the spirits of san carlos
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The Spirits of San Carlos
Andrew J. Schwartzberg
October, 2009, Page 46
Photos reprinted with permission from Hotel San Carlos, by Robert A. Melikian, Available from the publisher online at
or by calling 888-313-2665.
The Hotel San Carlos once was the most opulent hotel in Downtown Phoenix.
Once Downtown’s most opulent digs, the Hotel San Carlos still has guests talking, but today it’s ghostly residents causing all the stir.
When the Hotel San Carlos opened on March 19, 1928, it was such a big deal that it made the front page of the Arizona Republican. The cover story most likely came about not only because of the cutting-edge nature of the hotel and its prominence in the heart of Downtown, but also because the hotel’s co-owner, Dwight Heard, owned the newspaper.
This aside, the hotel truly was a marvel in its day. Constructed in the Italian Renaissance style by architect George Whitecross Ritchie in 1927, the floors were built with poured-in-place concrete and the walls were fashioned with steel lath, chicken wire and cement plaster. This hardy construction technique was a reaction to the great Adams Hotel fire that took place in Downtown Phoenix in 1910. This catastrophe was very much on the minds of property owners Heard and Charles Harris when they commissioned Ritchie to build the Hotel San Carlos on the northwest corner of Central Avenue and Monroe Street.
However, the feature that really set the San Carlos apart from the competition was that, at the time of its opening, it was the only hotel in Phoenix to boast air conditioning. Previously, guests at hotels had to sleep outside of their rooms on porches they shared with other guests. By introducing air conditioning, the Hotel San Carlos afforded its patrons with a level of nighttime privacy and comfort that was previously unknown to them during summer months. For this luxury, guests paid a hefty price.
“We charged a premium of an extra dollar a day to have air conditioning,” says Corrin Green, the current general manager of the Hotel San Carlos.
That extra dollar brought the initial room rate to $3.50 per night. It would be the same as a traveler today deciding between staying at a $250-per-night resort or a $350-per-night resort. The extra dollar did make a difference.
That higher price point inevitably attracted a more affluent clientele, making it a favorite destination for celebrities. Clark Gable, Mae West, Gene Autry and Marilyn Monroe were among the Hollywood luminaries who spent time at the hotel. According to a book about the hotel by Robert A. Melikian, whose family has owned the property since 1973, Gable always requested Room 412 so he could have a perfect view of the corner of Central Avenue and Monroe Street to hone his acting skills “by people-watching the average Phoenician.” (See A Haunting Recollection, below, for more about Melikian’s book.)
San Carlos French Café staff members
More than half a century before the hotel opened its doors, the land was the site of the first schoolhouse in Phoenix. Called the Old Adobe, the schoolhouse had only one room and one teacher for children of all ages.
As the population of Phoenix grew, the school grew along with it, expanding to 16 rooms in 1893 and changing its name to Central School. The campus endured for about two decades until it was overshadowed by newer schools and eventually razed. The land was purchased by Dwight Heard in 1919, but one crucial part of the property remained – a well dug for use by the school in 1874.
“The well is still in the basement, of course, but it’s capped off,” Green says. “We don’t use it.”
While the well may not be in use in the traditional sense, its presence in the basement is one of the key components of the hotel’s many ghostly tales. Legend has it that during the schoolhouse years, three boys drowned while chasing after a ball that went into the well. Allegedly their spirits have lingered on at the San Carlos to this day.
A hotel envelope mailed in 1934
“There have been reports of children laughing and bouncing a ball in the basement,” says Linda Lieberman, a hostess with Ghosts of Phoenix Tours, which provides tours of the hotel around Halloween.
The most famous ghost-in-residence at the Hotel San Carlos is Leone Jensen, a woman who leapt off the roof of the hotel on May 7, 1928, after being rejected by a bellboy at another hotel. Ever since her untimely demise, multiple guests (almost always men) have reported seeing the apparition of a woman at the foot of their beds that slowly fades off toward the hallway.
“I don’t believe that every place that creaks and groans is haunted, but I would say at this point I’m pretty convinced that the Hotel San Carlos is the real deal,” Lieberman says.
Whether or not you believe the Hotel San Carlos is haunted, its rich history is undeniable. Lately, it has enjoyed a bit of a renaissance as more sports and cultural amenities have lured increasing numbers of tourists Downtown.
“It definitely had its best season that we can recall last year,” Green says. And for a hotel that has been around for 81 years, that’s saying something.
THE GHOSTS OF PHOENIX tour at the Hotel San Carlos runs Friday and Saturday evenings from October 2 through November 14. The cost is $12 for adults and $6 for children, although it is not recommended for children under the age of 8. This walking tour of the hotel’s “paranormal hot spots” lasts 45 minutes to an hour and covers the hotel’s history and how it relates to the paranormal activity reported by guests and staff throughout the years. For more information or to make a reservation, visit
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