La Posada Hotel, the “last great railroad hotel,” offers a unique cultural experience for Southwest travelers. Built in 1929 for the Santa Fe Railway, La Posada is truly one of America’s treasures.
La Posada embodies the visions of both Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter, the hotel’s renowned architect, and Allan Affeldt, its current owner. But the story really begins with Fred Harvey, who “civilized the west” by introducing linen, silverware, china, crystal, and impeccable service to railroad travel. (He was so legendary that MGM made a movie called The Harvey Girls starring Judy Garland.) Harvey developed and ran all the hotels and restaurants of the Santa Fe Railway, eventually controlling a hospitality empire that spanned the continent.
In the 1920s, Harvey decided to build a major hotel in the center of northern Arizona. “La Posada”—the Resting Place—was to be the finest in the Southwest. Construction costs alone exceeded $1 million in 1929. Total budget with grounds and furnishings was rumored at $2 million (about $40 million in today’s dollars). They chose Winslow, then (as now) the Arizona headquarters for the Santa Fe Railway. Winslow was ideally situated for a resort hotel since everything to see and do in northern Arizona is a comfortable day’s drive. They asked Colter to design the new hotel.
Colter worked for the Fred Harvey Company from 1905 until her retirement in the 1950s. Although famous for her magnificent buildings at the Grand Canyon, she considered La Posada her masterpiece. Here she was able to design or select everything from the structures to the landscape, furniture, maids’ costumes, and dinner china. Many people consider this the most important and most beautiful building in the Southwest.
La Posada has intrigued many writers and filmmakers. Virginia Grattan’s Mary Colter: Builder on the Red Earth devotes an entire chapter to La Posada, Colter’s favorite building. Preservation Magazine did a great cover story on Colter and La Posada in July / August 1997. PBS aired a prime-time 90-minute special on Colter’s life during 1999. Two other recent films feature very good historic footage of La Posada: House Made of Dawn and The Desert View. Check our gift shop for these books and films.