Filed Under World War I

The Wigwam Resort

How did a company guest house evolve into a world-renowned resort?

From a modest six-room guest house in the middle of the desert, to a sprawling lusciously green oasis, the Wigwam's 100-year transformation is fascinating.

In Arizona hotels and resorts emerged as a cornerstone for tourism early in the twentieth century; they became pivotal in “selling the desert”. Sprawling landscapes with luscious green golf courses, rows of palm and citrus trees, swimming pools, tennis courts, and spas presented the allure of the Mediterranean, the beach, or the tranquil Midwest. Located in the heart of Litchfield Park, Arizona, just 16 miles from central Phoenix, the Wigwam Resort embodied these sensibilities and invited both American and international travelers for much of the twentieth century.

The Wigwam emerged during World War I, emblematic of how the war transformed global industrial supply chains. The war disrupted global supplies of Egyptian cotton for the Ohio-based Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company (Goodyear), which sought alternative sources of cotton for its tire-making process. In 1916 the company sent executive Paul W. Litchfield to Arizona to ascertain whether the location would be suitable for cotton production. After validating the area’s viability, Litchfield created the Southwest Cotton Company as a subsidiary to Goodyear. He purchased 16,000 acres of land for the cotton company and began hiring workers, clearing the desert, and growing cotton. Meanwhile, he established a seasonal homestead for his family, in addition to a company operations complex. The company operations area, called Litchfield Ranch, later evolved into the downtown district of Litchfield Park. The company even built a house for visiting executives. The Organization House, as it was called, was a six-room house, of adobe construction that travel-worn Akron executives stayed in when visiting the cotton fields. Indeed, in 1918, traversing the sixteen-mile stretch of open desert from Phoenix to Litchfield Ranch took nearly the entire day.

Over the following decade, the Organization House expanded to a capacity of twenty-four rooms and then expanded again to a guest capacity of sixty-six. On Thanksgiving day, 1929 the Organization House opened to the public under the new name of The Wigwam Guest Ranch. At that point, Goodyear also had finished construction of a nine-hole golf course, and the improving infrastructure made it possible for people to travel into the desert to experience its exotic comforts. The seasonal resort operated from December to May which allowed wealthy families to enjoy the desert while avoiding the grueling summer heat. The Wigwam offered many opportunities to spend time on the 17,000-acre ranch from golf to hiking and swimming to lounging in the desert sun, even rides in company stagecoach or the Goodyear Blimp. The Wigwam maintained a steep rate for the time period, and all of the revenue went straight to Goodyear as the property and resort owner.

World War II transformed both Goodyear’s business and how it used the Wigwam. The Goodyear Company held a significant number of government contracts for war effort production, especially related to the manufacturing of military parts and equipment. Also, the company closed the Wigwam to the public and opened all of its rooms to Army fighter pilots stationed at Luke Field, later Luke Air Force Base.

Following the war, the Wigwam resumed its public resort operations and continued to expand both in building size and recreational activities. The nine-hole golf course became an eighteen-hole course. During the 1950s two more eighteen-hole courses opened and golfers from around the nation flocked to the Wigwam. The golden age of the Wigwam spanned from 1950 to 1986.

During the golden age, the resort extended its season to October through May and continued to expand its amenities and the luxurious environment that made it so popular. During the 1960s, Goodyear transformed its business in Arizona for multiple reasons, including an industry-wide shift away from using cotton in tires. Goodyear then closed its farming operation and transformed its holdings into a land development and home construction business. Goodyear pursued a series of pre-planned communities surrounding the Wigwam, which evolved the landscape into modern-day Litchfield Park.

The company abandoned Arizona completely in 1986 when it sold its remaining 13,000 acres, which included the Wigwam, to the Suncor Development Corporation at a cost of $221 million. Suncor opened the resort year-round for the first time since its construction in 1918. However, they sold the resort after four years to a Japanese investment firm, Kabuto, for $70 Million. Kabuto invested $13 million into expansion which added 90 more guest rooms and a series of conference and event halls. In 2009 the Wigwam switched hands again. The JDM Partners, a local Arizona owners group, sought to restore the Wigwam to its glorious past with over $7 million in restorations and renovations. The Wigwam still operates today.

The Wigwam Resort currently offers 331 guest rooms, three championship golf courses, three pools (one with a 25-foot slide), nine tennis courts, and over 30,000 feet of indoor meeting space spread over 25 separate rooms.

edited 12/15/19: mtt

Images

Port Call at The Wigwam
Port Call at The Wigwam Constructed as a guest house in 1918, the Wigwam continued to evolve through the 1920s. Goodyear opened it to the public seasonally in 1929, and it owned and operated the resort until 1986.  Goodyear utilized the Wigwam as a marketing and advertising tool to display its tires and aircraft. Source: “Wigwam (915a),” Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company Records, Identifier: 915a_37, University of Akron Archives. Creator: Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company Date: August 16, 1937
The Organization House
The Organization House When Paul Litchfield purchased the initial 16,000 acres of desert in 1916, no place existed to house visiting company executives. The company built its “Organization House” in 1918, for that purpose, offering visiting executives six rooms. The property expanded to a capacity of 24 rooms in the following decade, and opened to the public in 1929. Today, the Wigwam has 331 rooms. Source: “The Wigwam: From Necessity to Luxury.” (2014). Litchfield Legends, Litchfield Park Historical Society, Spring 2014. 1. Creator: Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company Date: Circa 1918-1920
Wigwam From The Air
Wigwam From The Air The Wigwam Resort originated when Goodyear built its “Organization House” in 1918. As Goodyear and its cotton operations expanded, the City of Litchfield Park developed around the resort. The resort’s green lawns and rows of exotic trees at the epicenter of the developing town. In the lower left corner of this photograph, you see that development as well as the shadow cast by the Goodyear blimp this aerial photograph was taken from. Source: “Wigwam Views and Phoenix Aerials (324a),” Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company Records, Identifier: 324a_32, University of Akron Archives.  Creator: Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company Date: April 4, 1932
Luxury in The Desert
Luxury in The Desert When the Wigwam opened to the public on Thanksgiving Day 1929 it primarily served relatively affluent customers. Daily room rates ranged from $9 to $26 during the Great Depression (equivalent to $135 on the low end and $380 on the high end today). Source: “Wigwam (667b),” Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company Records, Identifier: 667B_35, University of Akron Archives. Creator: Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company Date: July 8, 1935
The Golden Age
The Golden Age The Wigwam Resort grew and expanded from 1950 through 1986, as Goodyear entertained affluent guests and hosted conferences and events. Former United States Presidents, actors, musicians, and professional sports players also have enjoyed the Wigwam’s tranquil environment.  For example, five United States Presidents including George W. Bush and Donald Trump, Clint Eastwood, The Beach Boys, Metallica, Chuck Norris, Britney Spears, and many others.  Of course, the resort also hosted conferences, such as a 1950 professional gathering of a group of farmers who received soil conservation awards. Source: “Goodyear 1950 Soil Conservation Awards (photo No. 2671-50 C & B.),” Litchfield Park Collection, 1900-1990 (Bulk 1917-1987). Collection #: MSS 117, Arizona State University. Creator: Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company Date: 1950

Location

Metadata

Trevor Shackleton, “The Wigwam Resort,” Salt River Stories, accessed June 24, 2024, https://saltriverstories.org/items/show/398.