Known for his minimalist style, Varney is today recognized for his brilliant designs of Arizona State University’s Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, the Motorola Building in Scottsdale, and the Phoenix Municipal Building,. By the time he earned the Valley Ho gig, he had become one of the highest-paid architects in Arizona.
When designing the Valley Ho, he refused to mar the exterior of the property by installing above-ground power poles, like the rest of the neighborhood, and instead constructed underground tunnels for the electrical wires, and threaded all the plumbing lines through the tunnels as well.
Varney also strengthened the hotel’s sub-structure for future vertical growth, rather than swallowing more land around the property as was the custom in the wide-open desert environment.
The finished structure was quite distinctive. combining both modern and Southwestern styles, and the Valley Ho was the first hotel in Scottsdale to offer central air-conditioning and to open year-round, enabling the city to begin developing as a 12-month resort destination (although with heavily reduced rates in the summer).
The property’s signature element was a set of 350-pound, Native American-themed, concrete panels that hung off the balconies around the lobby, a strange, inexplicable, design motif. They are still there.
Despite Scottsdale’s small population of only 2,000 residents living within just one-square-mile, and no nightlife to speak of, the hotel’s well-connected owners, Robert and Evelyn Foehl, invited their celebrity friends from Hollywood to vacation in Scottsdale, and party in their new hotel.
Within a short time, guests like Bing Crosby, Tony Curtis, Janet Leigh and Zsa Zsa Gabor were flying out for boozy weekends by the pool, or desert hiking and horseback riding on one of the nearby ranches. The actors Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood had their 1957 wedding reception in the hotel, and in 1958 two wings were added to the property to accommodate the winter crowds.
Decades later, after the hotel changed owners multiple times (even becoming a Ramada property for several years) and underwent horrendous interior decorating changes, the Valley Ho was purchased by MSR Properties, a Scottsdale firm, who then hired Westroc, a hotel management company, to run the property. Westroc’s corporate minds were actually into historic preservation, aiming to return the property to its original mid-century style.
In 2004, construction began on an $80 million restoration project, managed by Kitchell Construction, the same company who had originally built the property. The Valley Ho reopened in 2005 with most of its original architecture intact, adding the ZuZu lounge and a fully equipped spa to appeal to both out-of-town guests and local residents. In addition, Varney’s predestined seven-story tower, opened in 2008, was constructed on its original 1956 footprint.
The Valley Ho has been listed on Scottsdale’s Historic Register since 2002, and is the only remaining historically significant, intact post-World War II resort in Scottsdale, and most likely in all of Arizona.
The property is within walking distance of Scottsdale’s Old Town restaurant and art gallery district, and offers large, retro-style rooms, tennis courts, a swimming pool, and an outdoor dining patio on eight manicured acres.
If you walk through the hotel’s lobby, or sit at the bar in the colorful ZuZu Lounge, listening to classic fifties’ tunes coming from the ceiling speakers, you will swear that you’re in the previous century.