Mary Colter: Designs on the Canyon

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When it was over, she returned home to teach.

Who Is Mary Colter?

Later, the company began working at the Grand Canyon and hired her to design the Hopi House on the south rim, next to the grand El Tovar Hotel. Again, she came back to St. Paul when the job was over. In , she got a permanent job with Fred Harvey, designing and decorating new hotels, restaurants and stations.

Park rangers and workers at the canyon also include references to her in talks and presentations. He might have gone on longer, too; he seemed so happy that someone had asked.

6 Iconic Grand Canyon Buildings Designed by Mary Colter

He meant this not only in reference to her place in the architectural world, but even more so in her habit of perfectionism. There, Fay said, Colter took great pains to make the fireplace look old and used, going so far as to place cobwebs and rub soot on the newly placed rocks. Usually on site while her buildings were going up, she once left for a while and returned to find a rock — in the middle of a wall — not to her liking. It had to be replaced, even though it required taking down 4 feet of rocks to get to it.

Women architects were rare in those days, and the state of Arizona at the time required a man to sign off on building designs, Fay said. So in at least one case, she drew up a building design and had one of the workmen sign the paperwork. The Grand Canyon was, after all, the terminus of the rail line.

With this in mind, Harvey hired Colter as the interior decorator for the El Tovar Hotel, which he envisioned as the grand lodge at the end of the road.

Meet Mary Colter, the architect who conjured the romance of the American West

Colter quickly became more than just an interior designer, however, and was soon promoted to Chief Architect and Decorator. Using local materials to create rustic buildings in the Southwestern style, she built many of her most unique structures along the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.

Colter used all of these design elements to bring the feel and comfort of a Swiss style lodge to hotel guests. It was built as a place to sell Indian artwork, and Colter designed the building to resemble a Hopi dwelling. She enlisted the help of Hopi artists from nearby villages to help build the structure, and used the buildings as a means introduce Indian country to visitors.

Hopi House, 1904

The American Indian handicraft store is still open today, and is the largest gift store at the Grand Canyon. Upstairs, visitors will find an American Indian Art Gallery. Also notice the images of Navajo rugs painted onto the floor. Although the original rugs and floorboards had to be replaced, the paintings help maintain the atmosphere that Colter created.

Many historic Grand Canyon buildings were designed by St. Paul’s Mary Colter

Lookout Studio Perched on edge of the South Rim, Lookout Studio was designed as a place where visitors could relax and enjoy the sweeping views of the canyon. Located just a short walk west of Bright Angel Lodge Grand Canyon Village, the studio provided a place where visitors could take photographs and use telescopes to observe the natural beauty of the Grand Canyon. Hell, Paul Simon even wrote a song about F. She was a highly regarded architect during an era when there were very few women doing the work.

Mary Jane Colter

There is an observation deck on the upper floors that gives visitors access to vistas of the eastern regions of the canyon, and a gift shop is located on the bottom level. There was a serious vandalism incident at the tower in when a tourist was caught defacing with white-out and a marker a sign that Mary Colter herself had painted. Murals in the tower were painted by Fred Kobotie, a Hopi artist. If you are looking for an interesting place to stay in or around Winslow, Arizona, I recommend the La Posada hotel, that Mary Colter designed in and she called her masterpiece.