In the latest in our series on architects and their favorite buildings, Matt Sears is drawn to a “bastion of serenity” in central Tucson.

“Place” is an empirical driver in architecture. It is a destination, an experience, an emotion and an attitude. Many buildings in Tucson are simply “things” to keep the weather out or lockable to protect their contents. They aren’t architecture, nor do they bespeak good design. Thankfully, there are exceptions. The Arizona Inn is one of those special places that truly defines a sense of “place” for me.

Located on Elm Street, it is a bastion of past history, serenity, surprise, grace and elegance. Though certainly not modern in any sense, its design is timeless. It is not just an edifice, but an intricately woven complex of spaces that have fascinated me ever since the 1960s.

The Arizona Inn opened in 1930. It was designed by the Tucson architect Merritt Starkweather, who also designed several local schools and homes in El Encanto Estates during the 1920s to 1970s. The Arizona Inn’s original owner was Isabella Greenway (1886-1953), Arizona’s first congresswoman in the 1930s. Originally two miles outside of Tucson (population 32,000), guests would arrive by train, steamer trunks in tow, to spend the winter there. It was a true destination garden cottage resort. The complex is composed of 14 acres featuring 95 rooms and the original Greenway residence. The buildings are a Revival architectural style that refers to historical Spanish Colonial and even Mediterranean influences.

For me, the Arizona Inn elucidates part of Tucson’s cultural heritage. The inward focus of the design protects the cores from the urban clutter of the surrounding city. The meandering paths through the property expose wonderful private spaces, exterior living areas and lush gardens. The architectural scale is defined by one- and two-story thick-walled tile-roofed buildings. Balconies define early sleeping porches. Sometimes spaces between spaces are the most pleasing.

Contrasting these intimate areas are the more formal public spaces. The luxurious interiors are also a throwback to more refined days when guests would dress for dinner, enjoy a book in the library, conversations in small gathering niches or even an evening cocktail by one of the many fireplaces. In total, the Arizona Inn is a “place” that is very special.

Matt Sears, a Tucson resident since 1974, is a principal of Sears Gerbo Architecture and past president of the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects. Find out more about the local American Institute of Architects chapter by visiting