Willard Hotel, 145 S 6th Ave

Alexander Casey was the primary investor in the Henry Trost designed 42-room 12,000 square foot Mission Revival hotel on 6th Ave and 12th Street. This was Trost’s first hotel. The façade on 6th Ave is similar to that on 12th Street shown above. Both sides are accented with Trost’s preference for curvilinear parapets. The south side was located very close to the former First Methodist Church before the church was demolished. The hotel opened in the fall of 1902. Alexander Casey was the original owner. Casey had made his fortune mining turquoise in Tombstone, AZ.

McMillen and Southworth were the builders and were paid $15,750. The original building exterior was pressed brick, likely from Quintus Monier’s Tucson Pressed Brick Co. operating nearby on the banks of the Rio Santa Cruz. The original interior details included exotic woods, carpets, and drapery which were available from east coast suppliers and shipped by the Southern Pacific railroad which had established a depot and warehouse in Tucson 20 years earlier. These details probably made the Willard the finest hotel in Tucson at the time. The initial managers were Willard Wright and Charles Fleming. Willard was reluctantly allowed to use his own name for the name of the hotel. Fleming sold his interest to Wright later that month. Wright could only afford to keep up with the $250 monthly lease for the first year.

William Siewert was hired as the manager in 1903. Shortly afterwards, Casey lost all rationality after a drinking binge and left his room with a rifle and a gun exhibiting rage and began firing shots throughout the occupied hotel. Casey was thought “mentally unbalanced” and became violet when he “was in his cups”. Nobody died, however Casey and the arresting Constable Pacheco had minor gunshot wounds by the end of the fracas. The true tragedy was Casey’s young wife of one year, who had been badly abused by Casey since their marriage. Poor Cora was sent a message by Casey while he was in jail directing her to evict herself from the hotel. Cora Casey, born Cora Taylor, drank carbolic acid instead and died an agonizing death in her room. Casey had many influential friends including the judge James Reilly and millionaire Martin Costello both of Tombstone and they came to his defense. After being released from a near one-year stint in jail, and settling his business affairs, Casey returned to his homeland and died of pneumonia in 1910 in Cookstown, Ireland.

Manager William Siewert purchased the hotel a few years later. Siewert was a master chef. He had come to Tucson in the 1880s and introduced European cuisine as a substitute to salted bacon and sourdough biscuits. He was successful in his catering to the wealthy and for many debutante coming-out parties. One of his specialties was candied flowers. During the prohibition period, Siewert moved his fine cognacs and other stock to Mexico where he could serve his guests in a “civilized” manner.

Mary M. Costello was reported to actively manage the hotel in 1913. She had inherited the hotel from her husband the afore mentioned Martin Costello. Mary’s and Martin’s wealth came from a tale from classic western lore. As a turn of the century bartender in Tombstone, Martin befriended a struggling prospector and shared with him some food, a drink, and a room. The prospector in turn gave Mr. Costello his claim to a copper mine, which in time generated $60,000 of wealth. Martin parlayed his windfall by investing in real estate and businesses in Tombstone, Tucson and Los Angles. Martin ended his life in 1910 in his LA home, rather than face a fate of suffering a slow death from typhoid fever. In 1920 Mary sold her Tucson holdings including the Willard Hotel to the Excelsior Realty Company headed by the prominent Tucson businessman Albert Steinfeld for $250,000. At that time, a quarter of a million dollars would buy a sizable amount of Tucson real estate.

The hotel was purchased from Steinfeld in 1921 by Arthur Lewis. In 1927, the proprietor of the Hotel Congress for 21 years, John Latz, purchased the Willard Hotel with an idea to build a nine-story hotel in its place.

The hotel was under various management until 1944. During World War II, the Willard Hotel was partially converted to 20 apartments for war workers by the War Housing Center. It housed 75 persons. The building was owned by Oliver and Roy Drachman who leased it to the government after $32,000 was spent on the conversion. Most rooms had showers and small tiled kitchens were added. Heat was still supplied by steam from an oil burning furnace. The exterior was covered with stucco and the name changed to the Pueblo Hotel and Apartments.

In 1948, Charles Paul re-purchased the hotel. His additions were the iconic ‘diving girl’ neon sign depicting a woman preparing to dive into the newly installed palm tree lined swimming pool which became the talk of the town.

The city used the building for offices that included finance, public works, water, and police investigations, and in 1961, as the new City Hall was completed, City Manager Porter Homer again proposed razing the building. From 1984 to 1991 the property was vacant. Homeless squatters claim residence there and the fire department at one time had to chop a hole in the roof to fight a fire.

Major 1995 renovations by businessmen Michael Piccarreta, Barry Davis, and Rick Price resulted in the pool being filled in to make room for parking. The building converted to its primary use for their law offices. Otwell Assoc. Architects of Prescott had approached the owners and promoted the idea of renovation. William Otwell had previously restored two other Henry Trost buildings; the Hassayampa Inn and the Gurley Street Grill, both in Prescott. Otwell won the 1995 Governor’s Award for Historic Preservation for their work. The 1.5-Million-dollar renovation project was completed by Division II Construction Co. Fortunately, all of the internal woodwork was saved, and the spacious lobby was savored for its airy openness by the occupants. The curvilinear parapets that had been removed in the 1940’s were replaced in the restoration. The dilapidated neon sign required extensive negotiation with the city to be re-permitted as city ordinances existed that did allow upgrading old signs. It was later restored by Cook and Co. Signmakers in 2012.

The property was sold to a Denver holding company in 2017 for $1.9 million and was transformed into a salon and spa . It still is home to several offices including that of Michael’s brother, Carl Piccarreta.

Although the gabled roofs are missing the original Spanish tile and chimneys, the architectural form remains that of Henry C. Trost’s original vision.