie in the 60’s
  • Actor Lee Marvin was in a bar room brawl at the Saddle & Spur Tavern with a local
  • Thornton Wilder– Pulitzer award winning playwright and novelist made the Gadsden Hotel his temporary home in 1962 for two months. He asked lots of questions and became known as “Professor” by the locals
  • Actor Charlie Sheen and actress Nastassja Kinsky stayed at the hotel while filming Terminal Velocity in 1994
  • Rumor has it Pancho Villa and his horse Siete Leguas (Seven Leagues) rode up the famous Grand Staircase of the hotel lobby and is is said to have left a chip that can be still be found this very day.


Douglas Notables

  • Jay Dusard, contemporary photographer, 1981 Guggenheim award winner and recipient of two book awards and a Pulitzer nomination.
  • Manny Farber, an iconoclastic stylist who achieved prominence first as film critic and later as a painter was born in Douglas in 1917.
  • Western songwriter Stan Jones, (1914-1963) in the Western Music Association Hall of Fame, was born and reared in Douglas.
  • Bill Meléndez, born 1916, was educated in the public schools of Douglas. A character animator, film producer and film director, best known as the voice of Snoopy in the Charlie Brown series.
  • “Texas John” Slaughter, Cochise County Sheriff (1841–1922), rancher, gunfighter, businessman, and a champion for Arizona’s statehood.
  • Effie Anderson Smith, also known as Mrs. A.Y. Smith (1869–1955), Impressionist painter of desert landscapes
  • Mike Pagel, former NFL quarterback played with Indianapolis Colts, Cleveland Browns and Los Angeles Rams