Hacienda Del Sol Guest Ranch Resort

By Mary Minor Davis –

Hacienda Del Sol Unveils New Ballroom, Guest Rooms
Artful Blend of Historic Charm, Modern Amenities

The last of the stone has been placed around the new ballroom, artwork is installed and the Catalina rooms are all furnished and hosting guests.

The multi-million dollar expansion of the Hacienda Del Sol Guest Ranch Resort is complete. After years of planning and discussion, followed by nearly two years of design and construction, the historic boutique resort is putting the finishing touches on the first major development for the property in half a century.

The recent expansion includes 32 additional guest rooms and suites, a new entryway, a retractable roof over the popular Terraza Garden & Patio Lounge for year-round dining, a new ballroom that can accommodate up to 300 people, a negative-edge pool with outdoor bar, a commissary, administration building and landscaped walkways – plus more than $1 million in sculptures and artwork throughout the property.

“This is an idea that has been years in the making,” said Michael McGrath, one of six partners who own the property. “The one thing we kept telling ourselves and all of the architects who brought us ideas was this – ‘the Hacienda is a very special place. Don’t foul it up. If you’re going to come in here and build on this, don’t ruin the ambiance of the Hacienda.’ ”

Planning the expansion of the boutique hotel was not without its challenges, said Tom Firth, managing partner of the property. The partners met weekly for several years to be sure they would “get it right.”

“There were so many things that needed to be upgraded,” he said. “But how do you update an infrastructure that dates back to the 1920s and 1930s?”

First a school for girls, then a Hollywood hideaway

The Hacienda, located on 34 acres in the Catalina foothills of northeast Tucson, was built in 1929 by Helen and John Murphey, who did much of the construction – everything from hand-crafting the fixtures to the unique carving on the beams done by Helen herself.

Shortly after completion, it was operated as the Hacienda Del Sol School from 1930 to 1948. A college preparatory school for girls, famous families that attended included Pillsbury, Vanderbilt, Maxwell, Westinghouse and Spalding.

In the late 1930s, well-known architect Josias Joesler was commissioned to rebuild several areas that were damaged by a fire. True to the historic style of the time,  Joesler’s early work became the template and inspiration for all improvements that would take place at the Hacienda in future decades.

In 1948, Hacienda Del Sol opened as a guest ranch, attracting Hollywood types including Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn and John Wayne.

The property fell from the limelight for a number of years, changing hands with various owners until it was purchased in 1995 by partners McGrath, Firth, Rick Fink, Mike Stilb, Jeff Timan and Paul Ginsburg.

Passionate local owners since 1995

“From the day we bought the property we were committed to maintaining its historical integrity, while still trying to provide a first-class guest experience,” Fink said.

A primary goal for the expansion was to capitalize on the visual assets of the property. Timan said the site has spectacular city and mountain views, yet “as a school it was never really constructed to take advantage of those views.”

McGrath said the team spent a lot of time on tracking traffic flow, laying out how the new buildings would relate to one another, and establishing the view corridors.

“We saw the opportunities to really showcase the best parts of the Hacienda, making it more accessible. We’d like to think it’s something Joesler would have done, had he had free reign,”      Timan said.

The centerpiece of the expansion is the new 2,900-square-foot Casa Luna Ballroom.

“It’s the crown jewel of the property,” Timan said. “There are extraordinary views of both the mountains and the city.” This showpiece will help Hacienda Del Sol attract larger business events, corporate retreats and weddings than it could previously.

The 32 spacious new guest rooms and suites are clustered in six two-story buildings. The patios are generous and every room has a view. Custom furnishings were designed by Judy and Rene Tinsley and handcrafted by Antigua de Mexico from alderwood shipped from Oregon. Firth said the Tinsleys created the cohesive designs for both the new Catalina rooms and the remodeled historic rooms. Six rooms have outdoor showers.

Josh Martin completed the extensive stone masonry work that connects the old and new sections of the property, installing tons of Coronado Brownstone recycled from a gold mine in Willcox.

Fine dining, robust wine list, music nightly

The partners also continue to create a first-class intimate guest experience. From the brand new or newly renovated guest rooms to the friendly well-trained staff, they focus on being the best place to stay in Tucson.

“People interact with the staff in a very personal way. It just changes the whole complexion of your time here. And the people who come here bring an experience to the staff as well,” Fink said.

“A lot of flagship hotels have a certain room type,” said Stilb. “That’s not the way it is here. We’ve always wanted to have a sense of place, something that really showed the essence of what Tucson is about. I think we succeed in that.” The buildings are nestled on about six of the 34 acres, leaving vast vistas of gardens and mature desert vegetation.

Fink said another prime asset of the property that continues to attract guests is The Grill, which year after year has received the AAA Four-Diamond rating and Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence.

“The Grill is one of the most sophisticated dining establishments in Tucson,” McGrath said. “The Terraza Garden & Patio Lounge offers an alternative to the more formal dining experience. A lot of locals like to come and enjoy our happy hours and other theme dining experiences.” The resort offers a variety of live music every night of the week.

“We bring the community together through food, wine and music,” Firth said.

Timan said he’s always bothered by the perception that the Hacienda is only for the high-end traveler. “We have a balance of affordable rooms and dining options – we want a widespread clientele.”

In addition to the physical changes, the Hacienda is investing in its programs and services – including expanding its equestrian programs, which Firth said are great for team-building and the overall guest experience. The sunset and sunrise rides are especially popular. The resort also offers abundant art, a chef’s table, an array of spa treatments, hiking trails and a gallery of historic Hacienda Del Sol photos.

Local companies benefit

“We had the best team of contractors,” Firth said. “The moon, sun and stars were all aligned in our favor.” Most of the work was done by local companies, keeping the millions of dollars invested in the expansion here in Tucson.

McGrath said none of it was possible without the support of the Bank of Tucson.

“They really reached out and worked with us and allowed us to do it right,” he said. “They wanted to make a statement in the community by helping an iconic property in Tucson.”

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