Hayden House (Monti's La Casa Vieja) - Part V La Casa Vieja
Updated: Apr 4, 2022
The historical background to Hayden House is presented in five parts. Below is part V. Start over at Part I - Go back to Part IV
La Casa Vieja c. 1925 (Tempe Historical Museum)
La Casa Vieja
On November 7, 1924, the Hayden sisters had the formal opening of their tea house and restaurant in the rehabilitated landmark. It was called La Casa Vieja, or “the old house.” The long list of guests in attendance on that evening included Robert T. Evans, former state historian James McClintock, and what appeared to be a majority of the business owners and civic leaders of Tempe. La Casa Vieja was an immediate success. With seating for up to 70 guests, it was filled to capacity each evening. The restaurant offered Spanish [Mexican] dinners, luncheons, and teas. Some finishing touches were still being added to the building through 1925. Ornate shutters were installed on the windows, and a cobblestone fountain was built in the courtyard. The setting changed slightly during this time, as a grain warehouse for the Tempe Milling Company was built immediately south of the property, forming the southern edge of the courtyard. La Casa Vieja was closed during the hot summer months. The formal opening for the second season was on October 2, 1925, and featured an elegant dinner and a musical program.
Dining room, c. 1925
Soon after opening the business the Hayden sisters formed a partnership with Louise B. Lynd, another teacher at the Tempe Normal School (which was renamed Arizona State Teachers College in 1925). La Casa Vieja was incorporated in 1926, with Louise B. Lynd as president, Sallie D. Hayden as vice president, and Mary H. McEllherren, as secretary-treasurer. Both Hayden and Lynd lived on the property. The costs of operating an elegant formal dining room were undoubtedly high, and revenues were perhaps not as high as anticipated, for the Hayden sisters had problems managing their debt for several years. They paid off the original 1924 mortgage from Fidelity Building and Loan Association in March 1926, and a second loan from Tempe National Bank for $2,500 in 1928, but then mortgaged the property to Christy and Culver for a loan of $8,000. As the economic slowdown of the Great Depression set in, they fell behind in their mortgage payments. By this time Christy and Culver had sold the note on the property to Nellie P. Covert, who brought suit against the Hayden family and Christy and Culver.
La Casa Vieja Courtyard, c.1925
The restaurant was closed in 1932, Lloyd B. Christy was a banker and former mayor of Phoenix, apparently acting in partnership with his brother-in-law, Charles Culver and the Hayden sisters lost La Casa Vieja to foreclosure. Covert took ownership of the property. The restaurant was closed for three years. La Casa Vieja reopened in November 1935 under the management of Mrs. Mae Taylor. The building was again renovated and a large Indian mural was painted in one of the dining rooms. As before, the restaurant served Mexican food and featured a cocktail bar, dancing, and entertainment. A Mexican stringed band with vocalist Amos Terrell would become the regularly featured entertainment at La Casa Vieja.
La Casa Vieja, c. 1935
Covert retained ownership of the property and leased the restaurant to various managers over a 20-year period. It continued to be a Mexican restaurant and cocktail bar through the 1940s and 1950s, but apparently not with the formal elegance of La Casa Vieja’s earlier years. Other restaurateurs who leased the property included Eugene and Lucille Payne (ca. 1943–47), E.A. Rascoe (ca. 1951–52), and Fred and Ruth Brechan (ca. 1952–54). In 1954 the property was sold to Leonard F. Monti. It was under his ownership that La Casa Vieja would have its greatest success as a restaurant.
Leonard Monti was a World War II veteran from Minnesota. After the war he was treated at the Veterans Administration hospital in Phoenix and decided to stay in the area. He opened Monti’s Western Tavern Grill in downtown Chandler in 1947. When he took over La Casa Vieja, he planned a steakhouse menu rather than the Mexican-style restaurant it had been since 1924. Monti’s La Casa Vieja quickly became a very popular restaurant, and changes were made to the building to accommodate the growing clientele.
Monti's La Casa Vieja, c. 1960
Monti's La Casa Vieja, c.1972
The courtyard was probably covered prior to 1968 to create the “fountain room” for more indoor dining space. In 1968 a 5,000-square foot addition designed by local architects Michael and Kemper Goodwin was built on the south end of the building, which included a modern kitchen. With the construction of another addition to the south in 1979 the restaurant grew to 17,000 square feet, with an occupancy limit of nearly 1,000 people. In 1991 Monti’s La Casa Vieja served more than 450,000 people, making it one of the largest independent restaurants in the country. The landmark restaurant served its last meals on November 17, 2014, and closed after operating for nearly 60 years as Monti’s La Casa Vieja and 90 years as the best known restaurant in Tempe.
A larger lot that included the Hayden House was purchased by a developer partnership with the intention to build a couple of towers immediately to the west and south while preserving the Hayden House. Eventually the lot was split, giving the Hayden House its own lot. Motley Design Group was hired by the developer to rehabilitate the Hayden House in 2015. The developer gave the Hayden House to the City of Tempe, which in turn is leasing it as offices to the Downtown Tempe Authority, which "is a private, non-profit organization that works in partnership with the City of Tempe to increase the value of the Mill Avenue District through enhanced management and promotional services on behalf of DTC members and other downtown stakeholders," according to its website.
Motley Design Group rehabilitated the house to its 1929 iteration when Robert Evans had renovated it. The goal was to preserve as much as the building as possible while making it usable as offices. In addition, the rehabilitation was such that the building can easily be more fully restored at a future date for other uses such as restaurant (the historic use of the building,) or even as a house museum.
North face of the Hayden House, East face of the Hayden House, East wing of the Hayden House,
under construction, 2020 under construction, 2020 under construction, 2020