Skip to content

1926 – 1929

New York financier Delos Willard Cooke of the Cunard Steamship company and his wife Florence Meador Cooke began building an estate on Camelback Road, completed in 1929. The Cookes called their estate El Vernadero (“winter haven”) and lived there between 1926 and 1929. El Vernadero was a 3,500 sq ft Spanish Revival villa built on 40-65 acres that had been a citrus orchard. They planted many rare species, including some 900 palms. The decision to move to the Phoenix area was driven by Florence’s declining health and to escape the cold winters of the East Coast.

El Vernadero included 15 rooms around a courtyard with a fountain. To the east of the breezeway was the living room, to the west was the guest bedroom and the Cookes’ bedrooms, the north wing comprised the dining room, kitchen and billiard room. There were smaller rooms for servants, a chauffeur, storage for travel trunks and a laundry room. The covered walkway around the courtyard was interspersed with archways that gave views of the lushly planted courtyard and the tiled, Moorish-influenced reflecting pool.

Each of the 24 arches which surround the building’s inner courtyard display tile mosaics depicting crests of Spanish provinces. The Cookes were collectors of antiques. When the Cookes traveled they returned with colorful tiles and beautifully carved chests, chairs and credenzas.

The mansion was at the end of a long driveway flanked by palm trees. Visitors entered from through a pair of huge wooden doors that opened onto the zaguan (covered breezeway) which, in turn, opened onto the courtyard. Above the doors to the mansion the Cookes placed the crest “En Dieu Est Ma Fiance, or, loosely translated from French, “To God I am betrothed.”

1930 – 1940

Delos Willard Cooke died of cancer February 10, 1931 at age 67. His widow Florence continued to winter there until 1937.

Pacific Greyhound Bus Lines President Wesley Elgin “Buck” Travis bought the estate from Florence Cooke. When Mrs. Cooke sold the home, many of the antiques and furnishings they had collected from around the world were included; the Travis’ passed these same treasures on to the Ross family, and in turn to the owners who opened the property as a resort.

The wealthy Travis and his family settled into their new home with appreciation for what the Cookes had accomplished. Travis and his wife made efforts to keep the home true to the original dream, but did make several improvements. The greatest change was the addition of a second story over the west wing. This addition was used as their private quarters. As part of the second-floor expansion, Travis added a small chapel to the religious elements already in place. The Travis family settled into the home for more than 5 years, Travis’ wife passed away in 1942. The estate, now too big to manage alone, was sold to the president of the Aviola Radio Company, John J. Ross.

In 1947, the former Cooke/Travis/Ross mansion and grounds were purchased by former bandleader and investor Al Stovall and partners/investors Fred M. Jahn and Leonard C. Schwenke, who were eager to capitalize on the growing tourism industry in the area. They converted the property into 15 guest casitas/rooms and a dining room, and re-landscaped the now 30-acre site. Giving a nod to the palm tree-lined driveway, the newly-named Royal Palms Inn opened the former estate as an inn for winter visitors on February 1, 1948.

1941 – 1950

El Vernadero, the former estate, opened as the Royal Palms Inn on February 1, 1948. Room rates were $35 a day. Horses, swimming, tennis and other activities were available for up to 40 guests. The new owners added a heart-shaped swimming pool lined with Delft tiles. The Royal Palms Inn held a public open house Sunday, November 21. The resort will open the dining room and rooms to guests for regular patronage on Thanksgiving Day. Royal Palms is operated by Desert Hotels, Inc.

In 1950, in February, Royal Palms Operation Company, Inc. headed by Frederick Dreier of Mesa, purchased the Royal Palms from Desert Hotels, Inc.

1951 – 1960

In 1951, Royal Palms Inn, described in The Arizona Republic article as “Valley show place,” was purchased by Barney (B.J.) Leonard, a Phoenix businessman, for approximately $500,000. The seller, Frederick Dreier of Mesa, owned the 90-room Inn for about one year.

An additional 35 casitas were added within the eastern grove of citrus trees.

In 1956, hospitality leader, and former nationally ranked tennis player, Fred Renker and partners/investors purchased the Royal Palms. Since Renker and his wife also ran an Inn in Harbor Springs, in northern Michigan during the summer, they attracted many winter visitors from Michigan. They closed the Royal Palms early June, and returned in September. Thirty-two casitas were added to the property. Renker was known to celebrities, and ensured that Hollywood icons starring in plays at the Sombrero Playhouse, near the Royal Palms, made the inn their resort of choice. In his memoir, he recalled that Eva Gabor, Lillian and Dorothy Gish, Joan Bennett, Donald Cook, Wally Cox, Edward Everett Horton, Marie Wilson, Charlie Coburn, Buster Keaton, Walter Pidgeon, Brian Donlevy and others stayed at the Royal Palms.

Other celebrity guests included: Groucho Marx, Helena Rubenstein, newsman Walter Lippman, Frankie Carle, Notre Dame football coach Frank Leahy, guests at Glen Campbell’s wedding.

In 1959, Charles Alberding, a Chicago-based investor and hotelier who also owned the neighboring Jokake and Paradise Inns, acquired the Royal Palms Inn from Fred W. Renker for about $1 million. Alberding made additions and improvements including a new, modern pool, the expansion of the dining room, new meeting rooms and a new lobby. Alberding transformed a citrus and palm grove to the west of the hotel into a nine-hole golf course.

1961 – 1970

In 1966, The Royal Palms, along with the Casa Blanca, Arizona Biltmore and Camelback Inn, launched a marketing campaign aimed at attracting and welcoming local customers to their properties, who long imagined the inns as ‘just for visitors.’

In March 1967, fire gutted the poolside recreation room of the Royal Palms, causing an estimated $60,000 damage. The poolside room was razed by the blaze.

Former Royal Palms chef Henry Haller (1953-54), starting in 1966, served as White House Head Chef during the administrations of Presidents Johnson as well as Nixon, Ford, Carter and Reagan, until his retirement in 1987.

1971 – 1980

After a fire in the early 1970s, Alberding assigned his long-time secretary, Pat Ryan as temporary General Manager of the Royal Palms. She retired from the hotel 22 years later in 1993. The Inn was well known for her dogs who lounged on the sofas in the lobby.

Pat Ryan was one of the few women resort GMs at the time. By the early 1980s she began keeping the hotel open during the summer. She also experimented with booking dance orchestras and singers for the hotel’s Orange Tree dining room.

Owner Charles Alberding was a football fanatic and an early booster of the Fiesta Bowl after its founding in 1971. For many years (1982-89), the Fiesta Bowl’s general offices were housed in a wing of the old Cooke mansion.

In 1971 La Cantina was rebuilt as The Oasis by the heart-shaped swimming pool.

1981 – 1985

In 1981, Charles Alberding added a two-story hotel room building, complete with underground parking, bringing the number of guest rooms to 120. Crystal chandeliers, oriental rugs and oil paintings, trademarks of Alberding’s hotels, were found throughout Royal Palms Inn.

Royal Palms advertised a summer “Little Oasis” 3-day/2-night package for $63 per person, via ads in the Holbrook and Yuma, Arizona newspapers.

The Fiesta Bowl Headquarters moved to the Royal Palms in 1982 and remained there until 1989.

1986 - 1990

The Royal Palms Inn Orange Tree dining room’s dinner-dancing era began in the mid-1980s with the appearance of performers such as Frank Sinatra Jr., Patti Andrews of the Andrews Sisters, Julius LaRosa, Hildegarde, John Gary, Margaret Whiting, Sandler & Young, Tony Martin, Carmen Cavallaro and many others. The Hallemans, popular Phoenix musicians, became a virtual institution at the hotel.

In July 1984, long-time Phoenix resident and real estate investor Martha Shemer purchased the twice-renovated, Sante-Fe mission-style home, and land, at 5005 E. Camelback Road. Working with Mayor Terry Goddard, Mrs. Shemer donated the home to the City of Phoenix, not only to preserve the historical property but also to ensure it was used as a community center for city residents.

Charles Alberding died at age 88 in 1989, still active in his hotel businesses. His family continued to operate the Royal Palms. The property was then managed by his wife, Bethine, and three daughters, Beth Ann Mohr, Mary Kay Cartwright and Melissa Moore.

1991 – 1995

The Alberding family sold the Royal Palms 9-hole golf course, in 1995, to Doug Sandahl, Montecito Homes, for development of 29 residential lots for single family homes.

The Alberding family also sold the remaining property of 8.9 acres, the 120 room Royal Palms, to Spring Creek Hospitality, under Jennifer and Fred Unger. The Unger’s saved it from a predicted bulldozed fate, and embarked on a multi-million-dollar renovation of the resort. They had recently renovated the historic Hermosa Inn. Much of the historic property was restored, the 1940s heart-shaped pool was made into a parking lot.

1996 – 2000

In 1996, The Royal Palms was closed for extensive restoration, to bring it back to its 1930s charm, emphasizing a Mediterranean architecture. To jump-start the reintroduction of the extensively upgraded Royal Palms, it was featured as the 1996 Phoenix Symphony Auxiliary, Phoenix Magazine and American Society of Interior Designers (ASID’s North Chapter) Designers’ Showhouse. It was open for tours October 24-November 10, 1996, with proceeds benefitting The Phoenix Symphony. Approximately 5,308 people attended.

The Royal Palms reopened in 1997. The casitas opened in April, and the Ungers held a Grand Re-Opening June 5, 1997, also introducing the restaurant T. Cook’s. The Plaza building opened in August. Greg Miller was general manager.

At opening T. Cook’s received an unprecedented 5-star rating from The Arizona Republic’s food credit Howard Seftel.

In 1998, Fred Unger/Spring Creek Development sold the 117 - room Royal Palms Resort to Destination Hotels and Resorts, at the time, a subsidiary of Lowe Enterprises.

2001 – 2024

In 2002, the Alvadora Spa opened on December 30.

Royal Palms was affiliated with Historic Hotels of America, received Mobile 4-star and AAA 4-diamond ratings in 2002.

Desert Dream, Desert Romance: The History, Style and Food of the Royal Palms Resort & Spa by Robert Z. Chew was published as a coffee table book in 2002.

In 2003, The Royal Palms Hotel and Casitas is renamed Royal Palms Resort and Spa.

In 2004, the property, as a home, celebrated the 75th anniversary of the Cooke estate, “El Vernadero,” a Spanish Colonial dream.

Royal Palms renovated its 30 Valencia Casitas, in 2012, Est Interior Design and Hayes Architecture/Design Inc. were contracted for the remodeling. The fitness center was also renovated.

Hyatt acquired Royal Palms Resort & Spa in 2016, under the Unbound Collection.

In 2023, Royal Palms Resort & Spa celebrated its 75th anniversary as an official hotel, 94 years since it was a home.


By early 1900's the area around Royal Palms was producing some of the first commercial crops of citrus and dates.

In 1919 four early pioneers formed the Arcadia Water Co. and announced the founding of Arcadia between Phoenix and Scottsdale. Camelback Rd was a narrow dirt road. The name Arcadia was taken from Webster's as a region or scene of simple quiet.

When the Southern Pacific Railroad connected Phoenix with the East in 1926, people started coming to Phoenix, known for its warm, dry climate. With 300+ sunny days and an average of just 7.11 inches of rain a year, it became a popular tourist destination.

Air conditioning was more widespread in the 1950's and attracted industry and retired people to AZ.

There was a myth developed that Delos Cooke lost the "e" in his last name. The name became linked to the British Thomas Cook travel family. It wasn't true, but could have been perpetuated because of its publicity potential.

When Glen Campbell was married, guests stayed at the Inn. On his 50th birthday, his wife gave a surprise party at Royal Palms. They also hosted a college graduation party for their eldest son. The Campbell’s were neighbors to Royal Palms.

Two movies were filmed on the property: One was Sunstroke in 1991 with Jane Seymour and Don Ameche.

The entry fountain is approx. 250 yrs old. It was imported from Guanajuato, Mexico and reassembled on property. It’s made from yellow canterra stone which is no longer quarried.

The stone entry surface is made of laja negra or "black stone" from an old hacienda in Querataro, Mexico. One stone has the date 1692 inscribed on it. Some of the stones are over 6 inches thick and required three people to install.

The fireplace in Cervantes Lounge was originally in Charles Alberding's office in Chicago, an old Brownstone facing the Water Tower on North Michigan Avenue. Before the restoration The Cervantes Lounge was the hotel lobby.