In the heart of Winslow, Arizona (famous for its corner and flat-bed Fords) is a grand old dowager. She reclines upon the desert scrub-land, and puts one in mind of simpler times. More elegant times. With her tan stucco walls and red terra cotta tiled roof, her low walls and desert gardens, she seems timeless. This is one matron, though, who has lost none of her former vigor.
This is La Posada Hotel and Gardens, first opened in 1930. It was one of the jewels in the glittering string of railways hotels and restaurants along the Santa Fe Railroad, built and operated by one Fred Harvey. Harvey, who was said to have “Civilized the West,” was credited with introducing a high class glamour to railway travel. He set his sights on Winslow, the Arizona headquarters (then, as now) of the Santa Fe Railway. With a budget rumored to be $2 million ($40 million today) this would be the “last and greatest railroad hotel built in America.”
Construction in the 1920s was overseen by chief architect and designer Mary Colter, Harvey’s long-time architect, known for her work on such landmark properties as the Phantom Ranch and El Tovar Hotel, both located at the Grand Canyon. Her seamless and evocative blending of Spanish and American Indian designs epitomizes the Southwest. Colter not only designed the hotel, but the railroad station it serviced. Allowed to design the landscaping, and choose the furniture, china, and even the maid’s uniforms, Colter considered La Posada to be her crowning achievement.
The timing of the hotel’s opening could not have been less fortuitous, however. La Posada opened just seven months after the fateful Stock Crash of 1929. This, combined with changes in the way people traveled, and the upheaval caused by World War II, the hotel managed to remain open for only 27 years, finally closing its door to guests in 1957.
After this, La Posada faced the same challenges as many grand structures have faced, having lost their original purpose. In the early 1960s, the furniture having been auctioned off, La Posada was gutted and converted into the offices for the Santa Fe Railway. The threat of demolition always loomed on the horizon, even up to 1994 when the railway finally announced plans to vacate the storied structure. Fortunately, thanks to the efforts of concerned citizens, La Posada was added to the endangered list of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, saving it from the fate of a tragic Miss Havisham.
This recognition brought the hotel to the attention of its current owners, husband and wife Allen Affeldt and Tina Mion. Through great legal and financial difficulty, they finally acquired the property and surrounding grounds in 1997. Through tireless efforts and assiduous research, they have managed to renew the former glory of this glittering jewel of the desert. From the lovely rooms (each named after one of the celebrities who once lodged there) to the famous restaurant and bar, to the lovingly tended gardens, La Posada has reclaimed its crown as the queen of the railway. So, the next time you’re traveling west on the Southwest Chief (Amtrak still stops at the La Posada Station) from Gallup, hop off at Winslow and see for yourself how La Posada lives up to its name “Resting Place.”