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An architectural national treasure in Arizona

Something about Mary Coulter and the Harvey Hotels stuck in my mind, after I read about her in the National Trust for Historic Preservation magazine. Coulter was one of the first important female architects, and much of her work for the Fred Harvey Co., promoter of the American Southwest, still remains. During a four-day trip to Arizona, I stayed in one of her most famous hotels, La Posada in Winslow.In 1902, Coulter was hired to help construct a commercial site along the railroad’s Chicago-to-Los-Angeles route. She eventually became the company’s house architect, designing several unique buildings in the Grand Canyon and other hotels along the railroad’s route. La Posada was her only complete commission: she designed everything from the building and the gardens to the china used in the restaurant.Opened in 1930, La Posada is built in the Spanish Colonial Revival style: stucco walls, soaring archways, intricate tile work, wrought-iron balconies and sprawling gardens. As part of all her building designs, Coulter constructed a fantasy history to help her make the process more authentic and organic. In her fantasy for La Posada, the building was the family estate of a Spanish Basque don, built in the early 1800s and enlarged over the years to accommodate a growing family.The hotel flourished as an elegant stop for wealthy rail travelers until the early 1950s, when the automobile replaced the railroad and Route 66 came through Winslow. The hotel was closed in 1959, and most of its contents were auctioned off. Many of the hotels were razed during this period, but La Posada was turned into an office building for the Santa Fe.In 1993, its present owner, Allan Affeldt, with the help of Winslow-area preservationists, raised the capital necessary to buy and restore La Posada.We were overwhelmed by the space, color and light in the hotel. Our 24 hours at La Posada was much too short to explore all of the art on the walls and in the public rooms, read any of the more than 2,000 books in the hotel’s library or sample anything but a fraction of the excellent food in the hotel’s restaurant, the Turquoise Room.The first floor of the hotel is dominated by several large public rooms, featuring historic furnishings and art from the original hotel, original murals and newly commissioned pieces, including New Mexican tin work and paintings by Affeldt’s wife, Tina Mion. Mion’s brother is reproducing much of the original furniture that was sold at an auction in the 1950s.Almost 40 of the hotel’s original 74 rooms have been restored, and each is named after a famous visitor – we stayed in the Anne Morrow Lindburgh room. When we checked in, we received a 16-page booklet guiding us through a walking tour of the hotel. In one small room on the first floor, a video narrated by Affeldt runs continuously, describing the history and restoration process.Although we ate up all the history (and two delicious meals at the Turquoise Room), we had to leave after only one night’s stay.It’s worth a return trip. The hotel does a great job of meeting its objective, which, according to one of the brochure’s, is “not to have a hotel but to save a national treasure.”

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