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Ghost tours at the Hotel San Carlos in Downtown Phoenix

[Source: Jennifer McClellan, The Arizona Republic]


Cathy Bruegger/Special for


Guests on the weekly ghost tours of the Hotel San Carlos in downtown Phoenix get a good dose of the spooks, even if phantoms that allegedly haunt the hotel actually don’t materialize.

On Friday and Saturday nights through December, the tours take camera-carrying guests to rumored paranormal hotspots in the historic hotel and its pool. Guides from Ghosts of Phoenix, which runs the tours in partnership with the hotel, tell the real-life stories behind each haunt while peppering in tidbits about the hotel.

The guides aren’t paranormal investigators and they don’t promise guests that they’ll see spirits wandering the hallways. During check-in, the lead guide says that if guests think they experience something paranormal, like smelling the strawberry perfume of the woman who is said to haunt the seventh floor or being touched by one of the children who haunt the dreary basement, they should “look for the scientific explanations first.”

“Catching paranormal activity is like finding a needle in a haystack,” tour manager Linda Lieberman said. “TV shows make it seem like if you’re there for an hour, you’ll see three ghosts, but that’s not how it is. Our tour is a nice walk through a beautiful historical hotel, and every once in a while ghosts feel like messing with us.”

The Hotel San Carlos opened in 1928, and was the first high-rise hotel in the city with both elevators and air-conditioning. The then-posh hotel was a favorite playground for visiting movie stars and the vacationing well-to-do.

Stars such as Mae West, Humphrey Bogart, Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe stayed at the hotel. These days, though, the hotel’s reputed ghosts keep it famous. Along with being featured on Travel Channel‘s “Weird Travels: Haunted Hotels” and’s “Top 10 Haunted Hotels,” hordes of paranormal investigators, psychics and mediums scour the hotel’s creaky stairwells, narrow hallways and musty basement in search of apparitions.

Alleged haunts include the ghost of Leone Jensen, who, wearing an evening gown, stepped off the roof to her death. The story is that the 22-year-old was heartbroken at the lost love of a bellboy at a nearby hotel. She’s said to target dark-haired men, whom she reportedly watches in their sleep and follows along the hallways.

In the basement, a large low-ceilinged area and one of two areas on the tour that are usually off-limits to the public, the ghosts of three schoolboys and their dog are said to play. Inside the second-floor manager’s apartment, spirits supposedly like to drain energy out of cameras and phones to “mess with people,” Lieberman said.

On a recent tour, guest Diego Vera’s camera battery went from fully charged to completely dead while he walked from the barren living room to one of the bedrooms inside the apartment.

“I took my camera off the charger right before we came here,” said the 25-year-old Phoenix resident. “I was really surprised. I didn’t know what to think.”

Vera and his girlfriend, Saray Gordillo, 21, of Chandler, don’t believe in ghosts. They took the tour because they were curious.

“Even though I’m a big scaredy cat, I like to be scared,” Gordillo said. “We were a little scared, but I liked this tour for all the history and stories.”


What: Ghosts of Phoenix tour guides take groups through the historic Hotel San Carlos in downtown Phoenix. Bring a camera.

When: 7 and 8:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through Dec. 11.

Where: Hotel San Carlos, 202 N. Central Ave., Phoenix.

Admission: $13, $7 for ages 8-12.

Contact: 602-414-0004,

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Downtown Phoenix’s Star Walk

[Source: Niki D’Andrea, New Times Jackalope Ranch]

Photo credit: Niki D'Andrea, Phoenix New Times

The Hotel San Carlos in downtown Phoenix has a long and storied history. In operation since 1928, the hotel hosted numerous Hollywood stars in its heyday, including Mae West, Marilyn Monroe, Ingrid Bergman, and Gary Cooper.

In 1993, the owners of the Hotel San Carlos, the Melikian family, installed the “Star Walk” along the sidewalks of Central Avenue and Monroe Street, to commemorate the legendary actors who stayed at the hotel and to celebrate its 65th anniversary.

There are about a dozen gold stars in all, inscribed with notable names and signatures.

Marilyn Monroe has a star here (she stayed at the hotel while filming the movie Bus Stop), along with Mae West, who stayed at the Hotel San Carlos while performing I’m No Angel at the nearby Orpheum Theatre in 1929. Also enshrined in the sidewalk stars are Clark Gable and Carole Lombard, who reportedly spent many romantic nights at the hotel.

The stars themselves are gold, and shine in the relentless Phoenix sun. Monroe’s star gets shade from a nearby tree, but many of the other stars — like those for Jean Harlow, Spencer Tracy, and Gene Autry — give off a glare during the day.

The Star Walk is a must-see for classic movie buffs, but those who also aspire to see the specters of old Hollywood stars should also check out the Hotel San Carlos’ regular “ghost tours.”

The Hotel San Carlos is located at 202 N. Central Avenue. For more information, visit or call 602-253-6668.

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City wins permit to pave over Ramada Inn in downtown Phoenix

[Source: Emily Gersema, in’s Phx Beat]

Photo credit:

Some Phoenix residents believe city officials just won approval to pave paradise and put up a parking lot.

City officials last week at a hearing with a zoning officer won a permit to turn the Second and Taylor streets site of the old Ramada Inn into a parking lot.

Business leaders and residents with the Downtown Voices Coalition want to save the pink-stuccoed property that they believe has historic value. Last week, about a half-dozen coalition members argued unsuccessfully for rejection of the temporary use permit application.

Marilyn Monroe stayed in the hotel, once known as the Sahara Motor Inn, during the filming of “Bus Stop,” which was shown in theaters in 1956.

Opponents can appeal the zoning officer’s decision to the seven-member Board of Adjustment.

However, city officials have said the plans for the old inn are a done deal.

Phoenix officials intend to turn the site over to Arizona State University for a law college building as soon as the university has the funding it needs for construction.

That could take a few years; ASU is waiting for the state to recover from its budget crisis – or a very generous donor.

The five-year permit gives ASU some time to drum up funding. The parking lot would be used for overflow parking by the nearby, city-owned Sheraton Inn at Third and Van Buren streets.

*     *     *

You can read the DVC’s position on this demolition and parking lot here and here.

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Vanishing Phoenix: lost, but not forgotten


Earlier this year, one of Phoenix’s downtown hotel owners finished writing a book about the architecture the city has lost over the years.

Robert Melikian’s “Vanishing Phoenix” is an homage to an array of buildings in the city that have disappeared over the past century, from hotels such as the Bank Exchange Hotel near Washington and First streets to the old mansions that once lined East Monroe Street.

Melikian, 53, is known in the community as a supporter of historic preservation, which is evident by efforts to preserve his family’s hotel, the Hotel San Carlos.

Melikian answered questions recently about the book and his views on historic preservation:

Question: Why did you write this book?

Answer: I wanted to protect what buildings we have left.

Q: Why do you think some residents feel Phoenix lacks historic identity in its architecture?

A: It’s strongly made up of individuals coming in from other parts of the country. They mostly don’t care about local history because they’re from somewhere else.

Q: Since your book was released earlier this year, what has happened?

A: I’ve been so happy that people have just been coming in to look at the old slides (photographs of old buildings).

Q: Was there a certain building that inspired you to write?

A: The Fox West Coast Theatre on First and Washington (streets) built by S. Charles Lee (in 1930). He built an inferior one in Los Angeles that’s considered by people there a marvelous theater. We had a better one. In 1975, the city bought it. The chandeliers bought for $8,000 in the 1930s sold for $250. They (city officials) wanted to replace the theater with a bus station.

Q: Some historic buildings continue to be torn down. Some members of the community believe the Ramada Inn at Second and Fillmore streets should be protected although the city plans to raze it and build there so Arizona State University can use it to house one of its academic programs. What do you think?

A: In 1956, Marilyn Monroe opened that building. But I don’t advocate saving every historic building. If the use of that building is going to be that useful to society, then so be it.

Q: What message do you want people to take from this book?

A: History sells. People want history. Don’t look at the short-term liability (of preservation). Look at the long-term benefits.

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Viewpoint: Why preserve a mid-century downtown Phoenix motel?

[Source: Rachel Dawn Luptak] — The historically relevant Sahara Motor Inn has an entire city block’s worth of eight possible retail spaces, café/bar, enough commercial kitchen space to accommodate additional dining and lounge facilities, gift shop, two large terrace suites for hosting meetings and parties, 175 guest rooms, and two apartment penthouses.  One of these penthouses accommodated Marilyn Monroe during the filming of her movie “Bus Stop.”

This hotel was built in 1955 by our valley’s own mid-century mover and shaker in the commercial real estate and construction industry.  His name was Delbert E. Webb, who was also a part owner of the motel at the time.  His name might also sound familiar to you because it is also the current name of ASU’s own Del E. Webb School of Construction, which boasts of its collaboration that created ASU’s School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment.  How ironic, because we all know that the most “sustainable” use of a built environment is to re-use and re-cycle what is already there, instead of adding more debris to our landfills.

Our Sahara/Ramada structure was designed by a talented mid-century modern architect, Matthew E. Trudell, who used period style materials that you couldn’t afford to use today in a roadside motel: red brick, colored art glass details, mosaic tiles, floor to ceiling glass, cast-in-place concrete, solid block, and patterned block.  This is a structure that has stood the test of time and will continue to do so if allowed the opportunity.  There are still original drawings that depict the detailing of this mid-century design.  There is also a report created just last year by a group of architects and engineering professionals on the existing facility’s structure and systems, and what it would cost to bring everything up to today’s functioning standards and codes.

If the likes of Marilyn Monroe and Del Webb aren’t enough of a history to save this structure, hopefully the history of our motor inns and the local memories will.  This type of “mini-resort” made Phoenix accessible to the masses and helped put our city on the map during the 50’s.  Many have already been bulldozed, and their historical relevance and place making identities are forever gone.  Our Phoenix locals who are old enough to know this hotel have been coming out and speaking to groups like the Downtown Voices Coalition.  For instance, a grandmother from back East recalled her first visit to Phoenix where she stayed at the Sahara.  It was while she was there, experiencing a day of summer life at the courtyard pool and witnessing the joy being had by the children and all guests, that she decided to move to Phoenix to start her own family.   A UPS driver who used to deliver to the Sahara wrote to us and calls it “an amazing place that deserves to be preserved.” 

Modern urbanites would like to have the opportunity to sip pina coladas by the pool.  The architectural and engineering professionals who have studied the facility feel it has great potential and deserves to be preserved.  It is a one of a kind actual “oasis” in our downtown core and should be valued as such.  And nobody — and I mean nobody — that actually lives and breathes downtown wants to see another parking lot.  [Note: For more information, photos, and design renderings, click here.]

Downtown Phoenix’s Westward Ho once hosted rich and famous

[Source: Maria Konopken, Casa Grande Valley Newspapers, Inc.] — The Westward Ho’s pool, shimmering outside Reynaldo Torres’ door, once was a place where Marilyn Monroe swam, Elizabeth Taylor sunbathed, and Paul Newman filmed a scene heaving a television from a balcony. The lobby of the former hotel still has grand touches, including tiled pillars supporting a soaring ceiling, from the days when Torres would see U.S. Sen. Barry Goldwater and Valley socialites heading to events, dinners, or drinks.  “The hotel was always really busy with people coming in and out,” Torres said.  “You never knew who was staying here; that was the exciting part.”

Torres saw the Westward Ho’s former glory from his position as a janitor here during the 1960s.  But the rich and famous have long since left, and now Torres is one of about 300 low-income senior citizens who call it home.  The Westward Ho, with its 268-foot television tower, which no longer is used, is an iconic part of the downtown skyline.  And it remains a place of memories for many Arizonans who came here for wedding receptions, fine meals, and entertainment before it closed in 1979.  “It was full of character, rich in history and rife with personality,” said Marshall Trimble, Arizona’s state historian.  “It is where the rich and the famous came to play.”

At 16 stories, the Westward Ho was the tallest hotel in Phoenix when it opened in 1928.  At the time, it boasted a room rate of $2; most of its competitors charged 25 cents a night.  The hotel’s stature and star-studded clientele have led to legends and ghost stories.  Trimble said he doubts a claim made by some that Al Capone’s car was buried by a cave-in in the Westward Ho’s now-closed underground parking garage and is still down there.  Another legend, Trimble said, has Monroe making late-night swims without a bathing suit.  Like other establishments downtown, the Westward Ho suffered as residents and visitors were attracted to other places in the Valley.  “People didn’t want to be downtown so much anymore; the action wasn’t downtown,” Trimble said.  “You had golf courses and all of these things on these resorts.  There was just more to do.”  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]