In January 1929, the Santa Fe Railway announced that Mary Jane Colter would design and build the newest Fred Harvey House in the town of Winslow.
As with earlier designs, Colter conjured up a story to help her imagine the structure. Her tale was that of a Spanish Don who builds a cattle ranch and home. As the home is passed through the generations, new wings are added to finally create a grand hacienda. The family fortune is eventually lost and they relinquish the ranch to the Harvey Company who promise to maintain the proud estate.
For its time, the building was very modern. Cast in concrete, La Posada’s walls are approximately 20 inches thick to minimize the sounds of the trains. The layout of the space is open, with broad arches from the ballroom to the library to the lobby to the foyer. Colter also was responsible for all the interiors, designed or hand-selected all the furniture, the china and the maid’s costumes. The only landscape plan she ever designed was for La Posada
When it opened in May 1930, it was hailed as an artistic achievement, and also chided for going $1.5 million over budget.
La Posada guests would soon include the rich and famous. Over the years Albert Einstein, John Wayne, Clark Gable, Bob Hope, Jane Russell, and Shirley Temple stayed at the lodge. It became a favorite hideaway for Charles Lindberg, who designed the Winslow airport, and Howard Hughes.
In addition to providing meals for La Posada guests, Fred Harvey also ran “Indian Detours.” Tourists (or “dudes”) were invited to climb aboard a “Harvey Car’ and head out to explore the wild west. The tours traveled south to the Mogollon Rim, north to the Grand Canyon, to Monument Valley and Canyon de Chelly, to the Hopi reservation and Navajo reservations. One detour destination took guests to the edge of Meteor Crater.
As the country slipped in the Great Depression in the 1930s, fewer travelers were on Northern Arizona roads. Those who did make th journey traveled more by car.
The days of rail passengers coming to La Posada were gone. Finally by 1957, the building was closed. Santa Fe Rail tried to sell it but no one was interested. Since they couldn’t sell it, they converted it to their Arizona headquarters. The once heralded artistic achievement was relegated to dropped ceilings, fluorescent lighting and linoleum tile. But La Posada still had its admirers.
Two Winslow residents, Marie LaMar and Janice Griffith, joined forces to prevent the building from facing the fate of other railroad buildings — demolition. Their efforts eventually led to the city being awarded federal funds to purchase and begin restoring the building. Now, the group only needed to raise the matching funds, an estimated $11.5 million, to complete the restoration. That would soon become a reality with the help of Allan Affeldt, a graduate student from California, who noticed La Posada on a National Trust for Historic Preservation list of endangered buildings.
Over the next several years, Affeldt advised the Winslow group, then eventually took on the task himself. In 1997, Affeldt and his wife, artist Tina Mion, became owners of La Posada.
After years of renovation, La Posada is again a very well known and beloved building.