A Carefully Executed Refresh of Wrigley Mansion in Phoenix Preserves its Historic Charm
Interior designer Wendy Black Rodgers treads lightly during a decadelong restoration of the Wrigley Mansion.
By Nora Burba Trulsson | Photography by Michael Duerinckx
The Wrigley Mansion, of late, has been abuzz with activity. Topping a knoll above the Arizona Biltmore resort, the historic estate-turned-hospitality-venue lures guests to have dinner and cocktails at Geordie’s Restaurant, sample wine flights at Jamie’s Wine Bar or partake in weddings, social events and corporate gatherings within this mansion’s many rooms and garden terraces. Recently, landscape designer and Phoenix Home & Garden Masters of the Southwest award winner Jeff Berghoff was tapped to create a new masterplan for the grounds and refresh the gardens of the estate, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. Last year, James Beard Award-winning chef Christopher Gross, another Master of the Southwest, opened his edgy jewel box of a restaurant, designed by architect and fellow Master of the Southwest Wendell Burnette, as a freestanding building just below the front entrance.
But the Wrigley Mansion’s historic heart has also had a sensitive renovation, thanks to the thoughtful approach by interior designer Wendy Black Rodgers, who walked a fine line between fusty house museum and too much 21st century. “We did this room by room, during the summers when the mansion was closed,” says Rodgers, a second-generation Arizonan, who grew up loving the landmark’s elegant mystique. “I tried to stay true to the original as much as possible, searching through old photographs and even the original set of blueprints. There’s a lot of history here.”
Indeed, the mansion’s past is bookended by two families—the Wrigleys and the Hormels. Completed in 1931, the residence was commissioned by William Wrigley Jr. as a 50th anniversary gift for his wife, Ada. A wealthy man with numerous business interests, Wrigley made his fortune in chewing gum and owned the Chicago Cubs baseball team. He came through Phoenix in the 1920s as an investor in the Arizona Biltmore and became its sole owner during the Great Depression. A serial home builder, Wrigley eyeballed the small hill adjacent to the hotel and envisioned a “winter cottage” for himself, his wife and two adult children. Los Angeles architect Earl T. Heitschmidt (who worked on the Los Angeles Biltmore hotel) was tapped for the design of the nearly 17,000-square-foot home, with 24 rooms, two stories and a basement. Heitschmidt designed the home’s wings to angle off the entry rotunda, with an aesthetic inspired by Spanish Colonial and California Monterey architectural styles. Dubbed “La Colina Solana,” or the sunny hill, the home featured a rambling facade, view-grabbing verandas, red clay-tile roofs, arches and wrought-iron details, signaling graciousness, not to mention wealth. Inside, Italian artist Giovanni Battisti Smeraldi was hired to paint the ceilings in the rotunda, dining room and living room. Wrigley also used decorative tile throughout the interior, made in his Catalina Clay Products manufacturing facility on Catalina Island—which he also owned. Mules carried flats of the tiles up the hill in Phoenix.
Wrigley, however, did not enjoy his hilltop home for long. He died in 1932 at the age of 70, in his bedroom at the mansion. The residence stayed in the family until the early 1970s, when it was sold to Talley Industries as part of its diversified real estate holdings. The company also owned the Arizona Biltmore and used the Wrigley Mansion as part of its hotel accommodations. Western Savings and Loan bought the mansion in 1979 and hired Cornoyer Hedrick Architects of Phoenix to transform the property from a residence to a private club with dining facilities. Much of the original architecture and interior was preserved.
In 1992, the mansion was on the market again, and its glory days atop the knoll were in peril, with rumors swirling about a teardown and condo development. The home was bought by Jamie and Geordie Hormel, aficionados of historic properties. “Geordie took one look at the Wrigley Mansion and instantly fell in love,” says Jamie of her late husband, a musician, composer, artist and part of the Hormel Meat Company family. “It reminded him of his childhood home in Minnesota, and he decided to buy it on the spot.”
While the Hormels’ attorney cautioned that the purchase was “a bad idea,” the couple persisted, wanting to save a piece of Phoenix history. “Geordie wanted the mansion to be a supper club, to be open to the community,” explains Jamie. “This wasn’t exactly out of left field. In the 1950s, he turned his childhood home into the Kings Wood Hotel and Restaurant, which he ran.”
With their then-toddler eldest daughter, the couple moved into Ada Wrigley’s bedroom for a few weeks when they did initial renovations to the mansion, adding their own touches while respecting the history. They enclosed some of the verandas for extra dining space and expanded the ballroom, which had already been located in what was once the mansion’s six-car garage spaces. “Geordie loved this place,” says Jamie, “and he enjoyed sharing it with everyone. He showed up every Sunday to play piano during brunch.”
After their initial renovations and Geordie’s passing in 2006, Jamie decided the interior needed an update that was compatible with its history. She asked Rodgers to help with the project. “I kept feeling like the interior wasn’t at its best,” says Jamie, “and I had worked with Wendy on my own house. She understood what I was looking for—something like old European homes that have a few modern touches.”
Indeed, Rodgers tread lightly on the mansion’s interior, yet managed to add a few notes that specifically appealed to Jamie’s tastes. Beginning in 2012, she tackled one space at a time. “For the breakfast room, which is now used for private dining, we incorporated Jamie’s love of blue and citron colors in the draperies and chair fabric,” points out Rodgers. There, a crystal globe light fixture adds a modern sparkle against the paneled walls. Rodgers converted the original library into Jamie’s Wine Bar, leaving its Philippine walnut paneling and fireplace intact, but subtly modernizing the setting with a zebra-print rug and a plush blue banquette.
In other areas, Rodgers let history prevail, shopping for new pieces in antique and vintage stores, repurposing furnishings from other parts of the mansion and recreating original touches. In the entry rotunda, the original wrought-iron railing of the staircase leading up to the bedrooms was recreated, and the rich wood of the hostess desk is in keeping with a residential look. In the living room, now used for dining and special events, a vintage Steinway piano prevails in a corner, while comfortable blue dining chairs invite guests to linger. For the ladies’ powder room, just off the entry, the designer was mindful of its deco appeal, finding treasures such as a vintage marble sink, old light fixtures and textured wallpaper, keeping the space as it looked when ladies powdered their noses and checked their spit curls.
Rodgers left everyone’s favorite space intact—the small telephone switchboard room—with its walls famously covered in the same silver foil used to wrap Wrigley’s chewing gum. “I knew not to touch that room,” she says with a laugh. “And some people swear they smell minty gum in there.” Upstairs, Rodgers helped transform the original bedrooms into meeting rooms and private dining spaces and turned the former chauffeur’s quarters into a bride’s room, a quiet space for dressing and relaxing before the ceremony.
For Rodgers, the goal was to leave as much of the interior as original as possible and to fill the gaps with pieces that looked like they had always been in the mansion. Indeed, guests who come for dinner, drinks or special events feel like they’ve stepped back into the 1930s.
For Jamie and her family, that feeling is important. “This is a piece of Arizona history,” Jamie says, “and the building feels good to be in. I like to have a glass of Champagne, look out at the view and think about what everything was like here in 1931.”
wrigleymansion.com. Historic renovation interior designer: Wendy Black Rodgers, Wendy Black Rodgers Interiors, Scottsdale, wbrint.com.
ROTUNDA ENTRY—Hostess desk: Peter Thomas Designs, Phoenix, peterthomasdesigns.com. Buffet: Tierra del Lagarto, Scottsdale, tierradellagarto.com. Staircase railing: Another Welding Company, Phoenix, (623) 582-0014. Carpeting: maslandcarpets.com.
DINING ROOM—Antique Spanish leather screen: 1stdibs.com. Chandelier: Scottsdale Marketplace, Scottsdale, scottsdalemarketplace.com.
BREAKFAST ROOM—Dining chair fabric: garproducts.com. Schonbeck chandelier: Sun Lighting, Tempe, sunlighting.com. Area rug: David E. Adler Fine Rugs, Scottsdale, davideadler.com.
LIVING ROOM—Sconces: stevehandelmanstudios.com. Area rug: karastan.com. Piano bench fabric: fschumacher.com. Original drapery bracket reproductions: Another Welding Company, Phoenix, (623) 582-0014.
LOWER RIGHT, LADIES’ POWDER ROOM—Vintage marble sink and water closet lights: Relics, Phoenix, relicsaz.com. Schonbeck sconces and ceiling light: sunlighting.com. Anaglypta wall covering: brewsterwallcoverings.com. Tile flooring: besttile.com.
LIBRARY (JAMIE’S WINE BAR)—Banquette fabric: pindler.com. Chandeliers: lampsplus.com. Vintage poster framing: The Art Department, Scottsdale, theartdeptaz.com. Area rug: Floor Styles, Scottsdale, floorstyles.com.