When we began our RV lifestyle we decided that gifts for special occasions would be experiences rather than “stuff”. Continuing on with this trend for our third Christmas on the road we celebrated by having dinner at the La Posada Hotel in Winslow, Arizona, http://www.laposada.org. It was, for us, a very big splurge. Was it worth it? You bet. The hotel and the Turquoise Room restaurant are beautiful any time of the year but no better time than when decked out in holiday finery. Joining us were fellow RV volunteers, Carolyn and Ed.
Steve and I have become very interested in the story about the Harvey House Hotels, the Harvey girls and Mary Jane Colter through our studies at Petrified Forest National Park. The Painted Desert Inn, now a National Historic Landmark, was managed by the Fred Harvey Company following WWII. During the renovation, Colter, their lead architect brightened the interior, put in picture windows and had Fred Kabotie paint several murals. Very few of the Harvey House buildings remain today. You can read the Fred Harvey Story in “Appetite For America: Fred Harvey and the Business of Civilizing the Wild West- One Meal At A Time” by Stephen Fried. Who knows, maybe you’ll become a Fredhead too!
La Posada like so many historical properties went from riches to rags and was restored to its former glory. Briefly, here is the story. When Fred Harvey (1835-1901) left Liverpool, England at age 15 little could he imagine that people would still be talking about him more than one hundred years after his death. He started in the restaurant business as a dishwasher. He spent every minute learning from chefs, owners and workers. He wanted to create fine hotels and restaurants in the American West. Working with the Santa Fe Railroad he built a chain of hotels and restaurants in towns along the tracks. Known for excellent food, top drawer service and beautiful decor Harvey Houses became destinations themselves. He was one of the first employers to use women as trained servers. The Harvey Girls had to be single, have an eighth grade education, be of good moral character and commit to at least a year contract. They could not marry while employed, were known for their crisp black and white uniforms and lived in company housing with curfews. Like the hotels, being a Harvey Girl became a desired career. After Fred Harvey’s death the company was run by his sons. They expanded into working with the National Parks.
It was during this period that they employed Mary Jane Colter (1869-1958), first as an interior designer then as architect. Some of her best known work is at the Grand Canyon National Park. She designed La Posada as if it were the grand hacienda of a wealthy family of Spanish heritage. It was the jewel in the Harvey House crown. Following WWII Americans turned away from railroads as a means of travel in favor of improved roads and airplanes. La Posada closed as a hotel in 1957. The furnishings and decor items were auctioned off. The building was repurposed as office space for the railroad and a medical clinic. Fast forward to 1997 when two new owners with a vision purchased the building and sixteen acres of land. Gradually they have restored this grand hotel into a destination once again. If you find yourself traveling along I-40 be sure and stop. Watch the documentary about the restoration. Eat in the restaurant. Stay the night. Rooms are very competitively priced. Traveling with a dog? No problem. Lots of dogs bring their owners here.
Until you can enjoy this gem for yourself here are a few pictures from our visit. It was too late by the time we finished eating to go “Stand on the Corner” but yes, this is the same Winslow memorialized in the Eagles song.