A Piece Of Arizona History Is For Sale In Castle Hot Springs

February 21, 2014

(Photo courtesy of the Arizona Historical Society/Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez-KJZZ)
The Castle Hot Springs pool, then and now.

It’s referred to as the grand dowager of Arizona resorts. In the late 1800s Castle Hot Springs became a secluded getaway for the sick — and the wealthy. It closed nearly 40 years ago and hasn’t been used much ever since. Check out the historic site,  before it’s sold to the highest bidder. 

The 210-acre property northwest of Lake Pleasant is not easy to get to. The off-road drive from the Carefree Highway is slow and treacherous. Even so, Arizona historian John Southard came along for the ride.  

“To build something here in the middle of the desert seems as if it would be a highly improbable venture," Southard said.

After 30 long minutes in the car we can see a bright yellow structure just around the hill. It’s one of two iconic buildings still standing on the property. As we approach it, Southard marvels at the resort’s history.

“if you think about it, the Arizona Biltmore, the Wigwam, the San Marcos in Chandler, these were all built in the 1920s and yet here three decades prior you have somebody establishing a resort in an area far outside the metropolis," Southard said.

Just in front of that yellow building are the Bradshaw Mountains with peaks that resemble castle tops. That’s how the resort got its name. Behind the building nestled up on a hill is the hot spring. An eager Southard treks the path

The spring has been the property’s biggest asset. The water naturally heats to 118 degrees and spews hundreds of thousands of gallons daily. Pipes that travel down the hillside channel water to the buildings.

“The property is gorgeous," said Douglas Johnson of CBRE, the company managing the auction at the end of the month. “They’ve had a full-time caretaker who lives on the site, and he does a great job taking care of the property.”

The caretaker works for the current owner, a foreign bank that’s trying to unload the land.

“We’ve seen folks that want to use it as a religious retreat. We’ve seen folks who want to have it, really revitalize it as a resort. We’ve seen folks who want to do rehabilitation centers. But from my perspective, at the end of the day whoever the highest and best bidder is will own the property," Johnson said.

This is not all that comforting to historian John Southard.  

“It is something that makes me rather nervous to think of the changes that could be made here," he said.

Southard says selling Castle Hot Springs to the highest bidder may lead to the resort’s historical demise.

 He recalls that this land was first developed in the 1890s as a tuberculosis sanatorium. The hot spring was used for healing. The unique feature convinced new owners to convert it into a private getaway with tennis courts, a golf course, a hotel and a 125,000-gallon swimming pool filled with spring water.

“It was developed into a facility that could accommodate 100 people and they could take advantage of the springs. Became, really a destination for the wealthy, a retreat for some of the biggest names in American business and politics," Southard said.

This included the Rockefellers, Roosevelts, and Wrigleys. Even President John F. Kennedy stayed here after serving in the war. The resort continued through the 1950s and 60s. But, a fire in 1976 shut the business down.

“It’s widely believe that this is the oldest resort in Arizona. Any time a historic property goes up for sale you hope that the next owner will be sensitive to the property’s history, sensitive to its significance to the community," Southard said.

In fact, the land has been for sale for several years. But so far no one’s paid the nearly $6 million asking price. The auction next Thursday is the latest attempt to find a buyer.