The Historic Hacienda Del Sol

90 Facts About Hacienda Del Sol Guest Ranch Resort

2019 marks the 90th Anniversary of Hacienda Del Sol. Read 90 interesting facts about the resort's unique history.

90 Facts to celebrate the Historic Hacienda Del Sol’s 90th Anniversary

  1. Hacienda Del Sol was built in 1929 by husband and wife duo, John and Helen Murphey. John was the builder and tradesman while Helen was the talented interior designer.
  2. Tucson’s population at the time was only 30,000 but was growing rapidly.
  3. By the 1930’s, Arizona had more ranch schools than any other state. 
  4. The Murphey’s bought a 160-acre plot being auctioned off by the State of Arizona and decided to build Hacienda Del Sol, Arizona’s first non-religious private girls’ school. 
  5. They paid $31.50 per acre to acquire the land for Hacienda Del Sol.
  6. John & Helen Murphey took great care in crafting and designing every detail of the property. Saltillo tile was sent in from Nogales, Mexico and a California company was selected to create hand-made Spanish-style furniture.
  7. Each of the girls would enjoy their own private dorm room for studying and sleeping adorned with hues of green, blue, red and yellow chosen by Mrs. Murphey.


     
  8. While the girls enjoyed their own private rooms with views of the Sonoran Desert, two girls typically shared an adjoining bathroom. 
  9. Local Tucson women, Elizabeth Angle and Doris Choate Oesting, were both chosen to be the first “co-principals” of the school.
  10. Ms. Oesting took responsibility for the older girls while Ms. Angle looked after the younger girls.
  11. Eventually Ms. Oesting would become President of Hacienda Del Sol while John Murphey filled the position of Vice President.
  12. Ms. Oesting was the only child of Edyth Choate Young, the woman who established Tucson’s very first travel business; Hyways and Byways Travel Service.
  13. Ms. Young was a friend of the Murphey’s and is actually credited with suggesting the name “Hacienda Del Sol” for the elite ranch school.
  14. Hacienda Del Sol means “Dwelling of the Sun”.
  15. The Murphey’s built Hacienda Del Sol using many local materials. Today, the buildings still feature flat roofs with exposed “vigas”. These vigas are 6-12-inch round logs harvested from Mount Lemmon. 
  16. Once construction was complete, Hacienda Del Sol was an elite preparatory school for the daughters of society’s elite families from 1929 to 1941.
  17. The school’s prestigious roster boasted names like Westinghouse, Campbell, Pillsbury and Spalding.
  18. Daughter of U.S. Senator Williams Gibbs McAdoo and granddaughter of President Woodrow Wilson, Ellen Wilson McAdoo, was even a student at Hacienda Del Sol.
  19. The cost of tuition, room and board in the 1930’s was $1,600 per year. This would be equivalent to about $40,000 per year in 2019. 
  20. Hacienda Del Sol was one of the most expensive options for school costing more than the average American family made in a year at the time.
  21. John and Helen Murphey wanted the school to give the girls an authentic western experience. In fact, the school’s brochure even stated they wanted to attract, “girls who like to don chaps, sombrero and boots”. 


     
  22. The Murphey’s wanted to keep enrollment small only accepting between 20-25 girls to attend each year.
  23. Most of the girls that attended Hacienda Del Sol were from the east coast from larger cities like New York, Chicago, Minneapolis, Philadelphia and Washington.
  24. Before opening, Hacienda Del Sol advertised all over the east coast in magazines like Vogue and Fortune describing the school as “modern and amid 5,000 acres of Desert Wonderland”.
  25. The school was known to be very elite in Tucson with many articles published about its outdoor activities and comprehensive education. 
  26. A 1933 Arizona Daily Star article written about Hacienda Del Sol was titled, “Society Girls ‘Go Native’ at School.”
  27. The school reached full enrollment capacity quickly and it was reported to be debt-free and making profit three years after opening. This is especially impressive given the U.S. stock market crashed just weeks after Hacienda Del Sol opened its gates.
  28. The girls arrived at Hacienda Del Sol via the school’s station wagon driven by cowboy chauffeur, W.D. Richards. 
  29. Upon arrival, the principals and staff would greet each girl in person.


     
  30. The school’s staff consisted of three female teachers, a secretary, a full-time housekeeper, a maintenance man, a gardener and a husband and wife duo that performed janitorial duties.
  31. Teaching positions were highly coveted at Hacienda Del Sol with over 40 people applying when and if a position opened.
  32. The low student to teacher ratio allowed each girl to get individual attention and progress at her own pace.
  33. Given the hot climate of the desert, school was in session during the cooler months from October to May every year.
  34. School took place six days a week with classes beginning at 9AM.
  35. Lunch was served at 1PM followed by an hour for relaxing, napping or sunbathing.


     
  36. Afternoons consisted of physical activity like horseback riding or tennis.
  37. The girls’ only vacation was an annual trip to Mexico over Easter where they stayed at the luxurious Playa de Cortez Resort Hotel which still operates today.
  38. The girls enjoyed activities like deep sea fishing, beach picnics and visiting local historical sites while in Mexico.
  39. Nestled in the same place it was built in 1929, Hacienda Del Sol has incredible views of the Santa Catalina Mountain Range. The school’s brochure described the views this way, “The mighty Santa Catalinas can be seen in their various moods each hour of the day”. 
  40. Throughout the school year, the schoolgirls ate like royalty, literally! Chef Arne Hoelli spent May through October cooking for the girls and the rest of the year preparing some of the same cuisine for the King of Norway, Olav V onboard his yacht.
  41. Each girl had their very own horse while they attended the prestigious preparatory school. Today we still have stables and horses, offering group riding, sunset rides and even private lessons.
  42. Most girls elected to purchase a horse when they arrived in Tucson for about $50 while a few others brought their own from home.
  43. Each girl attending the school was outfitted with a traditional school uniform and western cowgirl apparel including boots, hat, school bandanas, blouses, custom-split riding pants, leather chaps and even spurs. 
  44. The Murphey’s insisted the horseback riding be a signature activity at Hacienda Del Sol.
  45. Some of the horses were affectionately named Whiskey, Moose, Blackbird, Big Shot and Sugar.


     
  46. One of the school’s early advertisements featured one of the schoolgirls on horseback in traditional western apparel with the headline, “Outdoor Life Emphasized”. 
  47. In 1937, Hacienda Del Sol hosted its first “Gymkhana” event where the girls showed off their equestrian talents including horse jumping, bareback, trotting races and saddling techniques.
  48. “Gymkhana” (meaning a day of races) was an event meant to be fun and relaxing and even featured picnic food and potato sack racing.
  49. Some of the courses the girls took at Hacienda Del Sol included math, Latin, French, writing, Spanish and etiquette. 
  50. Hacienda Del Sol employed a native French woman, Madame Bertrand La Criox Turner. She taught the girls all about the French language and the culture.
  51. It wasn’t all work at Hacienda Del Sol, the Murphey’s wanted to emphasize time for fun in order to enrich the girls lives in other ways. 
  52. Parents were required to send $30 per month to their daughters which allowed them to attend local theater, music shows and even polo events.
  53. The girls also enjoyed courses in painting, modeling, piano, fencing, sewing and even ballet. 
  54. Other events around the school included picnics, singing songs around the campfire and stargazing. 
  55. The schoolgirls explored the surrounding area by taking a few excursions throughout the year to Nogales and Tombstone.
  56. The girls were even allowed to go to the rodeo, spending as much time as there as possible. 
  57. The girls were encouraged to make their dorm rooms personal and comfortable. The school awarded the girl with the “neatest and most attractive room” a prize ever year.
  58. Around 2am the morning of April 24th1938, two maids smelled smoke at the school and discovered a fire had started. They evacuated the girls and the staff to the tennis courts.
  59. Many of the buildings were damaged during the 1938 fire. The servant’s quarters (present day bar area), the kitchen (present day lobby restrooms), the cafeteria (present day library), the living room area and the principal’s office (present day gift shop) were all damaged in the fire.
  60. The girls were temporarily relocated to two private residences until it was safe to return to the school. 
  61. Their commencement ceremony was held at school board member’s home due to the fire damage.
  62. Had it not been for the fire, the commencement ceremony would have taken place in the inner courtyard. While we don’t host commencement ceremonies there anymore, we do host stunning weddings and private events in the very same inner courtyard today.
  63. John and Helen Murphey personally handed our diplomas to graduates.
  64. After the commencement ceremony, the school hosted an elaborate dinner for graduates and their families and friends.
  65. The school’s yearbook was called “The Sun God”. You can view a copy of the 1938 yearbook here.
  66. The Sunday after graduation, the girls said their goodbyes to the teachers and their friends and headed home.
  67. Famed architect and longtime friend of the Murphey’s, Josias Joesler, was commissioned to rebuild and restore areas damaded by the fire to their original splendor. In fact, you can take a look at Joesler’s original blueprints frames just outside the lobby restrooms today.
  68. The Murphey’s reportedly spent nearly $50,000 to repair the damages, equating to approximately $900,000 today.
  69. The restoration was complete by the following school year in October 1938.
  70. Today, many of the original and restored architectural elements and rooms, like the library and lobby, are the same as they were once restored by Josias Joesler. Some of the original books still sit on the library shelves for guests to enjoy today.
  71. Today in the lobby fireplace, we burn Alligator Spruce, which fills the historic area with a pleasant woodsy aroma.
  72. In the library, Mrs. Murphey hand-carved each and every one of the twelve wooden beams on the ceiling. Still there today, the gorgeous library is a favorite place for private dinners and small meetings.
  73. In 1941, the preparatory school closed its doors upon the outbreak of World War II. 
  74. The school never reopened and the Murphey’s sold the property to Tucson couple, Howard and Rita Morgan in 1945.
  75. Throughout its years as a school, over 100 young women attended from age 10 to 18.
  76. In 1948 the property began operating at Hacienda Del Sol Guest Ranch.
  77. In the 1940’s and 50’s, many of the silver screen’s most popular stars stayed at Hacienda Del Sol, including John Wayne and Clark Gable. 
  78. If you take a walk through our property today you will see many of the historic rooms named after some of these famous guests. 
  79. After meeting in 1942 on the set of Woman of the Year, Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn famously had a secret, years-long affair. Staring in nine movies together, they also frequented Hacienda Del Sol for their secret, romantic getaways. 
  80. Our largest casita, The Spencer-Tracy Casita Grande, is still frequented by guests from all over the world.
  81. In 1946, Hacienda Del Sol was used as a movie set for Duel in the Sun staring Gregory Peck, Joseph Cotton, Jennifer Jones, Lionel Barrymore and Lillian Gish.
  82. The property changed ownership several more times until 1995 when a group of local investors purchased Hacienda Del Sol.
  83. Today, these same investors still own the property and are proud to be the longest running owners of Hacienda Del Sol. 
  84. In 2015, Hacienda Del Sol added 32 brand new guestrooms overlooking the Santa Catalina Mountain Range and the city lights of downtown Tucson.
  85. Great care was taken during the remodel to create the same historic, southwestern feel that is felt throughout the rest of the resort. 
  86. The furniture was hand-made in Mexico and colorful Talavera tiles were placed throughout the resort’s new additions. 
  87. In addition to the beautiful new guestrooms, Hacienda Del Sol added a luxurious new ballroom space called Casa Luna
  88. Today, the historic rooms of Hacienda Del Sol are still named after some of the schoolgirls that attended back in the 1930’s. 
  89. Although the rooms are equipped with modern amenities and creature comforts, it’s easy to imagine what life was like at the school when you are sitting in one of the quaint historic rooms overlooking the flower-filled gardens. 
  90. Today the resort employs close to 200 passionate individuals who care deeply about preserving the property’s history and enjoy sharing it with all who visit.

Stop by Hacienda Del Sol and experience a living history for yourself. See you soon.

 

References: 
Campbell-Wilson, Ian. (2017). Goddesses of the Sun. Hacienda del Sol – Out West School for Girls 1929 – 1941.