Breakfast Club

An Affiliate of the Arizona Pilots Assn.



The Knife & Fork



Breakfast Club Lands in Douglas

Visits Historic Gadsden Hotel



7 Apr 2012

By Warren McIlvoy


It has been a while since the Breakfast Club last visited Douglas, Arizona and at the meeting of the crack(ed) Breakfast Club Event Planning Committee last fall, we felt that it was about time that a fly-in was long over due.  Douglas is about the longest in-state destination that we could fly to without crossing the state line.  From Deer Valley Airport, it is about 197 km’s via Grine Intersection.  In case you may have forgotten, I affectionately call this route “copper row”.  Virtually every small mining town along this route has been in existence for more than 100 years and all of them have contributed to the history of copper mining in the State of Arizona. 


Continuing southeast from Grine Intersection, we will pass just to the west of such historic mining towns such as, Superior, Kearny, Winkelman, and San Manuel.  Just a tad south of San Manuel, we are in a valley formed by the Galiuro Mountains on the east and the Santa Catalina Mountains on the west.  This unnamed valley continues to just north of Benson, Arizona where the scenery opens into a broad plain with a few prominent peaks just to remind you that altitude is still your best friend.  A little further to the southeast, we skirt the western edge of the Dragoon Mountains with Mount Glen topping out at more than 7500’.  When the ridges fade in our wake, we enter into the Sulphur Springs Valley that is the gateway to our arrival into Douglas.


The first prominent landmark is the Bisbee Douglas Intl Airport (DUG) that is about 15 miles to the northwest of Douglas Municipal Airport (DGL).  When flying down to this area, it is important that one selects the proper airport as they are often mixed-up.  Douglas Muni is only about 3-miles from the heart of the City of Douglas where as the Intl airport is 15 miles to the north. 


During the planning phase of this event, I called the folks at the Gadsden Hotel to make arrangements for transportation to the hotel from the airport.  They said to just give them a jingle when we get there and that they would be right out.  I did arrive early but even then, I was in the bottom 25% in the arrival sequence (I was no. 3 of 4 aircraft).  Other than the Breakfast Club folks, there was not a soul to seen anywhere.  I was going to buy some fuel because it was cheaper than at DVT but I was informed by one of our members that the self-serve pump was INOP.  Shortly after making a call to the hotel, two vehicles arrived to take us to the Gadsden.


The airport is only about three-miles east of the heart of town and along the route, one could observe a mix of a few newer homes along with those built in the 40’s and 50’s.  It was also evident that the harsh economic slowdown had taken its toll on many small businesses as evidenced by the numerous abandoned structures.  As we arrived at the hotel, our drivers parked at the rear of the hotel in what was most likely their usual parking spaces and we entered the hotel via the rear entrance.  I am not so sure that this was done for the convenience of parking or the owners did not want anyone observing the Breakfast Club entering their fine establishment.


On the south side of the marble adorned lobby is where the El Conquistador Dining Room is located.  When we entered, there were a few folks enjoying their breakfast as the Breakfast Club folks gathered around several tables that that been joined together to form one long table. “The El Conquistador Dining Room reflects old world elegance in the truest sense. A magnificent tile mural adorns one wall-its origin unknown-adding a certain mystique to the décor.  The breakfast menu was diverse enough to satisfy any starving aviator but the first item that caught my eye was the Egg Benedict.  This is my favorite breakfast dish so I need not peruse any more information from the menu.  From the photos that accompany this story, you can get a pretty good idea of what the El conquistador Dining Room looks like.


To get a feel for the Gadsden Hotel, I am inserting some of its history gleaned from their web site:

Wyatt Earp and Geronimo were still battling with blazing glory throughout this part of the country, Arizona had yet to become a state and the Gadsden Hotel first opened her doors, providing gracious hospitality to all who passed through. Named for the famous Gadsden Purchase, the hotel became home-away-from-home for cattlemen, ranchers, miners, and businessmen in the newly settling territory. Nearly every Arizona Governor has stayed in the Governor's Suite, so did Eleanor Roosevelt.

The Hotel was leveled by fire and rebuilt in 1929. Purists question the tale of Pancho Villa's impromptu ride up the stairs, noting the Mexican revolutionary was assassinated in 1923, six years before the new hotel opened. Management will be quick to point to newspaper accounts that indicate that the marble stairs survived the fire, and be just as quick to show you the chipped surface on the seventh stair that people talk about to this day. The Hotel nearly died again a decade ago, this time a victim of neglect. The Gadsden was rescued in 1988 by its current owners, North Dakota wheat farmers Doris & Hartman Brekhus.

 Daughter-in-law and Hotel Manager Robin Brekhus will be one of the first to tell you more of the Gadsden's interesting past as she recalls her first encounter with the Gadsden Ghost. It was 4:10 pm Friday March 13,1991. The power had failed and she was in the basement, searching for candles. In the beam of her flashlight, she saw a faceless figure shaped like a man. "He just kind of floated down the hallway. It just looked like fog to me, but it was the shape of a person." For years, hotel workers and guests have confessed to seeing an apparition often around Lent or Christmas, and often in the hotel's cavernous basement. Sometimes it's described as headless, caped and wearing army-style khaki clothing. In her 26th year of operating one of the oldest manual elevators west of the Mississippi, Carmen Diaz saw the ghost in the basement as well. "Tall man. Black pants suit. No head." Brenda Maley, restaurant Supervisor said she saw the shadow of a body hunched over her one night as she lay on her stomach in her bed in her hotel room. She said she witnessed this immediately after a strange sensation where "all of a sudden I couldn't move." A movie crew member told Brekhus that his light turned off and on in the middle of the night, and then his golf clubs went crashing down on the floor.


 Over the years, dignitaries and celebrities have been added to the Gadsden's Roster; among them the stars of "The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean," "Terminal Velocity," and "Ruby Jean and Joe" actually filmed in the lobby, rooms, restaurant and tavern. Lee Marvin was said to have almost been involved in a barroom brawl and it was also said that Shelly Winters, at one time in her young career, would answer the door to her room (for room service) in the buff.

Today a 1929 manual telephone switchboard still sits behind the front desk, though it isn't used any more. It was the first of its kind in the state, according to the Arizona Historical Society. So much history was made within the walls of this stately 5 story, 160-room structure that in 1976, The Gadsden Hotel was proclaimed a National Historic Monument by the National Register of Historic Places.

After breakfast, we all gathered in the lobby and posed for some photos with us standing on the grand marble staircase that shares some of the ambiance of the lobby.  The Tiffany glass windows span the entire width of the east wall at the mezzanine level and is backlit by natural light that cast a multi-hued glow to the lobby.  I climbed the marble stairs to the mezzanine level where I could try to capture the grandeur of the lobby that featured two story high Italian marble columns that formed the perimeter of the lobby area.  As I walked around this level, I noticed one of the rooms that was being cleaned by the house attendants.  I walked in and quickly noticed a whirlpool hot tub in one corner of the room.  The rooms and bathrooms have been updated but still retain much of the charm of its golden era.  I stopped by the hotel desk and spoke with Robin about how the hotel was managing with the economic downturn and she said that they were doing ok but the lack of tourists has taken its toll in limiting many of their renewal projects.

After returning to the lobby where our group was massing for the return trip, the first order of business was the mandatory “pit stop”.  Adam and I went out the main entrance of the hotel and walked across the street in order to get some photos of the hotel exterior.  We then returned to the lobby and rejoined our group as we exited the hotel the same way that we had arrived. 

When departing runway 21, during the climb-out, you will actually cross the fence that is the border between the US and Mexico.  A leisurely right turn will keep your Mexican visit very brief as we turn to the northwest.  The route is the same as our arrival trip but by now the air was starting to churn a bit but not to badly.  I actually had a slight tailwind for most of the trip.

The Douglas Gang

  • Warren & Jeri-Ann McIlvoy in 93MB, BC-1 & 1.5
  • Adam Rosenberg with Ky & Bonnie Coffey in 8377W, BC-72
  • John Rynearson in 3501S, BC-117
  • Glen Yoder and Santos Rivera in 31TC, Bc-007


What’s Next?


In May, the Breakfast Club will be doing an overnight stay in Tombstone, Arizona.  This will give us a chance to really investigate the sights and history of this town that is “too tough to die”.  In June, we will be traveling to the White Mountains and dropping-in on White Mountain Lakes where we will have a cookout by the same folks who put on such a great spread in Taylor last year.  That’s all for now but remember, fly safe.


To view photos of the Douglas, Arizona event, just click on the link below.


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