Built in 1948, the building that houses the new Downtown Clifton motel has been restored to capture the vibe of western bunkhouse meets 20th century brutalism.
The televisions are flat, the coffee is gourmet and there might be a carbon fiber bike next to the hitching post, but the intrusions of modernity put the throwback charm of the surroundings into sharper relief.
While guests may wonder where they are in time, there is no confusing the place.
“We love Tucson for what it is — its weird funkiness, its grittiness. We wanted to bring that experience to people who are visiting,” said owner Moniqua Lane.
Along with designer/co-owner Clif Taylor and co-owner Phil Lipman, Lane set out to capture what she feels is unique to the city.
“Our mountains are gorgeous, our vistas are gorgeous, but Tucson also has these great hidden gems, these great aspects that are very easy to overlook and we want to make sure that gets its due and its respect,” she said.
The building, at 485 S. Stone Ave., was bought for $550,000 along with an adjoining parcel of land on the corner of Stone and 16th Street. Before the sale, it was last used as transitional housing by the Primavera Foundation, Lane said.
Initially, the owners struggled to find a way to make the two properties work together before deciding to go back to the building’s roots. They consulted with Taylor, who said he was happy to be involved in the project.
“They brought me in, they took me around and asked, ‘What do you think about this place?’ and I said, ‘This could be amazing.’”
Taylor, who has done design work at the Hotel Congress and Maynards Market & Kitchen, found drab colors, painted-over floors, covered brick and holes in the walls, but nothing that couldn’t be fixed, he said.
His biggest challenge was making the building’s exterior more inviting.
“Trying to give the exterior a sense of place, give it some character,” he said. “Because it did have a character, but it wasn’t the kind you want to invite over for dinner.”
Working with local artists — including Danny Martin, who painted a striking mural that faces Stone Avenue — and collaborating with area businesses was key to maintaining the community feel that the owners want the Downtown Clifton to embody.
The motel has partnered with nearby bars and restaurants, including Tap and Bottle, Scott & Co., Penca and 5 Points Market & Restaurant, to give discounts and special offers to guests. In-room mini bars are also stocked with local products.
“We want to show our clientele what we think the best downtown Tucson has to offer,” Lane said. “We don’t have a kitchen on site, we don’t have food on site, but we still want to be able to offer our clientele that kind of experience.”
As to who that clientele is, Lane said their ideal guests are people wanting to step away from the ordinary and look for a neighborhood experience.
“We are really marketing ourselves to locals because we want them to bring their family into downtown,” she said. “We want them to think of this as a great place to put the people that they love in the city that they love.”