A Chicago story in Phoenix

I took a few days off this week to travel to Phoenix and stay at the Arizona Biltmore. It’s one of the few existing hotels in the world with a design influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright. I hadn’t known much about it in advance, but once there I was fascinated by the hotel’s Chicago connections.

It opened on Feb. 23, 1929. William Wrigley, Jr. was one of the original investors, and he became the hotel’s sole owner in 1930 when the projected construction cost doubled. The architect of record was Albert Chase McArthur, who had studied under Wright from 1907 – 1909 in Chicago; publicity for the hotel describes Wright as the “Consulting Architect.” Wrigley and his wife had recently built a house, La Colina Solana, on the hill above the hotel site:

La Colina

As I walked in to the Biltmore, I was stunned to see this:


Underneath the statue, the plaque read:

“The Biltmore Sprites”
The Sprites, original architectural sculptures designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, were designed in 1914 to stand guard over Chicago’s Midway Gardens. These same Sprites, meaning fairy or elf, now grace the grounds of the Arizona Biltmore.

Iannelli Plaque

There were a few odd things about this text. Having recently seen the wonderful show at the Chicago Cultural Center, “Modernism’s Messengers” on the work of Alfonso and Margaret Iannelli, I knew these sculptures were NOT designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, but by Alfonso Iannelli, a sculptor based in Park Ridge.

Wright and Iannelli worked together on a few projects – including Midway Gardens – and I’d learned a lot from Tim Samuelson’s notes for the exhibit. (I’d also done a consulting project for Landmarks Illinois on the Iannelli Home and Studio in Park Ridge, so I had a pre-existing interest in the Iannellis’ work.) Both Alfonso and Margaret Iannelli had difficult lives, and the Cultural Center show made it clear that Alfonso’s work was – shall we say – overshadowed by Wright.

I’d seen images of the sculptures elsewhere, as well, and had wondered where they had gone after Midway Gardens was demolished. I can only guess at how they ended up at the Biltmore.

But beyond that, Iannelli’s angular Art Deco style contrasts markedly with Wright’s “Aztec” motifs throughout the hotel.

I’m including some compare-and-contrast photos here, to illustrate the differences… but I hope that this chance encounter, along with the recent Cultural Center show, will help to bring more attention to the Iannellis and their Chicago story.

Biltmore entry2

2 Sprites

stained glass