Meet Mary Jane Colter, American Architect and Designer

One of America’s few female architects during the early 20th C, Mary Jane Colter made her mark designing buildings within Grand Canyon National Park. Hired by the Fred Harvey Company in 1910, Ms Colter was chief architect and decorator, and remained with the Harvey House Hotels and Restaurants until retirement in 1948.

Mary Colter (right) discussing Bright Angel Lodge plans with Grand Canyon Nat. Park Sup't Minor R.
Tillotson and Mrs. Harold Ickes (wife of the Secretary of the Interior).
Grand Canyon National Park Museum Collection # 16942
From the Alvina Zimmerman Collection – Circa 1935

In 1987 six of Ms Colter’s designed buildings in Grand Canyon National Park were added to The National Register of Historic Landmarks. Hopi House (built in 1905), Hermits Rest (1914), Lookout Studio (1914), Phantom Ranch (1922), Desert View Watch Tower (1932) and Bright Angel Lodge (1935) were constructed using authentic materials and are referred to as “National Park Rustic.”

Incorporated into Colter’s design and construction of Bright Angel Lodge is the “Geological Fireplace.” The rocks are arranged in the same order as the geologic strata along the Bright Angel trail that descends from the Grand Canyon rim to the Colorado River.

The Hopi House resembles Pueblos in the Hopi Village of Oraibi, while the Desert View Watch Tower resembles the watch towers of ancient Pueblo People.

Mary Jane Colter also designed renovations of the Painted Desert Inn in the Petrified Forest National Park, and she designed the Harvey House Restaurant in the Los Angeles Union Station. Colter considers the last great railroad hotel in America, The La Posada Hotel in Winslow Arizona, “her masterpiece.” The La Posada, “the resting place,” and the adjacent former Santa Fe Railway Station were restored to its historic prominence by Allan Affeldt, and his wife Tina. The La Posada Historic District is listed on the National Register.

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