The Redevelopment of the Ghost Ranch Lodge

I was recently invited to say a few words at the celebration of the rehabilitation and adaption of the historic Ghost Ranch Lodge into affordable senior housing. The grand reopening coincides with the popular Miracle Mile Open House & Tour, an event created from the City of Tucson’s Oracle Area Revitalization Plan.

I had the honor of organizing an Urban Land Institute case study and tour of the Ghost Ranch Lodge in the fall of 2010. The importance of the Ghost Ranch Lodge to the Tucson community really can’t be understated. Its history reads like a who’s who:

  • Originally owned by Arthur Pack, co-founder of the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
  • The first buildings designed by renowned Tucson architect Josias Joesler
  • Iconic neon cow skull sign designed by artist, Georgia O’Keefe
  • Historic cactus garden with its centerpiece Boojum tree, famed to be the largest in Arizona
Postcard of the Ghost Ranch Lodge
Postcard of the Ghost Ranch Lodge. Credit: Unknown

The Ghost Ranch Lodge was built in 1941, with Josias Joesler designing the original first eight buildings. A year later Arthur and Phoebe Pack bought them and turned it into the first tourist accomadations along Miracle Mile. The orginal buildings were designed to be pedestrian-friendly so that the cars parked in the back and the front porches faced a shared courtyard. They were also designed before air conditioning, so they are also a great example of passive cooling with big porches that only let filtered light through the windows.

At the time, Miracle Mile was a thriving northern entrance to Tucson and motorcourts with neon signs lit the way into Tucson’s Downtown. Traffic and business was diverted with the arrival of Interstate 10 though, and the area became one of Tucson’s seedier neighborhoods from the 1970’s and on. There’s a great Historic Context Study of the area for more information on its history.

The Ghost Ranch Lodge finally closed in 2005, and the property reached a new low when it caught fire after that. The property was in serious danger of being demolished for another use or being destroyed due to neglect. After changing hands of several owners, Atlantic Development + Investments bought the property in foreclosure in 2007. Their plan was to redevelop the property as affordable senior housing, maintaining the historic integrity of the property.

Redevelopment of the Ghost Ranch Lodge with the iconic sign in the background.
Redevelopment of the Ghost Ranch Lodge with the iconic sign in the background. Credit: Ladd Keith

Phase I of the redevelopment was completed in September 2010 and included 60 units.  Thirty of those units are the restored Joesler buildings, with the remaining units being newly constructed. Phase II, just completed, includes an additional 52 units along with the preservation and rehabilitation of the Historic Cactus Garden and its famous Boojum tree. The entire project cost $25 million with assistance from low-income housing and historic tax credits and funds.

Phase I of the Ghost Ranch Lodge
Phase I of the Ghost Ranch Lodge. Credit: Ladd Keith

Atlantic Development + Investments not only redeveloped the Ghost Ranch Lodge but also created a major catalyst in the ongoing revitalization of Miracle Mile. On the Urban Land Institute tour, the residents I spoke with repeatedly said that that they chose to live at the Ghost Ranch Lodge because they have fond memories of the staying at the Lodge in the past and loved how it had been carefully reinvented. At the time of the tour, the property was already fully leased with a waiting list for Phase II, something that wouldn’t have happened if it was just another generic senior housing development. The project has substantially raised the bar for low-income housing for the elderly and is an example of historic preservation that the industry can learn much from.


  1. A lifelong friend, Rev. Steve Brown, a Presbyterian minister, spoke often of Ghost Ranch shortly before he died of cancer last June he once again mentioned his favorite get away. Once of our classmates was curious , along with me, to find out if there are any places there to be rented – especially for a group of 30 couples, give or take a few. (Maybe a lot less) We are considering having a small reunion there in honor of Steve.

    I think we’re out of luck, but am asking anyway. If it would be possible to gather there next fall please let me know along with rates, etc.Since we’re all in our mid seventies, it’s unlikely that we
    d bunk up together, but would want private quarters. Please advise, evem if you have room for a small number of people – e.g. four or five couples.

    I thank you in advance for your immediate attention to his request.

    Marion Placke Fossler
    Webster Groves HS graduating class of 1955
    Austin, Texas

  2. Hi Marion – the Ghost Ranch Lodge no longer rents rooms for visitors, but I have passed your comment along to them. Maybe it would be possible to visit it if you stopped by Tucson?

  3. Hello – Ghost Ranch Lodge has been my place of residence since the second phase was opened in April 2011. At that time I was not made aware that our immediate neighbor, T.D.’s Showclub of Girls, Girls, Girls, was in the habit of using indoor amplifiers at ANY time of day or night. In my opinion, there is no musical instrument (except maybe a Harp) that needs amplification INDOORS. The use of these amplifiers is not only audibly disturbing but also shakes the very foundations of the surrounding buildings in the whole block. I have spoken to the local police about this and they agree this falls under a ‘disturbance of the peace’ situation but nothing is ever done about it.

    Also, proper Management is desperately lacking at ALL levels. In fact, quite the reverse is true. I could cite serious examples but I don’t have that kind of time. I have sought the assistance of Pima Council On Aging whose only ‘helpful’ advice is “You can always move”. (How unhelpful can they be?!) One of the tenants is starting the wheels rolling on establishing a “Tenants Association” to which many of the residents are ready to support.

    And there you have it – a resident’s factual and sincere point of view.

    Geri Biggs
    Tucson AZ 85705

  4. C Rogers, 12/31/2013

    I have been a tenant at the Ghost Ranch since Phase II opened in April 2011. (I signed a Lease in October of 2010).

    I have had only positive interactions with ALL management and staff. Every problem I have submitted in writing was dealt with promptly and courteously.

    I don’t plan to leave the Ghost except on a gurney, breathing or not. I have finally found HOME in this last 1/3 of my life.

    I feel fortunate to be a tenant in such a lovely environment. Other residents I have met have been extremely friendly.

    My front porch overlooks the lovely cactus garden where I shared a martini with my late husband (we were on our honeymoon) and John Wayne in 1965.

    C. Rogers

  5. In the winter of 1953, my parents next-door neighbors drove to Arizona from PA, and sent the folks postcards along the way, one of which was the Ghost Ranch card pictured above. The neighbors were duly impressed with the accommodations, the facilities, and especially the weather. Sixty years on, although the party that sent it is long since deceased, the card survives. Thank you for the article.

  6. Spring of ’59 my family stayed at the Lodge several times before we moved from Phoenix to Tucson. What impressed me as a 5 year old was the building style, the gardens, playing on the teeter totter with my brother. Oct ’06 I had made a point of finding it, there it was, surrounded by cyclone fence. I’m glad my assumption it was scheduled to be scraped off is wrong. What is sad is the standards of todays consumers are such that GRL or the Westward Ho in Phoenix are such that to keep them standing, they will be assisted living centers for seniors.
    Larned, KS

  7. Having lived in the GRL apartments for 2 years I cannot wait to get away from it. Management is handled by a glorified ‘clerk’ who behaves like the leader of the Gestapo and speaks to the residents as if we are naughty children who should be thankful they live here. If I had had the opportunity to move out in 2012 I would have. For the following year none of my calls during office hrs. were ever answered, no calls were ever returned and the maintenance number we are given is ONLY for emergencies. Since Nov. 2012 I have notified “mgmt” in messages at least 8 to 10 times that the kitchen sink faucet needs to be replaced. Either the hard water or poor quality of material is causing breakouts on the top of the faucet resulting in drips from the top which started at one drip in Nov. and is now up to six!
    If I could, I would warn everyone to stay away from GRL or, I promise, they will strongly regret it.

  8. Hello. Would the disabled be eligible for renting at the GRL that are not senior citizens? I loved it and it is beautiful. Just the size. Kitchen neat!

  9. The actual Ghost Ranch is near Abiqui, New Mexico and can host large groups. It was given to the Presbyterian Church by the owner, Arthur N. Pack, who also had the Ghost Ranch Lodge built in the early 50’s.

  10. How wonderful that an architectural treasure of Tucson was not only preserved but put to good use. Are visitors welcome to vie the gardens and perhaps a model unit?

  11. I worked at the Ghost Ranch Lodge between 1999-2002. First in housekeeping and then the front desk. It was a really nice place back then. People with the Gem & Mineral Show stayed there every year, making their reservations upon checking out for the following year, that’s how popular it was. I still one of my t-shirts and a pair of sweat pants I wore when I was doing house keeping. Kept for Nostalgia sake. Once I moved the front desk, we wore black slacks, white button up blouses and a black bow tie. Nice memories.

  12. I worked at the Ghost Ranch back in the 80s. I did part time work in the office while attending the U of A. The Bristols owned it then, with Jeff Bristol managing. I have fond memories of it being a great place to work and visit. I’m happy it has been revitalized. Would be nice to have the seedy businesses move out of the area.

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