Article originally posted by atasteofaz.com.
Written by Marci Symington
The Wrigley Mansion is a star in the Sonoran Desert, commanding 360-degree views above the Arizona Biltmore Hotel, and representing a rich history of Phoenix. Built between 1929 and 1931, the iconic Phoenix landmark was a 50th wedding anniversary present from William Wrigley, Jr., chewing gum manufacturer, to his wife, Ada.
An investment in the Arizona Biltmore Hotel in 1925 brought Wrigley to the Valley, and after the crash of 1929, he purchased the hotel and 600 acres surrounding it for ten cents on the dollar. Drawing inspiration from his home on Catalina Island, William designed the Wrigley Mansion in the Spanish Colonial Revival style mixed with California Monterey.
After William’s death in 1932, the Wrigley Family lived in the mansion until 1973, selling to Tally Industries, a Mesa electronics company, who used it as VIP lodging for the Biltmore Hotel (now a separate entity). It was then sold to Western Savings Bank, who used the home as a corporate retreat and VIP club. In 1991, plans were in place to raze the historic home to make room for condos.
Enter George “Geordie” Hormel, grandson of the Hormel Meat Company founder and son of the inventor of SPAM, and Geordie’s wife, Jamie. Geordie had worked for the family business before striking out on his own in Los Angeles, composing theme music for classic tv shows such as Lassie and The Fugitive. Geordie also founded The Village Recording Studio, recording albums for the likes of Fleetwood Mac, Barbara Streisand, and Bob Dylan.
Geordie and Jamie moved to Arizona from Los Angeles, arriving in time to save the mansion from destruction. Recounts Jamie, “Somebody came to [Geordie] and told him about this beautiful mansion to be torn down. We ran over there and looked at it. The house brought him back to the home he grew up in Austin, Minnesota, and he said this cannot be destroyed.”
As a team, Geordie and Jamie had their own vision for the mansion, planning to make it accessible to the public. “Geordie wanted to open the Wrigley Mansion for travelers and people who lived in the community. A lot [of people] would say they grew up seeing the mansion but couldn’t come up to see it. Our idea was to create places where people could come and enjoy.”
The Wrigley Mansion became the “it” spot for dining and special events. “Geordie put everything into the mansion, and at one point in the 90’s we had an in-house florist.” The Hormels raised their two daughters in Phoenix, spending every Sunday at the mansion. “It was the one constant in their life.” After Geordie passed away in 2006, Jamie knew she wanted to build on Geordie’s dream. “At first, when Geordie died, I was in a fog, so I didn’t do anything for about a year. You could still see him sitting at the piano playing. He had been there so much it made us think of him. When I came out of my fog, I was thinking that it was time for a facelift. I felt [we should] keep the family legacy going.” To that end, Jamie has overseen extensive renovations and additions over the last few years that have resulted in several options for dining, cocktails, and corporate and private events.
The Cocktail Lounge, designed by Bar Napkin Productions, occupies a space with soaring ceilings and unparalleled views. Geordie’s Restaurant, under Chef de Cuisine Ashley Goddard, has debuted new menus for lunch, dinner, and Sunday brunch, with many specialties such as the Duck Confit Pizza, Whole Branzino, and Braised Leg of Lamb. Honoring the Hormel legacy, the SPAM Cubano is a must-order for lunch, featuring Pulled Pork, SPAM Pâté, Garlic Herb Pesto, Pickles, and Swiss Cheese. And if you are looking to pair a glass of wine with your meal, CEO and sommelier Paola Embry oversees the largest and possibly the most impressive wine list in Arizona.
One of the highlights of the mansion is the jewel-like Jamie’s Bar. Formerly the library of the Wrigley Mansion, Jamie’s Bar interior retains its original marble fireplace and Filipino walnut wood paneling. Along with designer Wendy Black Rodgers, Jamie updated the decor, adding a bit of color. “I love blue and wanted to bring blue into the mansion…and to make the bar an intimate place for people to gather.”
The mansion continues to be a popular spot for weddings and corporate and private events. The Pasadena Room (seen at the top of this page) seats 10-12 comfortably in a former bedroom now decorated with Geordie’s artwork. Nearby, the Geneva Room has the reputation of being the room where Elvis once slept. Of the balcony that connects the two rooms, Jamie adds, “I like to go up there at sunset and have a glass of champagne and look at the view and the setting sun. It is one of my favorite secret places.”
In spring of 2021, Jamie and her partner, James Beard award-winning chef Christopher Gross, unveiled Christopher’s at Wrigley Mansion. The glass-enclosed modern structure sits adjacent to the Mansion. Designed by renowned architect Wendell Burnette, Christopher’s is the setting for Chef Gross’ exceptional French inspired cuisine, the culmination of many years of culinary genius.
This fall, Jamie plans to feature Jazz nights every third Thursday, with Jamie and Geordie’s oldest daughter singing with the band. “She sings [Geordie’s] style of music, the old Jazz standards. I am hoping to bring music back [to the Mansion] so people can make memories being around the piano. I feel like he would be really proud of what we have done.” A fitting tribute to be sure; the Wrigley Mansion is a true gift to Phoenix and all who pass through our Valley home.
Photography by Luke Irvin