By 1919, when James “Rawhide Jimmy” Douglas built a hotel directly outside the entrance to his copper mine in Arizona, he was already rich.
His company, United Verde Extension Company had gone from 15 cents per share in 1912 to US$35 per share by 1916 – more than US$800 in today’s US dollars – and Douglas, the scion of a wealthy mining family, was feeling so flush that he decided to build his miners a dormitory-cum-hotel at the entrance of the Little Daisy Mine in Jerome, Arizona.
The hotel, appropriately named the Little Daisy Hotel, had 40 rooms, a grand dining room and reception area, and views of the surrounding landscape.
“Supposedly the miners felt like it was too fancy for them,” Lisa Acker, the building’s current owner, says. “But when they were here, they’d hot-bunk [alternately use the same bed] doing eight-hour shifts.”
She says that originally the hotel had “gang showers” and bathrooms, except for in the more luxurious rooms, reserved for Douglas’ guests.
However, by the mid-1950s the mining economy in Jerome had collapsed and the hotel fell into disrepair, along with the rest of the area.
“They sold all the windows and doors, even the tile roof,” Acker says.
“Everything was sold for salvage, and people just walked off with whatever they didn’t strip.”
The building’s concrete husk was sold to William Earl Bell – who helped develop the atomic clock – in 1969 as part of a larger land deal involving more valuable, adjacent property.
Acker and her husband Walter bought the property in 1995 and decided to turn it into a private home.
The couple had spent the previous decade developing 20 acres (eight hectares) of land in Montana; after they sold that property, they were ready for a change.
“We found this place, and Walter was like, would you want to buy it,” Acker recalls. “I was like, um, it’s a pretty big place, let’s go back and visit it again to make sure.”
The couple returned to Jerome, and after doing some measurements, getting a few quotes from builders and looking at the plans of the original hotel in the town’s museum, they decided to buy it.
The building was officially 35,000 square feet (3,250 square metres) and stood on a 3.45 acres plot, Acker says. But after going through the property carefully, they discovered that the floor area was about 9,000 square feet per level, which totalled about 27,000 square feet. The sale price at the time was US$190,000.
More than two decades later, Acker has now put it on the market, listing it with Russ Lyon Sotheby’s International Realty for US$6.2 million.
Acker’s husband died unexpectedly last September, and she says the house’s 12,000 square feet of indoor space, 2,900 square feet of covered porches, plus a 2,600-square-foot garage-workshop and 9,000-square-foot rooftop garden is too much for one person.
“People always used to say, ‘Only two people live there?,’” Acker says. “Now it’s, ‘Only one person?’. It makes me giggle.”
Living in historic building
The process of turning a concrete husk into a habitable mansion took the better part of a decade and the bulk of the work was carried out by Acker and her husband.
The couple had been married only five years when they bought the property, but their experience in Montana “showed us that we could build something together and stay together”, she says.
Initially, they lived in an airstream trailer parked outside the property while they worked to put a roof on the building.
Next, they lived in an enclosed area inside the building as they worked to make the rest of the place habitable.
“A firm in Phoenix did all the exterior windows, which are made out of solid oak,” Acker says.
The windows alone took a year and a half to make, during which time “we just focused on other things”, she says.
The couple had access to blueprints and historic photos and did their best to recreate interior mouldings and decoration as best they could.
The one major shift was the roof garden, which the couple was inspired to create after realising that – thanks to disintegrated plaster and concrete – the roof had a 9-inch (23cm)-thick floor already.
As a consequence, they added a vegetable garden, fire pit, kitchen, fish pond, hot tub, and a croquet lawn (“which you can use as a putting green”) all on the third storey, which offers stunning views.
Indoors, they reconfigured the second floor so that it comprises eight bedrooms. Three of the bedrooms are en suite, while the other five are smaller, in the footprint of the original miner’s rooms.
Downstairs, the first floor is mostly taken up by three huge room: the living room, which is accessed through the main entrance, the dining room, in which the Ackers once comfortably seated 120 people for a wedding, and a cinema and pool room. There is also a 1,000-square-foot kitchen.
The rebuilding project was fully completed in 2004 - after nine years of work, she says.
“My husband made a lot of the furniture in the house, and he made the cabinets in the kitchen,” Acker says.
“In the dining room, I can’t see anything he didn’t make except for the chairs at the dining table.”
A future holiday home or hotel again?
Acker says she and her husband never intended to sell the house or turn it into a commercial venture.
“We didn’t want to turn it into a bed and breakfast because we didn’t want to have to wait on people,” she says.
Acker believes that the property might appeal to someone interested in turning it back to a hotel, but says that the area – a tourist destination located roughly between Phoenix and the Grand Canyon – means that the home could also appeal to well-heeled buyers in search of a holiday home.
“A family might like this as an extra home,” she says.
“A lot of people from Los Angeles come out to this area – there’s Lake Powell [a reservoir on the Colorado River that is a popular holiday destination] and so many attractions.”
Acker says that she is not sad about selling the house.
“I guess I’m selling because I’m going on to a new phase of my life,” she says.