This $6.2 million mansion was once 40-room hotel for gold miners

(Bloomberg) — By 1919, when James “Rawhide Jimmy” Douglas built a hotel directly outside the entrance to his copper mine in Arizona, he was already rich.

Shares in his company, United Verde Extension Co., had gone from 15¢ a share in 1912 to $35 a share by 1916 (more than $800 in today’s dollars), and Douglas, the scion of a wealthy mining family, was feeling so flush that he decided to build his miners a dorm-cum-hotel at the entrance of the Little Daisy Mine in Jerome, Ariz.

The hotel, appropriately named the Little Daisy Hotel, had 40 rooms, a grand dining room and reception area, and views of the surrounding landscape. “Supposedly, the miners felt like it was too fancy for them,” says Lisa Acker, the building’s current owner. “But when they were here, they’d hot-bunk [share beds], doing eight-hour shifts.”

Originally, she adds, the hotel had “gang showers” and bathrooms, except in the swankier rooms reserved for Douglas’s guests.

By the mid-1950s, the mining economy in Jerome collapsed, and the hotel fell into disrepair, along with the rest of the area.

“They sold all the windows and doors, even the tile roof,” says Acker. “Everything was sold for salvage, and people just walked off with whatever they didn’t strip.”

The building’s concrete husk was sold to William Earl Bell (who helped develop the atomic clock) in 1969 as part of a larger land deal involving more valuable, adjacent property. It wasn’t until 1995 that Acker and her husband, Walter, purchased the property and decided to turn it into a private home.

The couple had spent the previous decade developing 20 acres of land in Montana; after they sold that property, they were ready for a change.

“We found this place, and Walter was like, ‘Would you want to buy it?’ ” Acker recalls. “I was like, ‘Um, it’s a pretty big place. Let’s go back and visit it again to make sure.’ ”

The couple returned to Jerome. After doing some measurements, getting a few bids from builders, and looking at the plans for the original hotel in the town’s museum, they decided to purchase it.

The building was officially listed as being 35,000 square feet, on 3.45 acres. After going through it, they discovered that the house was about 9,000 square feet per level for a total of about 27,000 square feet. The purchase price was $190,000, Acker says.

More than two decades later, Acker is putting it on the market, listing it with Russ Lyon Sotheby’s International Realty for $6.2 million. Acker’s husband passed away unexpectedly last September, she says, adding that the house’s 12,000 square feet of indoor space, 2,900 square feet of covered porches, the 2,600-square-foot garage/workshop, and 9,000-square-foot rooftop garden feel a bit excessive for one person.

“People always used to say, ‘Only two people live there?’” says Acker. “Now it’s, ‘Only one person?’ It makes me giggle.”

Living (in) history

The process of turning a concrete husk into a livable mansion took the better part of a decade, and the bulk of the work was performed by Acker and her husband themselves. The couple had been married for only five years when they purchased the property, but the experience in Montana “showed us that we could build something together and stay together,” she says.

Initially, they lived in an airstream trailer parked outside the property as they worked to put a roof on the building. Next, they lived in an enclosed part of the building as they worked to make the rest of it habitable.

“A firm in Phoenix did all the exterior windows, which are made from solid oak,” Acker says. The windows alone took a year and a half to make, during which time, “we just focused on other things,” she says.

The couple had access to blueprints and historic photos and did their best to recreate interior moldings and decoration.

The major shift was the roof garden, which the couple was inspired to create after realizing that—thanks to disintegrated plaster and concrete—it already had a nine-inch-thick floor. So they put a vegetable garden, a fire pit, a kitchen, a fish pond, a hot tub, and a croquet lawn (“which you can use as a putting green”) on the third story, which has predictably stunning views.

Indoors, they reconfigured the second floor to comprise eight bedrooms. Three are en-suite. Five are smaller, in the footprint of the original miners’ rooms.

The first floor mostly consists of three massive rooms: the living room, accessed through the main entrance; the dining room, in which the Ackers once comfortably seated 120 people for a wedding; and a theater and pool room. There’s also a 1,000-square-foot kitchen.

The project was fully completed in nine years, she says.

“My husband made a lot of the furniture in the house, and he made the cabinets in the kitchen,” Acker says. “In the dining room, I can’t see anything he didn’t make, except for the chairs at the dining table.”

Tourist appeal

Acker says she and her husband never intended to sell the house or turn it into a commercial venture.

“We didn’t want to turn it into a bed and breakfast, because we didn’t want to have to wait on people,” she explains.

Acker acknowledges that it might appeal to someone interested in reverting it back to a hotel but says that the area—a tourist destination roughly between Phoenix and the Grand Canyon—can make the home appealing to well-heeled buyers in search of a vacation home.

“A family might like this as an extra home,” she says. “A lot of people from L.A. come out to this area. There’s Lake Powell and so many attractions.”

Acker says that she’s fine with selling the house. “I guess I’m selling because I’m going on to a new phase of my life,” she says.

(By James Tarmy)