Once a concrete ruin, a relic from Arizona’s gold rush was converted into a posh private home. Now it’s on sale for the 1st time ever
By JAMES TARMY
By 1919, when James “Rawhide Jimmy” Douglas built a hotel directly outside the entrance to his copper mine in Arizona, he was already rich.
His company, United Verde Extension Co, had gone from 15 cents a share in 1912 to US$35 a share by 1916 (over US$800 in today’s dollars), and Douglas, the scion of a wealthy mining family, was feeling so flush that he decided to build his miners a dorm-cum-hotel at the entrance of the Little Daisy Mine in Jerome, Arizona.
The hotel, appropriately named the Little Daisy Hotel, had 40 rooms, a grand dining room and reception area, and views of the surrounding landscape. “Supposedly the miners felt like it was too fancy for them,” says Lisa Acker, the building’s current owner. “But when they were here, they’d hot-bunk [ie share a bed] doing eight hour shifts.”
Originally, she adds, the hotel had “gang showers” and bathrooms, except for in the swankier rooms, reserved for Douglas’ guests.
By the mid 1950s though, the mining economy in Jerome had collapsed, and the hotel fell into disrepair along with the rest of the area.
“They sold all the windows and doors, even the tile roof,” says Acker. “Everything was sold for salvage, and people just walked off with whatever they didn’t strip.”
The building’s concrete husk was sold to William Earl Bell (who helped develop the atomic clock) in 1969, as part of a larger land deal involving more valuable, adjacent property. It wasn’t until 1995, when Acker and her husband Walter purchased the property, and decided to turn it into a private home.
The couple had spent the previous decade developing 20 acres (8.1ha) of land in Montana; after they sold that property, they were ready for a change.
“We found this place, and Walter was like, would you want to buy it,” Acker recalls. “I was like, um, it’s a pretty big place, let’s go back and visit it again to make sure.”
The couple returned to Jerome, and after doing some measurements, getting a few bids from builders, and looking at the plans for the original hotel in the town’s museum, they decided to purchase it.
The building was officially 35,000 sq ft (3,251.61 sq m) on a 3.45 acres, though after going through it, they discovered that the house was about 9,000 sq ft per level, and totalled about 27,000 sq ft. The purchase price was US$190,000, Acker says.
More than two decades later, Acker is now putting it on the market, listing it with Russ Lyon Sotheby’s International Realty for US$6.2 million (RM25.42 million). Acker’s husband passed away unexpectedly last September, she says, and the house’s 12,000 sq ft of indoor space, 2,900 sq ft of covered porches, the 2,600-sq-ft garage/workshop and 9,000-sq-ft rooftop garden feel, she says, a bit excessive for one person.
“People always used to say, ‘Only two people live there?!’” Acker says. “Now it’s, ‘Only one person?’ It makes me giggle.”
Living (in) History
The process of turning a concrete husk into a livable mansion took the better part of a decade, and the bulk of the work was performed by Acker and her husband themselves. The couple had only been married for five years when they purchased the property, but their experience in Montana “showed us that we could build something together and stay together”, she says.
Initially, they lived in an airstream trailer parked outside the property as they worked to put a roof on the building. Next, they lived in an enclosed area inside the building as they worked to make the rest of the place habitable.
“A firm in Phoenix did all the exterior windows, which are made out of solid oak,” Acker says. The windows alone took a year and a half to make, during which “we just focused on other things”, she says.
The couple had access to blueprints and historic photos, and did their best to recreate the interior mouldings and decoration as best they could.
The one major shift was the roof garden, which the couple was inspired to create after realising that — thanks to disintegrated plaster and concrete — the roof already had a nine-inch thick floor already. As a consequence, they put in a vegetable garden, fire-pit, kitchen, fish pond, hot tub, and croquet lawn (“which you can use as a putting green”) all on the third storey, which has predictably stunning views.
Indoors, they reconfigured the second floor so that it comprised eight bedrooms. Three of the bedrooms are en-suite, while the other five are smaller, in the footprint of the original miner’s rooms.
Downstairs, the first floor is mostly taken up by three massive rooms. The living room, which is accessed through the main entrance, the dining room, in which the Ackers once (comfortably) seated 120 people for a wedding, and a theatre/pool room. There’s also a 1,000 sq ft kitchen.
The project was fully completed, she says, by 2004, nine years later.
“My husband made a lot of the furniture in the house, and he made the cabinets in the kitchen,” Acker says. “In the dining room, I can’t see anything he didn’t make except for the chairs at the dining table.”
Acker says she and her husband never intended to sell the house, or turn it into a commercial venture.
“We didn’t want to turn it into a bed and breakfast, because we didn’t want to have to wait on people,” she explains.
Acker acknowledges that it might appeal to someone interested in reverting it back to a hotel, but says that the area — a tourist destination roughly in-between Phoenix and the Grand Canyon — means that the home could appeal to well-heeled buyers in search of a vacation home.
“A family might like this as an extra home,” she says. “A lot of people from Los Angeles come out to this area — there’s Lake Powell and so many attractions.”
Acker says that she’s fine with selling the house. “I guess I’m selling because I’m going on to a new phase of my life,” she says. — Bloomberg