|By Angela D. Wagner, The Tribune, Mesa, Ariz.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Oct. 18, 2003 - After 90 years of rich history and staying power in downtown Chandler, the San Marcos Resort and Conference Center plans to keep people visiting for the next 90.
San Marcos general manager Jeff Hammermeister said the Valley's oldest resort, located at 1 San Marcos Place, has withstood the test of time because it has something to offer every guest. He said the resort draws two types of customers: Groups and individuals who like the ambiance of the hotel.
"Groups are lured here because they want to be in the Valley and we have the space to accommodate their needs," Hammermeister said. "Individuals like the location and amenities of the resort. There's shopping and the nice weather, an 18-hole golf course, two pools, two restaurants, two lounges, tennis courts, a Starbucks, a day spa and a concierge to take care of all of their pop-up needs."
Hammermeister said the 295-room resort and conference center provides a high level of service and product quality, leading to not only repeat business, but referrals from guests.
"A lot of groups meet on a rotating basis, so as soon as they stay here we ask them to re-book," he said. "We have a very strong repeat clientele by both groups and individuals. What sets us apart is that people stay here, they like it and they return. Hopefully, they tell four or five people about it and they come stay with us as well."
Fred DeLuca, international Life Teen conference coordinator, sets up conferences nationwide for youth ministers, priests and other adults that work with kids in Catholic parishes worldwide and holds two events at the San Marcos every year.
"For the type of three-day trainings we do, the number of breakout rooms, the number of rooms we have available and the size of the ballrooms is perfect for us," DeLuca said. "Plus we love the hotel. The atmosphere and rooms are nice and we like the fact that there's a golf course nearby. People like the pool. Sometimes we have people come from cooler climates that can enjoy the weather.
"The other amenities are attractive as well. Just the look of the hotel adds something. The staff are very nice and being a non-profit organization, it's affordable. They really work well with our group. We've had really good experiences."
Chandler Downtown Coordinator Claudia Whitehead said the San Marcos is significant to the city economically and historically.
"As far as the history, the San Marcos is definitely a key for the city of Chandler," Whitehead said. "With its opening in 1912 it really coincides with the birth of the city and is on the national register of historic places. It's part of the buildings around the park that are registered as a historic district as well. With the famous people having stayed there and it being the first resort with a grass golf course in Arizona, it's a significant part of the city's history and will continue to be.
"For historic downtown Chandler, the San Marcos has been an (economic) anchor for the area since its beginning and continues to be so," she said. "It brings in people from all over. Even the citizens here go over to the San Marcos to go to conferences held there and for the jazz brunches. We're the only city in the Valley with a golf course downtown.
"That's certainly an added attraction for the people who work downtown because they can go golf after work in the late afternoon. Shopping and restaurants are located in the downtown, too, so everything is right here and the San Marcos really helps generate revenue for the surrounding businesses in the downtown."
San Marcos concierge and spokeswoman Donna Taffe said the history of the resort and the star guest list also helps to lure guests. Among the many rich and famous people who have made the San Marcos their vacation destination through the years are Fred Astaire, Joan Crawford, Clark Gable, Jimmy Stewart and Cher.
Taffe said many well known politicians and business people such as President Herbert Hoover, Christian Dior, and Mrs. Adolph Coors III have also spent time at the San Marcos. Frank Lowden, a former governor of Illinois, announced his U.S. presidential candidacy at the San Marcos in 1928.
The San Marcos was constructed for $100,000 by Dr. Alexander J. Chandler in 1912, the same year the territory of Arizona became the 48th state, in the city that now bares his name. Taffe said Chandler named the resort after Friar Marcos DeNiza, believed to have visited the Chandler area in 1539.
In 1916, construction of several bungalow's added to the two-story, single building resort. Dr. Chandler managed to hold onto the property for about 20 years until it was foreclosed upon for $1 million.
Taffe said the resort changed hands many times through the years until it was bought by C.W. Edwards in the 1940s. She said Edwards asked John Quarty to manage the resort and promised him a percentage of the hotel ownership each year he was able to turn a profit. By the 1960s, Taffe said Quarty owned the resort and kept it profitable until he died in 1979. The resort then closed and was added to the national register of historic places in 1983.
After being empty for over eight years, the San Marcos reopened in 1988 after the Kahler Corp. purchased the building and renovated it, keeping the exterior virtually untouched. In 1996, the current owner, Sun Stone, purchased the property and added the Sheraton name to the resort, according to Taffe. The company dropped the Sheraton name in August, citing the expense.
Hammermeister said he and others are working to keep the future of the resort and conference center bright. "We advertise in all of the trade publications," Hammermeister said. "We advertise for the leisure traveler with AAA, America West Magazine, hotels.com and things like that. We target our advertisements to who the reader happens to be."
Taffe said the resort began hosting historic tours of the property about a year ago to raise awareness of the resort among local residents while promoting downtown Chandler as a whole.
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(c) 2003, The Tribune, Mesa, Ariz. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.