Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Beauty in the Desert

The Painted Desert Inn, also called the Stone Tree House because petrified wood and other native stone were used in its construction, was built by Herbert David Lore on a high point overlooking the Painted Desert in 1924. Lore operated the inn as a tourist attraction, a lunch room, a bar, and a shop for Native American crafts for nearly twelve years.

In 1935, the Petrified Forest National Monument purchased the Stone Tree House and four sections of land from Lore. The Civilian Conservation Core, as part of its public works program, remodeled and stabilized the house. Guest rooms, a new entryway, a dining room and a shaded porch were added to the original structure, as well as stained glass ceiling panels (shown in photo), hammered tin chandeliers, and hand-carved furniture.

However, their efforts covered the buildings original petrified-wood walls (an exposed portion is shown in the photo) with stucco. Upon completion in 1940, the 28-room Inn became a hit with travelers. However, because of World War II, it closed in 1942, but reopened in 1947.

In the same year, it was transferred to the Fred Harvey Company. The company's architect, Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter, completed renovations and repairs, including a new color scheme. The "Colter Blue" is shown in the lower level entryway.

She had Fred Kabotie, a famous Hopi artist paint murals depicting his culture on the walls of the dining room and lunchroom.

One mural depicted the coming of age journey of the Hopi to the sacred Zuni salt lake.

Kabotie’s murals may have helped save the Inn, which had severe structural problems caused by the expansion and contraction of the clay underneath. When it was threatened with demolition in the 1960s, preservationists cited the value of Kabotie’s art as they called for protecting the building.

Eventually structural damage began to occur. After its closure in 1963, a debate on its future took place. A concerned public prevented its demolition in 1975. In 1976, it was reopened as the Petrified Forest National Park Bicentennial Travel Center. In 1987, it was declared a National Historic Landmark. After 18 months of reconstruction, it was reopened as a museum and souvenir store in May 2006.

Even though Route 66 does not bring guests to the Inn, there may be plans to open some guest rooms. We certainly hope so.

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