As preservationist of the historic Cottonwood Hotel and local historian and storyteller of Cottonwood, I respect and honor my dear (now deceased) friends, Jo Becchetti See, her sister Helen Becchetti Dover, friend Jean Hall Redmond and Ginnie Hall Stadelman, for sharing some of their life history with me. Their dads built some of the western Old Town buildings two and three times. A lot of the historic oral information that I now share came from these gals. Thank you.
Karen J. Leff
Take a trip to the past, come and stay where legends have... Experience the Old West in this 1925 two-story small historic hotel. Its balcony overlooks the heart of the western Old Town, Cottonwood's downtown area. With upper floor Old Town views, the Hotel's Suites, all have their own unique decor.
First built in 1917, ***The Cottonwood Hotel has had the same name and same location since 1917. Today it is Cottonwood, Arizona's longest standing business.
In 1922 the Cottonwood Hotel was purchased from Samuel Steinberg by Antonio & Mary Giordano. The Giordano's lived in the rear of their storefront. The hotel upstairs.
Prescott Evening Courier – Dec. 11, 1933
HUSBAND, WIFE OF VERDE DEAD
Cottonwood, Ariz., Dec. 11 – (Special) – The community of Cottonwood was shocked Saturday morning by the report that during the nigh Mrs. Mary Giordano had passed away at the family residence sfter s brief illness and again, later in the day, when her husband, Antonio, died in the United Verde hospital in Jerome.
The Giordanos came to the United States from their native country of Italy about 30 years ago. After employment with the United Verde Copper company until 1914, Mr. Giordano and his family by diligence and thrift, were able to equip a ranch And for about four years lived on old Haskell property near Cottonwood, then removed to Cottonwood where they purchased the Cottonwood Hotel of Sam Steinberg. They operated the hotel and a dry goods store up to within the last few months, when they retired to be succeeded by their children.
Fir the last few months Mrs. Giordano had been ill but seemed worse following an attach of yellow jaundice. She bore her sufferings with extreme fortitude and maintained a cheerfulness to all her friends to the last. Her husband, in poor health when she died, collapsed and was taken to the hospital. They are survived by two daughters, Mrs. E. H. Snyder and Mrs. W. G. Robinson.
With their passing the community loses valuable citizens, whose charity to the poor and needy was never told and who always stood ready to aid the public cause.
Tomorrow morning from 9 o’clock until noon the bodies will lie in state at the Scott & McMillan mortuary in Jerome. Funeral services will be conducted at 2:30 in the afternoon from the Clemenceau Catholic church. Mr. Giordano was 57; his wife, 51.
Cottonwood Hotel 1917
Mae West roomed here during the "Roaring Twenties". An old timer was quite smitten with her as he reminisced telling his story. He had remembered Ms. West in the back alleyways running her hands through the mash in the whiskey barrels ready to be stilled. It was known to be the same location where a still blew up causing the 1925 fire...
Ms. West also frolicked through the back rooms of the local speakeasies. The old timer remembered seeing Mae West come out of the Cottonwood Hotel. I could only visualize her saying to the big fella, "Come on up and see me sometime!" see more
Mae West serving herself a beer...
The 1917 circa Cottonwood Hotel & general store (wood structure) burned to the ground due to the April 20th, 1925 fire. The early morning fire started with the explosion of a prize still located at the Thomas Moore Restaurant (the Old Rialto Theater) a couple of doors down at 924-926 N. Main St. The fire fanned by a strong wind, swept down the two blocks of the Westside of Main St. all the way down to 1024 N. Main. Fifteen businesses were destroyed along with 10 residential homes behind.
The 1925 fire was Cottonwood’s biggest catastrophe ever.
The one fatality so happened to be a renowned spiritualist Minister George Harvey Brooks (Doctor of Divinity).
Rev. Brooks resided in Los Angeles with his wife Fannie E. Brooks and their son. They had recently moved to Los Angeles, as they had only been living there for two months. The reverend was one of the greatest platform lecturer's in the United States on the subject of metaphysics and constantly kept on the move traveling from place to place.
Rev. Brooks had been frequenting the Cottonwood Hotel, monthly, as he would hold spiritual seminars and lecture in Cottonwood and the red rocks of Sedona during the 1920's movement. He had been in Cottonwood for several days when the fire broke out. His wife and son were back in Los Angeles.
Rev. George Harvey Brooks certificate of death reads that he was born Aug. 20, 1860 in Mt. Vernon, NY. Rev. Brooks burned to death on April 20, 1925 at 5:30AM in the Cottonwood Hotel. Mostly only his skeleton remains were found. It was reporte that he was half dressed, near the location of the foot of the hotel bed, possibly getting ready to escape the fire when he was overtook by fire and smoke.
His father was from London, England and was also a renown spiritualist.
To read Charlie Stemmer's (Cottonwood AZ's Post Master) chilling paranormal-ghost story about Rev. George Harvey Brooks fatality in the 1925 fire CLICK HERE.
1920's Spiritualist ~ George Brooks
George was a very bright man and made friends wherever he went by his keen sense of humor and his straightforward manner. When Minister Brooks came into town the children would run up and down the street shouting, "The spiritualist is here, the spiritualist is here!" They would all gather, then go visit Rev. Brooks. The kids loved his stories, even though their parents would warn them to stay away. Probably because they did not quite understand that particular spiritualistic movement, because of their own belief system.
George, being into metaphysics had predicted that Cottonwood was about to have its biggest catastrophe ever. Oddly enough he was the only fatality.
For some time, some believed that it was George Brooks that wondered the upstairs hallway of the Cottonwood Hotel. Possibly trying to find a way out!
Below are images that appeared on a wall in a photo shortly after I, (Karen Leff) purchased the hotel property.
A few years later Gina ? the great, great grand-daughter of Rev. George Brooks's brought me a photo of her great-great grandfather Rev. George Brooks. A shocking resemblance to the image on the wall! Wouldn't you say???
1996 image on wall ~Cottonwood Hotel
Unit 3 Cottonwood Hotel image on wall
Even though the April 1925 fire burned most of the town, the whole town rapidly rebuilt with care and caution. Most buildings were completed by summer or September of 1925. It wasn't the first time the town was rebuilt. With businesses thriving in the trades of spirits (best booze within a hundred miles), produce, construction and feeding the miners in Jerome, since 1917, Cottonwood was known as the "Biggest Little Town in the State of Arizona!" Go to Cottonwood's History page for more info.
The Giordano’s rebuilt the 2-story Cottonwood Hotel/mercantile building after the 1925 fire with an identical floor plan to the 1917 wood building, only this time it had a balcony addition. Since the insurance companies clamped down and would no longer insure the wood buildings or the wooden boardwalks, the hotel was rebuilt with a special designed solid cast concrete block and stuccoed over. The blocks had 12-18" of firewall. It was said that they wanted to make dang sure if a building ever caught fire again it would not burn the whole town. We had proof of the pudding in December of 1998 when the theater burned. See Cottonwood history for more info.
The Cottonwood Hotel reopened for business on October 22, 1925.
A town FIRE BELL was erected on the roof of the Cottonwood Hotel after it was rebuilt in 1925. Joe Hall was the town fire chief at the time. He would ring the bell when a town fire broke out. The bell remained on top of the Cottonwood Hotel until a fire department was built, after Cottonwood was incorporated in 1960.
The original fire bell can now be seen on display at Cottonwood's newest Fire Department located on 6th Street. Click on the picture at right for larger view.
The hotel exterior with its Toltec Indian architecture was popular during the western 1920's period. Other features were the large balcony porch held up with pillars that towered over the new cement sidewalks. The hotel office has the original tin ceiling, the fleur-de-lis style lily (in French, fleur means flower, and lis means lily) or iris that is used as a decorative design or symbol. There are beautiful hardwood floors throughout the whole upper floor hotel and ground floor innkeepers living quarters.
Hotel's Original Tin Ceiling
Mae West was seen passing through again in the early 1930's from her New York Broadway stage shows to her Hollywood acting career on a few occasions. Check out our Mae West Suite.
Mae West 1934
Before the death of Mr. & Mrs. Giordano their daughter Catherine Giordano Robinson and her husband Bob took over the hotel and store. Bob Robinson eventually turned the general store into a clothier with the hotel always just being upstairs. The Robinson's expanded the ground floor rear in the late 30's, early 40's making a larger living quarters for themselves, along with storage.
1940's The added edition can be seen in the classic 1946 movie 'DESERT FURY' starring Burt Lancaster, 'Lizabeth Scott. You'll have to be paying attention or you'll miss it. To see more on the locally filmed movie go to our Cottonwood History page.
TODAY the 1940 addition to the hotel building are the two ground floor rental studios Unit 6 & Unit 7.
DESERT FURY 1946
1946 John Wayne and Gail Russell romanced here during their filming of 'Angel & the Badman'.
Even though the movie was filmed in Sedona, the producer, director and Hollywood stars came to review and edit their progress of the movie at the Rialto Theater. This type of viewing or editing was known as a 'Rush'. Rushes were not open to the public.
John Wayne & Gail Russell 1946
After the 'Rushes', John Wayne & Ms. Russell did not return to Sedona. They checked into the Cottonwood Hotel and romanced here on several occasions during the filming of the movie, having their 'not-so-secret' love affair.
The story was told to me by Josephine (Jo) Becchetti See and Jean Hall Redmond. Jo had mentioned that most towns people did not know who Wayne and Russell were at that time, nor did they know when a 'Rush' was being filmed. Since Jo's father owned the theater, Jo knew when the stars were coming into town and exactly who they were. Joseph Becchetti (owner of the Rialto Theater) was also a friend of Bob Bradshaw whose ranch in Sedona was being used for the film location.
Jo and Jean both giggled as they shared in telling me how they both watched John Wayne & Gail Russell standing in the doorway of the hotel/store entrance kissing. Then they would go upstairs to their hotel room.
Jean Hall Redmond was working in Robinson's Clothier & Western Wear on the ground floor of the hotel at the time. She remembered Wayne & Russell holding hands and smooching between the clothing dress racks on more than one occasion and selling John Wayne some western wear.
At that time there was a door from the store that went to the upstairs hotel. Ms. Redmond said that when she closed the store for the day, she had to always make sure that that particular door was locked and closed off to the store. When the store was closed at night, guests could then only use the side street door entrance to enter the upstairs hotel.
***Joseph Becchetti had over 100 movies reviewed at his theater. The last 'Rush' was for the movie 'The Rounders' starring John Ford and Henry Fonda.
In 1948 the Cottonwood Hotel was advertised in ARIZONA'S HIGHWAY's that the 10 room hotel at that time could be rented for $1.50/night!
1953 Robinson's Clothier Ad
Pop Clanton Advertises for the Cottonwood Hotel Looking as if he had just pulled in from the desert, 'Pop' Clanton one of the few members of his tribe not killed by law officers in Tombstone, guides his caravan up Main Street in Cottonwood. "Partner" says the sign on the wagon, "this is a GOOD TOWN. Pull in and STAY the NIGHT. Pop Clanton Cottonwood, AZ"... That's Clanton behind those enormous boots. He lives on 2nd St. and his dog smokes a pipe. (Verde Independent News Sept. 1953)
'POP' Clanton and Covered Wagon ~1953 Advertises for the Cottonwood Hotel
Robert S. 'POP' Clanton parked his covered wagon regularly in front of the Cottonwood Hotel. His wagon, sign and his dog smoking a pipe was good advertisement for the hotel. He was friends with Bill Robinson, owner of the Cottonwood Hotel and Robinson's Western Wear Clothier.
R. S. 'Pop' Clanton was born October 11, 1886. Cause of death was cancer. He died on April 18, 1958. He worked the railroad and was a car inspector-repairman.
Catherine Marian Giordano Robinson died June 13, 1960.
Bill Robinson continued to live in the back of his storefront and his son moved upstairs in the hotel in the late 60's and 70's. Edie Giordano Snyder and husband were helping the Robinson's by managing the hotel at that time. Bill Robinson continued to run his store, later buying the 928 N. Main St. building (the old Lysons building) next door to expand Robinson's Clothier in March of 1965.
928 N. Main St. (the connecting building to the hotel) was also first built in 1922. It was Lyson’s Confectionary and Newstand. The Lyson’sresidence was in the back. This building wasalso rebuilt after the 1925 fire, as it was completely destroyed. Lysons who was a retired sea captain, mentioned that during the 1925 explosion from next door, he barely made it out of the back of his building, leaping through a window, half dressed as it was exploding. He had no shoes on.
Contractors Jess Hood and Oscar Webb gave the adjoining building an eye appeal with its snappy parapet and swirly stucco when they rebuilt Lysons building. The finished product was described as a “curious building with individuality, a Jazz Palace” (VCN 9/12/1925) The storefront simulated “Toltec Indian architecture with an interior like a copy of the inside of the Carlsbad cavern and the ceiling like the frosting of a cake with snow white miniature stalagtites. All remain as character defining elements of the building today. This was all noted in the historical register.
The western comedy was half filmed in downtown Cottonwood, the other half was filmed on Bradshaw’s Ranch and uptown Sedona. The image of the station wagon in front of the Cottonwood Hotel is the car that Elvis drove going back & forth from Sedona & Cottonwood during his filming.
Elvis enjoyed Cottonwood as he walked the back streets autographing for the local neighbors. The picture of Elvis with fans is behind the Cottonwood Hotel, what use to be the Joseph & Ermelinda Becchetti house. It was torn down in the 1990's. Elvis was captured on film on several occasions in front and behind the Cottonwood Hotel. Elvis once had commented that he had the most fun filming 'Stay Away, Joe', more then any other movie that he ever starred in! “Stay Away, Joe” 1967 musical comedy starring Elvis Presley as a Navajo half breed filmed in Cottonwood. To see more on the filming of this movie go to the Cottonwood history page.
Since the passing of his wife in 1960, Bill Robinson continued to run his store until his death on June 15, 1975. Edie Giordano Synder and her husband had been managing the hotel for the Robinson's since the 1960's.
After Bill Robinson's death, the 928 and 930 N. Main Street property (Cottonwood Hotel and Robinson's Clothier) still remained in the Giordano/Robinson family for a few more years until sometime in the 80’s. The Robinson's son lived upstairs in the hotel. The ground floor retail was rented out to different businesses. The entrance going to the upstairs hotel from the front was closed off. You could only enter from the side. A wall was put back up between the two adjoining buildings to create more commercial rental space. The property started to slowly deteriate during that time.
I had a couple (August 2008) from New Jersey stay here for a couple of nights. They were curious about the hotel and are wonderful supporters of historic properties. They spent a few nights here back in 1979. They were quite young at that time, as they just got married. They remembered going to the apartment on the side of the building to check-in. The side street entrance to the hotel was the only entrance going upstairs. There was a huge sign painted on the side of the building that read: HOTEL Office, pointing to the side entrance and apartment. When we power-washed the building in 2006 you can barely see the signage. The Cottonwood Hotel catalever sign was removed from the front of the building which extended off from the corner of the balcony sometime in the 1960's, I believe around the same time the fire bell was removed.
Hotel Signage on side of building
1970 Robinson's Clothier
1980's Sometime in the 1980's a gal by the name of Donna Norris purchased the hotel. The property was rapidly deteriorating at that time.
1992 Hotel End Units
EARLY 1990's Maurice Casals Matamoras bought and rescued the property in the early 1990's, bringing the electrical and plumbing throughout up to code, hooking the septic at that time into the city water lines and remodeling, making the hotel property more suitable for living. He rented the apartments out mostly on a month-to-month basis, but also had some vacation or seasonal rentals. One of his tenants always managed the hotel for him, as Mr. Casals never lived on the property or in Cottonwood at that. He would stay in one of the ground floor apartment studios, whenever he was working on the hotel property.
1992 Hotel Ground Floor Back Units
2008 Hotel Back.Side
I, Karen Leff took over managing the Cottonwood Hotel on September 22, 1996, even though I didn't offically become owner until close of escrow on October 24, 1996. At that time I was pretty much dealing with the hotel property as a landlord, as most units had full time renters. As I needed a cash flow, I kept the good tenants until they eventually moved.
Unit 5, the small room & bath became vacant and was my first hotel unit open for overnight. At that time, I just cleaned and painted it, plus added furnishings. Unit 7, which I now call #8 was my first real project in the hotel. It was cleaned, old carpet and linoleum pulled, walls repaired and restuccoed, repainted, old cabinets pulled, sinks replaced, etc. It was at that time just a 2 room studio and bath. It became my new living quarters.
Karen Leff Oct. 11, 1996
1998 ~ The Cottonwood Hotel was listed on the National Historic Register as a contributing property to Cottonwood Arizona's Commercial District of Historic Properties.
2000 to Present Day
Back tracking some of Elvis's footprints, King who actually knew Elvis, today continues to pay special tribute to Elvis, with memories, music & more and is a real Elvis look-a-like, shows up at the Cottonwood Hotel. Impressing the guests on the hotel balcony, he sings a love song. Elvis "the King"...No Aaron King is his name. And he's available for hire...Contact: J. Conley in Tucson at 520-790-0906. May 2009
Old Town, Cottonwood, AZ USA, 930 North Main Street (Historic 89A) Hub of the Verde Valley, near Clarkdale, Jerome, Sedona, Cornville, Page Springs 1-(928) 634-9455 web designer: Karen J. Leff Last Updated: 05/11/2011