Thursday, February 12, 2009

Mary Colter's Gem

Along with the railroad, I believe it was the hospitality industry that opened the West.

And much of that credit goes to Fred Harvey—and Mary Colter. Harvey had noticed that lunchrooms serving rail passengers were deplorable. He convinced the Atchison, Topeka, & Santa Fe Railroad to hire him to build a network of restaurants along the railroad line.

The first Harvey House Restaurant opened in the Topeka, Kansas Santa Fe Depot Station in 1876. By the late 1880's, there was a Harvey establishment every one hundred miles along the Santa Fe line. At its peak, there were 84 Harvey Houses.

He also began hiring women, and being one of the “Harvey Girls” became a much-sought-after job.

Fred Harvey died in 1901, but his company hired architect Mary Colter in 1903 to design landmark hotels in Santa Fe and Gallup, New Mexico; Winslow, Arizona; and at the South Rim (Bright Angel Lodge) and at the bottom of the Grand Canyon (Phantom Ranch) in the 1910s and 1920s. She completed some 21 projects for the Harvey Company and was to become America’s most influential woman architect.

For the La Posada Harvey House Hotel in Winslow, she was allowed to design, for the first time, everything from the buildings to the gardens. This was to be the last hotel built in the famous Harvey hotel and restaurant chain. It opened in 1930, at the start of the Great Depression, and never prospered.

It closed in 1957. All the museum-quality furnishings were auctioned off. The hotel was gutted and converted to an acoustic-ceiling, glass-partitioned series of office cubicles.

Seeing this happen to her beloved hotel prompted Colter to say, “Now I know there is such a thing as living too long.” She died shortly thereafter.

Enter Allan Affeldt. In 1993, the La Posada was about to be “disposed of” when Affeldt entered into negotiations with Santa Fe to buy the hotel. He and his wife, Tina Mion, believed in “the sacredness of place and in the power of great architecture to inspire creativity, kindness, and civic responsibility.”

Affeldt has been able to obtain some of the original furniture from those who purchased the articles at the auction.

Photo 1: The original front entrance. It faced the railroad tracks.
Photo 2: The walkway from the depot to the front entrance.
Photo 3: Formerly the back of the hotel; now the front entrance.

Photo 4: The entryway with the registration desk to the left.
Photo 5: The Sculpture Hall connects the lobby to the west wing and overlooks the Sunken garden.
Photo 6: The Ballroom. Now a quiet place for reading, playing chess, or conversing.

Photo 7: The Ballroom. This piano was obtained from MGM studios. It is one-of-a-kind.
Photo 8: The Ballroom. Note the archways in this photograph. No doors separate rooms. The archways vary in shape and size and are designed to provide sight lines that are lengthy, but also hide a bit of the space through them. The type of flooring--tile, wood, stone--would change as you passed through the arches to indicate a different space.
Photo 9: The Fred Harvey Private Dining Room.

We spent a considerable amount of time sitting in both large and small spaces admiring the restoration work of Allan Affeldt, his wife, Tina, and the team of skilled craftsmen and women.


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