Winslow’s La Posada Hotel
- A Trip Back to the Fred Harvey Era in the Southwest
                                           November, 1998

[article published in the Albuquerque Journal, Travel Section, 1999]

"Wow!," I murmured in awe as I walked into the lobby of La Posada Hotel in Winslow, Arizona.  I had previously seen this classic Fred Harvey Railroad hotel in the summer of 1995, but only from the outside.  At that time, Southwest Institute lecturer Dave Kammer had stirred his ‘students’ with his telling of the role of the Fred Harvey Company in popularizing the southwest, the Harvey Girls, the tremendous hotels Harvey built for the Santa Fe Railroad, and Mary Colter, the exceptional and talented woman who designed or decorated many of them (see box). The building was locked, so we could only peer into the windows and imagine what once was. Then, in April, 1998, returning from Phoenix with two friends, I told them about this building in Winslow they had to see. Pulling into the parking lot, we saw a neon OPEN sign, tried the front door, found it really to be open, and went in.

A long arched hallway, with a polished, dark rock floor and intricate tin-worked light fixtures, artwork and old photographs
on the wall, led to the main lobby. Here, beamed ceilings, Spanish colonial furnishings, soft lights, and ancient choral music
emanating from some unseen source heightened our sense of awe. No one was around, but we had picked up brochures at the front door telling us that the hotel was in the process of being restored and had some rooms available for guests.

Emboldened, like Goldilocks, we crept upstairs and found the guest rooms, locked but labeled:   The Howard Hughes
Hideaway, The Clark Gable Sleeping Quarters, The John Wayne Room, The Carole Lombard Room (she spent her last night
there!), The Anne Morrow Lindbergh Ugly Lamp Room! And more rooms dedicated to famous patrons: Jane Russell, Will
Rogers, Bob Hope, Dorothy Lamour (was there a Road to Winslow?), and others I’ll leave for the reader to discover. Wow!
again. We had been transported back in time to the 30s and 40s and the company of legends. The feeling was indescribable.
We left, vowing to return, and two of us vowed to bring our book club here on a ‘field trip.’

We made that trip in October and I recommend it to readers.  Anyone wanting a glimpse into the Southwest that once was
should see and stay in La Posada of Winslow.  Owner-managers Allan Affeldt and Tina Mion now have 18 rooms open, plan to add a restaurant this winter, and will eventually expand to 50 guest rooms.  Once La Posada reaches its planned ‘resort’
status, prices will be considerably higher, so go soon – and go again, later.  For a real treat, arrive the way that many of the
legends did:  take the train.  Amtrak can take you right to the front door.  A local auto dealer rents cars so that you can tour
attractions in the area during your stay.

The La Posada opened in 1930.  The masterpiece of Mary Colter’s career (she started with the Harvey company in 1902 and
retired, to Santa Fe, in 1949) was built as a great Spanish hacienda – as an estate that evolved over many generations and
thus was designed and furnished in a way that smoothly incorporated a variety of styles and periods – at a cost of
approximately two million dollars.  (A Harvey executive told Colter, "I hope income exceeds estimates as much as your
costs did,"  brave words following the 1929 stock market crash.)   It closed in 1957 and its furnishings were auctioned in
Albuquerque in 1959.  (Affeldt suspects many items are still in Albuquerque and would be interested in tracking them down
– to buy or copy; furniture copies are being made on-site, much as Mary Colter had done.)

However, the building was not abandoned. Part of it was occupied by Santa Fe Railroad offices.  That occupancy, though it
damaged some of the original interior, and the building’s exceptionally solid construction kept it from the sort of
deterioration that doomed many other Harvey hotels such as the Alvarado in Albuquerque.  Then, in the mid-90s, the
Railroad announced plans to close its offices, taking some 500 jobs away from Winslow and threatening not only the
existence of the hotel – the heart of the community -- but also the town’s livelihood.

To the rescue came Allan Affeldt and his wife, Tina Mion.   Affeldt, described in an Arizona Republic article as an
international peace activist, and also the head of a California architect firm, had seen the La Posada on a list of endangered
historical buildings, investigated and concluded that the building not only should, but could be restored and transformed into
a profitable enterprise.  With the help of a government grant, he bought the building and began its restoration.  The Railroad
changed its decision and will remain as a tenant of the east wing of the building. Long-range plans include the development
of a museum as another occupant and attraction.

Guest rooms are appointed hacienda style, augmented by Navajo and Hopi touches. (There are many religious decorations in the building, both Spanish and Indian, and some attribute the continued existence of the building to a consortium of divine
forces.) Original black and white tile remains in the bathrooms – the fact that most every room had its own bathroom stamps
this as a luxury hotel for the 1930s! In addition to the various period pieces, including full suits of armor, the lobby and
hallways are a showplace for Tina Mion’s dramatic paintings of U. S. First Ladies. A previous collection of President
paintings is now on tour, but you can see and buy a poster of that series.  Mion’s work alone is worth its own write-up and
your visit.

A continental breakfast is served in the exquisite Cinderblock Court that connects two wings of the building and there is a
large ballroom with fireplace that makes for an excellent gathering place. Several well-stocked bookcases and a magazine
room, plus several nooks in which to curl up, beckon the bibliophile. Outside, a large porch and lawn front the railroad
tracks and the long brick promenade where passengers embark and disembark. Some 90 freight trains a day pass through
Winslow, so plan to be either lulled or disturbed as you sleep by the clickety-clack of the railroad track. The property
covers 18 acres, adorned with large cottonwood trees and a newly re-landscaped sunken garden.

Your friendly hosts, Allan and Tina, can tell you many interesting facts about La Posada and Mary Colter. Their love for the
building and respect for its creator are obvious and contagious. Your visit will be enhanced by some background reading,
such as: Mary Colter, Builder Upon the Red Earth, by Virginia Grattan, and Inventing the Southwest, by Kathleen Howard and Diana Pardue.

 Robert G. Easterling

Epilogue:  November 2000

This past weekend, Susie and I and six other couples went to Winslow to stay at La Posada (for those new to the LTBC or forgetful: site of a memorable field trip two years ago; this had been in the works several weeks and came together, unfortunately, same weekend as LTBC Taos trip).  Twelve of us traveled by Amtrak.  We went over Friday evening, home Sunday morning.  Breakfast in the dining car -- really nice!  Splashes of fall color in the arroyos, great vistas from the observation car.

Had a great time.  Restaurant recently opened, run by chef that Allan recruited from CA.  Really a top-notch 4-star? - restaurant.  Great menu, great food.  Hope it can get enough business to survive.  We ate three meals there on Saturday, didn't have to trek to Casa Blanca.

Tina has several new first lady paintings and gave us a tour and discussion Sat. pm.  I got her to bring out her Jackie O painting.  So moving.  Allan gave us talk and tour.  Renovations continuing.  Plans under way to open a museum.  He says place is close to paying its way.

Sat. night we had Halloween party -- folks dressed up according to their room's name -- Gary Cooper, Carol Lombard, Clark Gable, ...  We were in Shirley Temple room.  That's all you need or I'm sure would want to know.

Anyhow, thought you'd like to know about the continued status of La Posada.  Stop for a meal, if nothing else, if you get the chance.  The other six couples were thrilled to have discovered this gem.


Robert G. Easterling
Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter, born in 1869, grew up in St. Paul where, as a high school student, she became interested in 
Indian art.  She studied art in San Francisco, taught art, and was hired in the summer of 1902 by the Fred Harvey Company to decorate the Indian Building adjacent to Albuquerque’s Alvarado Hotel.  Hired full-time by the Harvey Company and  the Santa Fe Railroad in 1910, she was either decorator or architect and decorator of many Grand Canyon buildings as well as railroad hotels and train station rooms over a career that lasted until 1949.  Her buildings were notable – and ahead of the times  – for the way in which they fit into their surroundings and represented their cultural environments.  When the Harvey Company bought and remodeled La Fonda Hotel in Santa Fe in 1925, she was its decorator and her last project was to decorate La Cantinata in the La Fonda in 1949.  She was a perfectionist and La Posada best reflects her drive and talent. 

Over her career, she amassed considerable collections of Indian art and jewelry which she donated to Mesa Verde National Park.  When La Posada, "the most beautiful and best loved of all her buildings," was closed and El Navajo in Gallup was torn down, both in 1957, she sadly remarked, "There’s such a thing as living too long."  Mary Colter died in January, 1958 at the age of 88. 

Source: Mary Colter, Builder Upon the Red Earth, by Virginia Grattan. 
 Published on the Web:  3 March 1999
Updated with Epilogue:  5 November 2000
Last Updated:  2 March 2001
Last modified:  24 October 2006

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