Keeping movie memories alive in Old Town

The creaky steps of time are evident in Old Town. For some business owners, promoting historical links is crucial.

Karen Leff discovered that when she bought the Cottonwood Hotel four years ago. The building, which was a hotel from the mid-1920s to 1950, served as an apartment complex from the 1970s until Leff purchased it.

Now she has renovated rooms on the top floor for a self-catering guesthouse. Knowing John Wayne slept here and Elvis Presley greeted fans here, she went to work tying in the decor with celebrity history. “It was a major challenge,” she said.

In the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s, Arizona was the second most filmed-in state in the nation after California due to the popularity of westerns. If future plans develop, Leff would like to play on that with a home theater where half of Madame’s Mercantile is located. Leff is also the owner of Madame’s.

In the long building, a big screen television would show Arizona-based movies for 15 to 20 people. She would also tie in novelty movie items.

On a private scale, it’s what she’s already doing upstairs.

Wayne shot the Angel and the Bad Man in Sedona in 1946 and romanced his costar, Gail Russell, at the Cottonwood Hotel, according to legend. The video of the movie is available to guests in the John Wayne suite, where there are photos and movie posters.

Presley came through Cottonwood while filming Stay Away Joe in 1967 but did not stay at the hotel. He did take a gander at Old Town from the balcony and sign autographs, and buildings on Main Street made it into the film. The decor in the Presley suite contains a hide and a bull skull in keeping with the movie plot. And, of course, the video is ready beside the television.

A third room once was the George R. Brookes Suite, named after a spiritualist who died in a 1925 fire. However, staying with the movie theme of the other suites, Leff has adapted the room to a Desert Fury suite. That 1948 Burt Lancaster film was shot near Sedona.

Leff said she always wanted to run a Victorian-style bed-and-breakfast. The Cottonwood Hotel is a completely different character and appeals to a different type of guest.

“It’s been a gradual process,” she said.

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