Shaking down the freshly restored 1953 Chevrolet 3600 truck a few years back, I had Dave pull up to the corner of Main Street and Recker to grab a few pics of the patina green truck in front of the Buckhorn Baths neon sign. The colors were a pretty close match. I had no clue of the iconic history behind Ted and Alice Sliger’s rag to riches story, or that the hot mineral baths were a catalyst in building up the MLB Spring Training Cactus League in Arizona.
A Christmas Eve fire in 1936 destroyed the Desert Wells gas station, store and lunch counter on the Apache Trail with the exception of one piece of taxidermy, a buckhorn deer. Ted and Alice found a spot nearby to piece together a new home and business, building out a gas station and store to sell groceries, hunting and fishing licenses, fishing tackle, and Native American jewelry and rugs. In 1938 they expanded the store in order to display Ted’s taxidermy work eventually creating the Wildlife Museum.
While drilling a well for water, they found 112° water that was ideal for therapeutic hot baths. A new bathhouse, spa rooms, cottages, and eventually the motel all sprung up serving the tourists driving down the dusty highway 60 as automobile tourism became popular in a post-depression America.
In 1947 New York Giants team owner Horace Stoneham, who wintered in the Valley, tried the Buckhorn’s therapeutic waters. Buckhorn Baths Motel became a retreat for his star players like Willie Mays before training camp began each year and started a decades-long tradition of hosting baseball teams – first the Giants, then Chicago Cubs, and other clubs.
Over the years the Sligers filled the spa with Ted’s taxidermy eventually donated to ASU, artifacts and sports memorabilia. Hosting sports legends at large barbeques would attract thousands in the heyday.
Ted passed in 1987, and Alice closed the baths in 1999, and passed in 2010. The property is in the news while disagreements of what will happen to the historic buildings plays out between Aktar Verma of Paradise Valley and Mesa City Planners. I am hoping they can come to an agreement that visually blends the old with the new, honoring this historic landmark.