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 in 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 for 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 a shift away from using cotton in tires, which occurred industry-wide in the 1960s. Goodyear closed its farming operation. It 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.