Like Moths To Neon Light: The New Windsor Hotel Continues to Captivate After 123 Years 

by Douglas C. Towne
History Spotlight Douglas C. Towne June 11, 2020

A popular destination for moths and photographers alike, the New Windsor Hotel is the oldest continually operating hotel in Phoenix. (Photo: Danny Upshaw)

Looking for a film noir setting to pretend the texts on your smartphone are Western Union telegrams? Then head on over to the New Windsor Hotel in Downtown Phoenix.

Wreathed in neon tubing with dated pronouncements such as “Public Telephone” and “Air Cooled,” the scene could whisk you back to the 1940s. But the New Windsor Hotel dates back even further, to a time when visitors arrived in stagecoaches.

Despite its historical ambiance, however, few Phoenicians have ever set foot in the place. The hotel doesn’t offer romantic weekend packages, room service, artisanal cocktails or 800-thread Egyptian cotton sheets.

Today’s clientele is mainly male elderly residents, according to the hotel, who rent about 70 rooms that offer the bare necessities on a nightly, weekly or monthly basis. But once upon a time, the hotel was the fanciest place to stay in Phoenix.

The New Windsor Hotel opened in 1893 when Phoenix had only 5,000 residents. Located on the northeast corner of Sixth Avenue and Adams Street, the business fronted the latter street, yet was initially called the Sixth Avenue Hotel. Featuring 40 rooms, it was the largest hotel in the city.

“The hotel is as neat as a parlor throughout and is a decided improvement over the lodging houses in the city,” proclaimed an article that spring in The Arizona Republican newspaper.

Sixth Avenue Hotel advertisement from "The Arizona Republican" newspaper, 1895. (Source: Douglas C. Towne)
Windsor Hotel ghost sign and original brick wall, 2017. (Photo: Douglas C. Towne)
New Windsor Hotel canopy, 2016. (Photo: Douglas C. Towne)
Windsor Hotel advertisement from "The Arizona Republican," 1937. (Source: Douglas C. Towne)
New Windsor Hotel at twilight, 2003. (Photo: Douglas C. Towne)
New Windsor Hotel, 1985. (Photo: Phoenix Historic Preservation Office)
New Windsor Hotel, 2017. (Photo: Douglas C. Towne)
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Owner A.D. Walsh and his wife, who had previously operated the Can Can restaurant in Tombstone, Ariz. celebrated the opening by hosting a feast. “The Easter dinner will be the finest hotel dinner ever given in Phoenix as preparations are already made for an almost unlimited number of guests,” according to the Republican story on March 31, 1893.

The two-story brick Victorian structure was renamed the Windsor Hotel in 1925. This name survives on the top of the east-facing brick wall as a faint ghost sign, painted in white and black.

The building was remodeled in 1935 to remain competitive with newer downtown hotels such as the Westward Ho and San Carlos. A third story was added, along with a stucco facade on the south and west walls. Improvements included Sno-Breeze evaporative cooling and American Beauty mattresses.

In the 1950s, the business was renamed the New Windsor Hotel after another remodel. The New Windsor Hotel was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1985, and it remains the only 19th-century hotel operating in Phoenix.

New Windsor Hotel vertical blade sign, 2016. (Photo: Douglas C. Towne)

Businesses such as the New Windsor Hotel are called single room occupancy (SRO) and were once a common, inexpensive housing option in Downtown Phoenix. With increasing real estate prices, most SROs have been redeveloped, leaving few residential options for their clientele.

Despite the hotel’s austere accommodations, the owners spare no expense in maintaining their dazzling nighttime display. A huge vertical blade sign on the front of the building announces “New Windsor” at the top in red neon and “HOTEL” in green lettering.

A canopy over the front door proclaims, “New Windsor Hotel” in white neon on all three sides. “Air Cooled” dangles from beneath in cool, light blue neon — like cold air trapped by a temperature inversion.

For those with moth-like tendencies, irretrievably drawn to neon, there’s no better sight in Phoenix.