Thank You For Visiting Sedona Legend-
The Jack And Helen Frye Story!
Sedona's Celebrity Love Story!
This is the official, not to mention only, web portal in the world
dedicated exclusively to the legacy of Jack and Helen Frye!
The Frye Legacy-
a Lifetime of Accomplishment!
By Randall Reynolds
The Sedona Legend Web Site is a copyrighted historical photo enhanced narrative presented for
educational and entertainment purposes. Some materials may be displayed in regard to the
United States Fair Use Act. This web portal is totally non-profit and generates no income nor
does it seek or has it ever accepted a single donation. It is an independent venture.
Sedona Legend was envisioned and created to provide Red Rock State Park visitors a
comprehensive historic overview for Jack and Helen Frye and their Deer-Lick and Smoke Trail
Ranches. This effort is now officially cited by R.R.S.P. as an indepth historical venue
representing Jack and Helen Frye.
Sedona Legend is encouraged by the many friends of Jack and Helen Frye. A gracious thank
you to the Frye and Varner families for invaluable support and Red Rock State Park staff and
volunteers for their enthusiasm.
Sedona Legend Helen Frye a.k.a. the Jack and Helen Frye Story
A Decade of Research and Presentation- Created By Randall D. Reynolds
Copyright © 2003 All Rights Reserved
Sky Fires at the Ridge- a.k.a. The Kiva House
The Mystery of Helen Frye's
Village of Oak Creek- Sedona Arizona
Helen Frye lived in many beautiful homes in her lifetime. When married to her second
husband, Cornelius Vanderbilt Jr., Helen found herself in some of the most opulent and
majestic private homes in the country- certainly more akin to palaces than mansions. So many
rooms she was heard to once say, "I would often get lost navigating the interiors". Later in life
millionaires Jack and Helen Frye built the now regionally famous one of kind "House of
Apache Fires" at their 700 acre Smoke Trail Ranch at Sedona. This house had views to die for
and now as one of Sedona's most historic landmarks rests amid some of the most valuable real
estate in Arizona. Helen and Jack's ranch in Sedona, now the 286-acre Red Rock State Park,
even at only a third of its original acreage is currently worth approximately 125 million dollars.
If Jack and Helen had kept the entire Smoke Trail Ranch intact it would be worth a staggering
350 million dollars at today's prices! At the time the Apache Fires house was built by Helen and
Jack they owned a over 50,000 acres of land in the state of Arizona alone. This included the
Sunshine Ranch, now known as the Red Gap Ranch, between Winslow and Flagstaff (now
owned by the City of Flagstaff for its water rights). Another Frye ranch above Williams AZ.
(Red Lake) was called the Spring Valley Ranch. They also had ranch property in Texas. When
Jack and Helen were in the west they enjoyed the old western style of living, as all their
ranches were very much "working ranches". Their western homes were not "showplaces" but
rather designed to be comfortable and functional, a reflection of the lifestyle they truly loved.
Quite a contrast to this "western" lifestyle was the formal life they led back east in regard to
Jack's business life (TWA & GAF). The Frye's had two main homes: one a Tudor-styled estate
on 5 acres at Overland Park Kansas (suburb of Kansas City), and the other a very elegant
mansion which sat on 73 acres with pool and stables at Falls Church (Arlington) Virginia. The
latter was named "Hillcrest Farm" by the Fryes. The estate was more well known by the name
of the Doubleday Mansion, and currently "the Cedars". At these estates, furnished lavishly
with period antiques and art, the Frye's entertained friends and associates of Transcontinental
& Western Air, Inc. Whew! What a lot of household management for Helen! It's no wonder
Helen Frye derived most of her sleep on TWA air liners and Jack Frye's private Lockheed
planes. The Fryes did employ a household staff to help at their eastern homes to include a
live-in chauffeur, cook, butler, houseman, housekeepers, and even private secretaries. For an
overview of the Jack and Helen Frye estates back east see Page 1943 and Page 1939.
After Helen and Jack went their separate ways in 1950. Helen built two other homes in Sedona.
As a pioneer of innovation, Helen developed a portion of her and Jack's original ranch into
"Cup of Gold Estates" now one of the most exclusive, scenic and high-dollar creek-side
developments in the Sedona region. At the time of Helen and Jack's divorce there was a
pending U.S. Forest Service land trade with the Frye Spring Valley Ranch. This trade land on
the extreme north side of Smoke Trail Ranch, called the "cliff-site", became the property
where Helen built another home in 1961-62, christened the "Wings of the Wind". The views
from this property are breathtaking. Quite assuredly even today this property has is one of the
top five view parcels in the entire Sedona region! This area is now known in Sedona as "Smoke
Trail Ranch Estates". But few people are aware of yet another home that Helen Vanderbilt Frye
built in Sedona, this because it was not completed at the time she died. It was designed as a
modest, rustic, cabin-like dwelling called "Sky Fires", aptly named in part to reflect a kinship
with the "Apache Fires" house. It is also said that this house was named for the incredible
sunsets seen at this rural location. Helen named all her homes- this was paramount to her,
perhaps as a carry over from her Vanderbilt years. Surprisingly this home was not built on the
famous Frye Smoke Trail Ranch but instead was constructed on property that Helen purchased
from a dear friend Faye Crenshaw. The location was in the Sedona Red Rock region called the
Village of Oak Creek on a parcel now known as "the Ridge". The Sedona Golf Resort now
resides on this beautiful former Frye property adjoined by a Hilton Hotel resort. Certainly
picturesque- the property is graced with reflective ponds and lovely golf greens.
What of this "Sky Fires" House?
If it was not for Faye Crenshaw owning a large tract of property at the Village of Oak Creek
and her close friendship with Helen Frye from the early 1950's there is no doubt Sky Fires
would have never existed! So it is apropos that Faye is featured on this page. Above to the left is
Helen Frye, Faye Crenshaw, and Helen's godchild, Elisa Armijo. The location was the Winged
Arts Building at Airport Road and 89A in West Sedona. To the right is Faye at her home.
Images were from about 1967 and are courtesy of Helen's dear friend Rosie Targhetta Armijo.
A Simple Expression of Function and Design
Envisioned by Artist Helen Frye- Sky Fires
This view home sat on top of a ridge with spectacular views of Bell Rock and the surrounding
vistas. It has been said Sky Fires was adjoined by 20 or more acres, however; this is not
verified. The home was two-story A-Frame in appearance, with a dramatic curved stairway,
exposed open-beam ceilings and a large circle drive entrance. In the sub-area there was a
meditation room for Helen who was deeply spiritual. It was Helen's intention to one day move
out to Sky Fires but unfortunately she succumbed to cancer before she was able to see her
dream home completed. After Helen's death the house eventually became the property of
Helen's twin sisters. Up until it was sold a young friend of Helen's resided at the property.
Some say he owned the house but Helen's family has assured me this simply is not true.
Sky Fires brought to Life
Through the assistance of a generous and "anonymous" web-surfer who was a friend and
building assistant to Helen Frye at Apache Fires and Sky Fires we are able to have a visual of
the infamous dwelling and an overview of Helen's intention with the project.
The following description of "Sky Fires" was provided to Sedona Legend by one of its builders.
To view the color drawing full size please click on the thumbnail as shown above.
"Sky Fires" was situated upon several acres of prime hilltop real estate now occupied by the
Sedona Golf Resort. Approximate position would have been at the current intersection of Bent
Tree Drive and Heritage Circle. The original dirt access road meandered due West from
Highway 179 and approached the property from the North. It is now mostly covered by golfing
green. A weathered Indian Hogan and circular sheep corral, made of saplings, still stood on
clear grassy land near the front entrance. The unpaved driveway began at a steel farm gate.
From there the roofline could be seen, a short distance away, rising above the foliage. At its
end was a turn-around loop in right front of the house. A small brick garage built by the
previous owner Faye Crenshaw stood off to one side. The land had numerous mature pinion
trees, particularly where it fell off in elevation to the South and West. Everything else was
native scrub and bare red soil with loose rocks here and there.
Back then, the area was still on the fringes of the township. The only sound was the wind.
Below the house, to the mesa toward the West, was a sparsely vegetated plain. It was strewn
with stone artifacts and pottery shards with black and white geometric patterns typical to the
region. It is now a housing development. All the metates found there, large stone slabs for
grinding corn, had been broken. Helen believed the Indians did this deliberately when forced to
move off their land. There appeared to have once been a spring in the pass between the two
mesas to the Southwest. There is a large rock nearby with spiral patterns and petroglyphs of
horned animals. The Eastern boundary, and water bore, was shared with "The Spiritual Life
Institute", a eclectic Christian center dotted with retreat huts. The primary outlook of the
house was Northerly, with stunning views across Big Park to Bell Rock. Helen said the name
"Sky Fires" was inspired by the spectacular sunsets that could be seen from this vantage point.
The structure consisted of a spacious, two storey central section, flanked by two single storey
wings. It was constructed upon a concrete slab, with the master and guest bedrooms being at a
lower "step-down" level. Adjacent to the main living area was an open kitchen, with level
access to the side parking ramp via a long pantry. The floorplan reveals a few special design
features. One is the sunken fireplace with a windowed alcove enclosing the chimney to
maximize the view. Another is the subterranean Kiva, about three metres in diameter,
excavated from solid red rock. This was intended as Helen's private meditation room. It had a
curved staircase leading down to its entry door. Also visible is the trailer and low-slung cement
brick addition, left by her friend Faye. These served as accommodation for the workers. Helen
once mentioned she had a lot of "good times" there. Aside from that, she was always reluctant
to discard anything that could be put to use. The second storey is not shown on the floorplan. It
had a high raked ceiling, its own small bathroom along the South wall, and was said by Helen to
be for her companion
In appearance, "Sky Fires" was a refined, yet rustic, ranch house. As with Helen's earlier
designs, its sprawling layout and choice of materials sought to reflect the natural beauty of the
site. The color elevation drawing illustrates the front of the house which faced Bell Rock. First
to be built was the Western wing. It was a novel construction of unfired adobe brick, interlaid
every few courses with pine planks. Intended for aesthetic appeal and thermal mass, this was
abandoned for the rest of the house due to weathering problems. Aside from that, it was labor
intensive. The unique slit windows, comprised of heavy timber frames and three narrow panes
each, were both a distinctive accent and practical way to conserve temperature. In contrast, the
more recent central and Eastern sections of the structure were conventional stud frame,
horizontally clad in rough-sawn pine planks. A mixture of creosote and old motor oil was applied
externally as a preservative. Doors and widows were standard metal frame with sliding glass.
The roofing overall was pale green, ribbed aluminum sheeting. An unusual choice for the time
which had the unexpected feature of "creaking" as it expanded in the sun.
The walls and exposed beam ceilings in the Western wing were lined entirely with rough-sawn
pine. Painted in "Navaho White", this provided a traditional solidity and charm. There were
numerous creative touches, such as the full-length desk in the master bedroom with views to
Bell Rock. Over the bathtub, glass bricks in the wall admitted natural light from the studio. A
back door led to a walkway under the eaves. It skirted a tall pinion which the building had been
designed to spare. Aided by the thick adobe walls, high grade foam insulation above the ceiling
and several wind turbines kept room temperature remarkably cool during even the hottest
months. The central section, Eastern wing and upstairs bedroom were still mostly unlined at the
time of Helen's death. Apart from an electric stove, there were no installed furnishings or floor
I never saw any architect's plans for the house. Only a few colored paintings by Helen. It was
obviously a creative work in progress. This led to a number of unforeseen outcomes and
changes to already completed work. With a view toward economy, the lumber was purchased
unseasoned and shrunk after fitting, thereby leaving gaps. The Kiva was not waterproofed
before backfilling. Unfortunately, it eventually filled waist-deep with rainwater seepage.
Construction went slowly, lasting a few years from about 1977 to late 1979. During this time,
workers with various skills came and went. Yet everyone maintained deep respect for Helen's
good humor and generous spirit. She routinely drove over in her brown Ford pickup several
days a week, often with dogs in tow, to inspect the building. By the time she was too
incapacitated to do so, all work on the house had stopped. In the final months of her life, only a
caretaker stayed on.
When "Sky Fires" was completed, Helen had intended to move into it from "Wings of the
Wind". The latter had been acquired, under her auspices, by a spiritual group. As it turned out,
she never spent a single night there. After her passing, ownership of the property was
contested by three parties. The house was partly damaged by fire and eventually demolished to
make way for the present up-market apartments at the golf course. It is hoped the information
here will help rekindle and preserve the memory of Helen Frye's last building project. What
was to become her final dream home in Sedona.
Please note- it is likely that the uncolored rear portion of Sky Fires, as shown in the above
drawing, was to be removed after Sky Fires was eventually completed. It was used primarily for
the housing of construction workers. Opinion of Sedona Legend editor.
Flames of Doom- a Fire Well Remembered
Rumors spread like wildfire in this small town of Sedona but they cannot always be confirmed.
One such rumor is of a mysterious fire at Sky Fires after Helen died. For some reason the
incident has become imprinted on the minds of many in Sedona, I suppose because it was a
"Helen Vanderbilt Frye" home, and of course, the esoteric group connection. One persistent
rumor when I started the Helen and Jack Frye Story was that Sky Fires burned down on the
New Year's Eve after Helen Frye's death. After much research I have found this to be untrue.
There was indeed a fire at Sky Fires but it was actually on April 29 1983 no where near New
Year's Eve of 1979.
Another rumor is that the fire was arson perpetrated by a certain new age group. Yes, the
same group that fleeced Helen Frye in the late 1970's. This one is intriguing even though the
house did not burn to the ground. I have to say the rumor of members of the group starting the
fire can't be ruled out. Why? Because I keep hearing this version of the tale from Sedona
residents connected with Helen Frye, even after all these years. Why would the group try to
burn the house down? Let's just say there was a lot of fleecing going on and some of the
members thought a certain ex-member had made off with loot that should have been bestowed
upon the "group". That explains the motivation if there is any truth to it.
How did I investigate the fire? By running all over Sedona chasing phantoms- first to the Red
Rock News in Uptown Sedona for 4 hours of tireless searching through newspapers from 1979
onward- but no luck. Secondly, by talking to personnel at two of our Sedona Fire Department
Stations. The then Sedona Fire Inspector directed me to a couple ex-firefighters at which point
I started to hit pay dirt. I actually found a firefighter that not only remembered a notable fire
at the Ridge but actually responded to it! Boy did this guy have an amazing memory! However,
was it the right location and date? More investigation was needed.
The Story- as told by a Sedona Fireman
In the pre-dawn darkness, residents of the V.O.C., in Red Rock Country, are awakened by the
chilling sound of mournful sirens wailing into the night. As an ominous orange glow grows in
the sky over the Village, the red flashing lights of Sedona fire engines are seen navigating their
way across the valley, around and behind massive red rock monoliths, searching for the urgent
Yes, the Sedona Fireman, Capt. Denny Mandeville who responded to the call did remember the
fire. As he remembered, (to paraphrase) "it was at the "Ridge" near Rancho Rojo Estates in a
large home on a hill. A long time ago," he related, "don't know if I can help you with the
details. No, it wasn't around New Year's, perhaps, later in the year? We responded to a call in
early morning from Sedona and the Village of Oak Creek- two stations. The guy who called in
the fire gave poor directions he told us to turn at a certain person's house, saying, 'everyone
knows the place.' It turned out once we were underway no one knew who or where he was
talking about! Finally, after more directions, we found the area. It was in the dark. I couldn't
find the house again on a bet. When we got there we assessed the fire. We started up the
staircase but about halfway up we were confronted with heat so intense we had to back out. By
that time the other Fire Department crew arrived and set up floodlights. The fire was so hot
that it was melting the pitch out of the open-beamed timbered ceilings. Pitch was dripping on
the floors. The fire had moved from the kitchen up the electrical "J' box up into the bathroom
upstairs. The upstairs walls were studded but not finished."
"No it did not burn down, I do not recall any fire in Sedona where the house was not saved
during that time period. Mandeville indicated that someone was trying to spray down the
ceilings. Either way he knew the time of the year was not New Year's as by the time they were
finished he said they were in their shirt sleeves and the weather was mild. As they mopped up,
night became dawn. He said he didn't remember the cause being mysterious at all but electrical
in nature. The house was owned by a single young male, at least he remembered it that way. He
said he felt the time period was around 1982 or 1983, not 1979 or 1980. Later, after the fire,
they found out it was a Helen Frye property, and associated with a Eckankar.
I thanked him for his terrific memory and left. The next day I decided to give the Red Rock
News another try researching later in the year from New Year's and earlier. Finally after two
hours I hit gold! There was the article on the front page of the Red Rock News describing
almost exactly what the fireman had told me and he was actually mentioned in the article! This
guy was amazing. It was the same fire I was looking for- the names proved it. Mandeville is one
of the Sedona Fire Department's finest without a doubt!
Sky Fires- Not to be Re-claimed!
An unfinished home- an escape from a life and 40-years of memories at the Frye Ranch out at
Red Rock Crossing. Helen Frye created such beauty, yet the same was viciously snatched away
from her in the end, in regard to her Sedona holdings. Ironically, this incomplete Frye project
suffered a fate of destruction by fire and then passed into oblivion. Seems justified, in regard to
the overall story and parties involved. Perhaps in the end it was Helen Frye herself who guided
the demise of Sky Fires; a house in which she bestowed so much love and attention. This to
insure her last project was not unjustly reclaimed by an usurper. Before Helen died she was
hounded to complete Sky Fires and transfer title to the property. She refused to "hand it over"!
Sky Fires would remain hers until it became ashes- the Sedona winds scattered it back to dust.
Above is the corner of Bent Tree Drive and Heritage Circle in the Village of Oak Creek. To the
right are the adjoining greens to the south which connect this area with the Ridge and the
clubhouse area. It seems that the Frye property likely was higher than the homes to the left, as
they actually rest considerably lower than the neighboring elevation of the Ridge. The Helen
Frye house was said to have sat on the highest elevation of the area overlooking the Village.
Currently in 2010, the location of Sky Fires is as
elusive as old photos of the dwelling.
The Photograph of the Village of Oak Creek
Which Encompassed the World Via TWA
Little known fact is that Jack and Helen Frye were promoting Big Park (original name of the
Village of Oak Creek) way back in 1941. Before there was even a village (community) and the
valley consisted of merely a few small ranches. Certainly long before the current residents of
the Village of Oak Creek ever dreamed of building fabulous vacation homes across the Mesa
and into Jack’s Canyon (no connection with the Fryes). In the summer and fall of 1941, Jack
and Helen Frye rode their horses and traveled the outback, and also flew their private plane
extensively over this area and the Red Rock Country.
This is evidenced by a very famous photo Jack Frye captured of “Big Park” as shown above.
Frye had this stunning color panorama printed on a TWA calendar which was circulated across
the United States. Later the Fryes used this image on their yearly Christmas Cards, caption
read: “Scene near the Frye Ranch”. The caption was indeed true as this image was taken just a
stone’s throw from the 700-acre Frye Ranch which can still be seen today from the Village of
Oak Creek, off the end of Verde Valley School Road. (The photo was taken closer to what is
now known as "The Ridge" at the Village.)
The image was used for years in a series of TWA’s most circulated color post cards, later still,
the same image was used in a glossy TWA promotional poster of the early 1950’s featuring the
new Constellation airliner cross-country passenger service. A Village of Oak Creek photo that
started with Jack and Helen Frye, which literally flew around the world, generating an untold
amount of publicity for the region for 50-some years! An panorama that has been familiar to
TWA passengers around the world for decades. Remarkably, one of the first times I examined it
was after I received it from a TWA fan in Paris! All thanks to a love affair Jack and Helen Frye
initiated with Sedona, in 1941, and a photograph that turned out to be extremely marketable!
When the image appeared on a calendar of Transcontinental & Western Air, Inc., it was widely
noticed nationwide. This, because one, most people didn’t even know where Sedona or the
Village of Oak Creek (Big Park) was in 1942, and secondly, those who did were bowled over by
the Frye’s promotion of the region, and how they knew this would help the local Arizona
economy. A plug from TWA was quite a compliment to Flagstaff and Big Park in 1942! After
discovering the Oak Creek Canyon area in the spring of 1941 and buying up vast parcels of
land which became the massive Frye Ranch (now a small portion as Red Rock State Park) Jack
and Helen were enthralled with the area and shared the discovery with all their friends. Even
before this Jack Frye knew Arizona better than most state residents, as he himself started the
first passenger service for the State of Arizona in 1927, even to the point of flying the first load
of passengers and air mail! For years, Frye tirelessly promoted his “adopted” state in speeches,
through his air line, and was responsible for an untold amount of tourism revenue and new
celebrity homes; many who moved here were personal Hollywood friends.
In September of 1942 we find a letter from the Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce commending
Frye for mentioning the lower Oak Creek Canyon area through TWA publicity.
Mr. Jack Frye
President, Transcontinental and Western Air, Inc.
Kansas City, MO.
December 16, 1941
Dear Mr. Frye:
"The beautiful reproduction of Oak Creek Canyon on your 1942 calendar is quite a sensation,
especially to those who have not had the pleasure of seeing the canyon. Many are already
asking, 'where such a beautiful spot could be?'
It is gratifying to us that Big Park should appear on so widely a spread piece of advertising, as
your T.W.A. calendar, and we are proud indeed to hang the calendar where all may see and
Weather is unbelievably fine now, especially where your ranch is in Oak Creek. And we are
anxiously awaiting snow for Christmas!
With Cordial Season’s Greetings and All Good Wishes
and a Hearty Welcome “home” when you can come!"
Secretary, Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce
From the Press-
"The Coconino Sun was among the fortunate
business places to receive a copy of the
calendar. Jack Frye, president of TWA,
recently purchased a ranch in lower Oak Creek
and it is probable that he is responsible for the
picture on the calendar."
I do not like to reproduce copyrighted material on this website but in this case I am sure that
the Coconino Sun would have no issue with the above notation regarding Frye. Unfortunately, I
do not have a copy of the (said) calendar but I will post such when it can be located. TWA post
cards advertising the glamour of world air travel with TWA can be found prominently displayed
on Patrick Chateau's TWA Paris CDG Charles de Gaulle Airport Website, here and here.
Famous TWA Post Card
Along the way of TWA
A piece appeared conjointly in the Flagstaff Coconino Sun newspaper which stated as follows:
TWA Features Oak Creek Scene On Calendar
"Business houses in Flagstaff who were fortunate enough to receive a 1942 calendar from TWA
airlines this week were happy to note that the lower portion of the calendar is a colored
photograph of Big Park in lower Oak Creek Canyon. Since TWA is a direct air line from New
York to Los Angeles, this type of free publicity is welcomed by residents of Northern Arizona."
From 1941 to 2011- 70 years of change- Legacy of Frye @ Sedona
Just for fun, I captured this Village of Oak Creek and Highway 179 image from as close as
possible to the location where the Fryes likely snapped their Christmas Card photo in 1941.
Because of the many changes in the Village, with roads, buildings, and private property, etc.,
this is the best angle I can arrive at. Man has altered the landscape but the background of
monoliths as created in nature's majesty have thankfully remained unscathed. So, in the spirit
of this quest in recapturing an imprint of Sedona, I bid you "Season's Greetings from Jack and
Helen Frye" 1941-2011. "Happy New Year and I hope your Sedona experience is unsurpassed!"
Please click on any image for an enlargement.
of an elite
group of very