Getting back to your roots can be a good thing, especially for a resort whose history dates to the year Arizona became a state.
Westward Look Resort recently found that harking back to its history has proven to be a bold stroke, with a total remake of its 241 guest rooms, its lobby, bar and grill, and restaurant. Total cost of the resort's renovations was more than $10 million.
"We tried to figure out what guests wanted, and matched those needs with the style and feel of the resort and what it had come to be," said Alan S. Klein, general manager. "We didn't jump into the renovations and try to be all glitz and glamour, but figured out what materials we should use to insure we brought a lot of the historical elements into the renovation."
Klein said the design scheme used many of the natural colors and elements found in the Sonoran Desert.
"We tried to use woods that are typically found in the Southwest and went back to our heritage, which is more the Spanish-American style rather than New Mexican," he said.
So guest rooms have more of a Spanish influence in them now, with wood furniture reflecting that style. Westward Look also used natural travertine for the floors and countertops in guest bathrooms, and carried those elements into the public spaces so the public bathrooms have the fit and finish of guest rooms, Klein noted.
Guest room beds are of a simple design, Kline pointed out, with a custom-made and private-label Sealy pillow-top mattress covered by 400-thread count cotton sheets and duvets.
"We chose materials that make you feel comfortable, but also are right for this place in the desert," he said.
The public areas were not so much changed as upgraded to 21st century standards, according to Klein.
"We rejuvenated our lobby and removed the flagstone flooring, which gave a really cold feeling to the guests," Klein said. "We went back to the mahogany wood that our Vigas Room had when it was built in 1912, which is still intact today. We matched the wood floor all the way from the Vigas Room, down the steps and into the main lobby."
All furniture in the main lobby and other public spaces was changed and designed to reflect the style of the guest rooms. In addition, all three pools on the property were overhauled, had a new pebble sheen applied, new pool decking installed and new patio furniture.
In conjunction with the renovation, the resort unveiled its signature restaurant, Gold, with a new menu created by executive chef James Wallace. Gold's interior sports new colors (gold, copper and pewter), as well as fabrics and artwork.
Wallace said Westward Look's owners, American Property Hospitality Management in Los Angeles, wanted him to put his signature on Gold's menu.
"I'm a creature of component parts and my style reflects everywhere I've been, and I've been all over," Wallace said. "So Gold's menu is more comfortable and casual now, keeping some of the old favorites, like filet mignon and wild mushroom ravioli, but adding many new dishes."
Two of those new dishes include the volcano lamb shank made with sun-dried bing cherry jus lie and porcini mushroom risotto, and the Short Stack, a pan-roasted petit filet mignon, seared rare yellow fin tuna, and a grilled day boat scallop in mission fig sauce and watercress cream.
"I prepared those two dishes for the management and figured if they were good enough to get me hired, they were good enough for our menu," Wallace said.
Wallace started cooking professionally in Portland, Ore., at a late age — 32 — having first worked as a deckhand on a Hawaiian tugboat, a house painter and Alaskan truck driver. He later cooked in the Caribbean, Hawaii, Mexico, and then the Hotel del Coronado in San Diego, where he was executive sous chef. Executive chef jobs followed at Wyndham Palm Springs Hotel and Rock Resorts Grant Teton Lodge in Wyoming. Westward Look Resort lured him to Tucson in October, 2008.
The menu in the resort's Lookout Bar and Grill was the first thing Wallace tackled when he came on board, changing it to a contemporary American style he called "more or less comfort food that reflects a composite of places I've been."
Wallace said he developed a barbeque sauce from one he tasted in a small bar in a Virgin Islands parking lot, and also added fish tacos and shrimp tacos to the lounge menu, molded after similar dishes found at Tacos Rosie in Los Cabos, Mexico.
"People are looking for regionality when they come to the resort," Wallace said, "so we try to put our own feel into the indigenous ingredients of the Southwest."