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.