Thick adobe walls, enclosed courtyards, and tile roofs are architectural features one might expect to find in the missions of Southern California or Tucson.
Renowned during his time, but nearly forgotten today, architect Arthur Burnett Benton made those features a foundation of Chandler when he designed the San Marcos Hotel.
Benton was born in Peoria, Ill., on April 17, 1858, and he spent his formative years as a farmer. He married his wife, Harriet Phillipina von Schilling, in 1883.
Following the birth of their child, Harriet saw Benton had a drive and vision that could take him far beyond his agrarian roots. She convinced him to study architecture at the Topeka, Kans., School of Art and Design in 1887.
One year later, Benton began his architectural career working for railroads, ultimately working as a draftsman in the office of the chief engineer of the Union Pacific.
While working in the offices of two prominent Los Angeles architecture firms, he developed a love for the old Spanish missions that dot the coast of California.
His passion soon translated to preservation, as he founded the California Landmarks Club with Charles Fletcher Lummis and Sumner Hunt. The organization was created to assist with the restoration and preservation of the missions.
Benton oversaw the restoration of the San Juan Capistrano and San Diego missions.
Soon, he became a vocal proponent and practitioner of Mission Revival architecture, a style that drew inspiration from the old Spanish missions. Characteristics of the style include enclosed courtyards, clay roof tiles, arches, white plaster stucco, exterior arcades, and thick adobe walls.
After designing several churches, Frank Augustus Miller hired Benton to renovate the Glenwood Inn in Riverside, Calif. This renovation and addition soon became known as the famous Mission Inn. His work was so well received that he made several more additions to the sprawling Inn.
After his work in Riverside, Benton became a celebrated architect with many significant commissions, including the Mary Andrews Clark YWCA home in Los Angeles, his best known and most lavish work.
Benton’s work caught the eye of Dr. Alexander J. Chandler. Chandler and his wife Julia had a home in Los Angeles.
It may have been Julia who recommended Benton when Chandler began to search for an architect to design a resort hotel in his new town. She was a member of several Los Angeles service clubs, including the Ebell Club and the Friday Morning Club. Benton had designed both organizations’ clubhouses.
Beginning in 1911, Benton designed the San Marcos Hotel.
An August 1912, article in the Chandler Arizonan described the project: “The hotel is to be of reinforced concrete, fireproof, of the mission style of architecture. The initial expenditure will be about $100,000. Only two stories will be constructed at this time, but the foundation and walls will be sufficient for a four or six story structure when the occasion demands an increase in the hotel accommodations. Thirty very large rooms, each an outside room with its private bath, will be completed. A pergola will extend clear around the east and south sides of the building.”
In addition to the thick walls and pergola, the San Marcos boasted Mission Revival features like arched windows and an enclosed courtyard for guests to enjoy.
The San Marcos was completed in 1913. It is the only Benton project outside of California.
Benton went on to build a nearly identical hotel in Santa Barbara, Calif., called the Arlington. Unlike the San Marcos, the Arlington was constructed to its fully planned height of five stories. Unfortunately, the Arlington was destroyed during an earthquake in 1925.
Benton’s prolific career included churches, recreational buildings, homes, schools and hotels. His San Marcos remains a distinct architectural feature in our city’s center.
By 1926, an illness left him bedridden. But Benton continued to design buildings until his death in September 1927. He left a rich architectural legacy in Southern California.
Jody Crago is Chandler Museum administrator. Visit the Chandler Museum, 300 S.Chandler Village Drive, 10a.m. to 4p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays. To learn more about Chandler history: www.chandlerpedia.org, 480-782-2877.