Renovations & Reflections

Enid and Mel Zuckerman, Canyon Ranch Founders
Mel and Enid Zuckerman

Over the past 33 years, we’ve made renovations all over the Ranch property in Tucson. That’s normal – keeping things current and in top shape. But when we talked last spring about redoing the Living Room in the Clubhouse, we felt a strong nostalgia. That’s because, out of all the rooms in the 15 old buildings and structures of the Double U Ranch when we bought it, this is the only one that retains its original four walls. Yes, we changed the casement windows and closed off a door, but it is still the angular, irregular room it was, fireplace and all. We decided to use this renovation as an opportunity to recognize the history of the ranch as a whole, which we believe is the source of the magic and healing our guests feel.

In short, we went retro, giving the room authentic period touches, right down to the tea cart used decades ago. We already owned old photos of the place and, by chance, a long-lost acquaintance contacted us to tell us about his childhood experiences at the Double U. He reminded us about the filming here of Arizona, a 1940 film with Jean Arthur and William Holden. He told us there were postcards from that period, which started us on an internet quest to find those pictures. We tracked them to a library in Pomona and bought the rights to use them. Our photo collection now depicts this place from its days as a working ranch in the ’30s and early ’40s to its transition to a popular dude ranch in the late ’40s, ’50s and ’60s, to its rundown condition as we found it in 1978. We look at Canyon Ranch today and are in awe of what our original idea evolved into.

We both remember setting out to find the perfect place for our all-healthy environment. The Double U was the first site we looked at and the last – that’s how powerfully it affected us. The ranch was dilapidated by then, but we could still feel the energy around us. The word we both chose was “magic.” Maybe it had to do with the Native Americans who once lived along the banks of the creek. They developed healing traditions drawn from the desert’s power, including sophisticated use of local plants. Their wisdom and spirit permeates the area to this day.

We decided to refurbish the old buildings and enahnce the landscape with as little disruption as possible. We didn’t want bulldozers disturbing the energy and wildlife. Over time we’ve remodeled every casita (many times), expanded the Clubhouse four-fold, refurbished the Flagstone Pool and built the Spa, Health & Healing Center and other major buildings. The Living Room has remained true to its original form and feel.

How much does it mean to us personally? Until now, one of us has stayed relatively uninvolved in the details of redesigns and aesthetic makeovers (leaving it in his wife’s talented hands, with minimal butting in!), but this time was different. It’s as if a flame had been ignited. We worked on it for months, passionate about doing justice to its history.

To everyone’s surprise, including our own, we wound up making every decision together. From lamps and fabrics to pictures and sofas, each detail felt meaningful. We wanted a place that people could enjoy, just like the guests in the old photo square-dancing in the Living Room! It’s become a gathering place for friends and a piece of history, too.

The Living Room is complete now, and we couldn’t be happier with it. It’s filled with reminders of how far we’ve come and it captures the timeless spirit of this land. We’ve gotten a wonderful response from guests, too. There’s something special about “old,” about a place with history and spirit and soul. Obviously, we’re drawn to locations like that. Guests at Canyon Ranch in Lenox often ask us about the long history of Bellefontaine mansion. That’s a great story, too, which we’ll tell another time.

We hope to see you in Tucson soon, maybe relaxing in the Living Room. It’s been, and always will be, a favorite spot for us.