Historic Arizona Hotel Offers Peace, Memories and Time to Recharge

Posted By Mike Padgett

March 7, 2011

WINSLOW, Ariz. – The owner of this historic hotel in northern Arizona smiled as he and his dog passed me in the lobby. It was a little past sunrise. I was enjoying the ambiance of his charming La Posada Hotel. Opened in 1930, it was the last of the Fred Harvey Co. hotels built along the Santa Fe Railway.

I watched them walk away. When his standard poodle started trotting ahead, hotelier Allan Affeldt didn’t tug on the leash. “Heel,” he said softly. His dog paused for a half step.

Side by side, Affeldt and his dog turned left outside the lobby entrance, presumably headed for the front doors. It was a good morning for a man responsible for the rescue of a piece of Arizona history to walk with his dog.

A handcrafted iron gate greets visitors approaching La Posada Hotel’s front doors on the hotel’s north side. The hotel’s original entrance was on the south side of the building, facing the Santa Fe Railway tracks. Copyright photo by Mike Padgett

I turned my attention back to the sunlight filtering into the lobby. I was looking for the best photo angle. I had the new day to myself, except for the occasional sleepy guest homing in on the free coffee in the gift shop.

La Posada, inextricably linked to Arizona’s history, is one of those unique destinations I wish I’d discovered years earlier. I can recharge here. If only the walls could talk.

My Best Friend and I stop at La Posada for lunch or dinner each time we’re in the area. She pointed out the saying on a plaque on the hotel’s south doors: “Enter in Silence, Depart in Peace.”

The hotel, in the Spanish Colonial Revival design, also serves as the home of Affeldt and artist Tina Mion. They have furnished it with an eclectic collection of contemporary art, Spanish antiques and rustic furniture. They have even reacquired a few pieces of the hotel’s original furnishings.

Creations by local artists fill La Posada’s Sculpture Hall, which connects the lobby with the west wing. The staircase leads to the second floor of rooms. The halls of the guest room floors are decorated with handwoven rugs. Copyright photo by Mike Padgett

The hotel was designed by architect Mary Jane Colter for the Fred Harvey Co. Her other Arizona achievements include Bright Angel Lodge and the Desert View Watchtower, both at Grand Canyon.

La Posada opened in 1930 to serve Santa Fe Railway passengers. Although Colter designed other hotels in the Southwest for Harvey, La Posada became her favorite. She considered it her masterpiece. It became the last of the railroad hotels built by Santa Fe.

The 1930s became difficult years for railroads for two reasons: it was the Great Depression, and states began receiving more federal aid for the construction of roads. More roads were needed because Americans were buying more automobiles. More interest in automobiles translated into less business for railroads.

In the early 1940s, during World War II, business at La Posada and other Harvey hotels increased because the railroad passenger cars were packed with thousands of soldiers headed to war in the Pacific.

Proposed demolition

After the war, rail passenger traffic decreased again. In 1957, La Posada was closed, and its furnishings were auctioned in 1959. Two years later, the hotel was converted into Santa Fe Railway’s regional offices. Workers covered the hotel’s murals and beamed ceilings with drywall and acoustic ceiling tile.

Affeldt, after learning through the National Trust for Historic Preservation that the hotel faced demolition, first visited the property in 1993. In the spring of 1997, he bought La Posada from the railroad.  The first five of its room were ready for guests in November 1997. There are 45 rooms today. Two more are opening in about a week. By the end of the year, Affeldt says, the hotel will have all of its 51 rooms restored for use.

La Posada’s rooms are named after celebrities who stayed at the hotel. The guests have included Gary Cooper, Jimmy Stewart, John Wayne, Shirley Temple, Frank Sinatra, Howard Hughes, Clark Gable and Mary Pickford.

Other guests included Will Rogers, Albert Einstein, Charles and Anne (Morrow) Lindbergh, and Howard Hughes. Lindbergh designed the Winslow airport. Hughes owned the former Trans World Airline, which stopped regularly at Winslow.

Next to each room is a biography of the celebrity who visited La Posada. The biography lists their achievements, such as movies. John Wayne, whose name is on Room 202, appeared in many movies made in Arizona. Copyright photo by Mike Padgett

La Posada’s renaissance

The property’s rescue by Affeldt, Mion and partner Daniel Lutzick is a fairy tale kind of story, but it has a real-world ending.  Money is needed to survive and grow. In his booklet about his hotel, Affeldt writes, “I believe we save great buildings in the same way we save families, cities and nations: one day at a time, with constant investment and courage, undaunted by naysayers and long odds.”

Affeldt and Mion live in the hotel’s east wing. Mion’s studio is in the hotel, which serves as a gallery for her work. Her painting of former First Lady Jackie Kennedy was purchased by the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery for its permanent collection. For more information about Mion’s work, visit www.tinamion.com.

Winslow is surrounded by many areas popular among tourists, such as Petrified Forest, Meteor Crater, the Painted Desert, Native American communities and the White Mountains.

Award-winning meals

The desk clerk signed us in and gave us our room keys. These were real keys, not those plastic credit-card keys that sometimes don’t work.

We left our luggage in Room 209, the Victor Mature room. Its window overlooks the Secret Garden. We left our room and headed for the Turquoise Room for a late lunch. At the foot of the stairs, we paused to let a group go by. Two women in black-and-white Harvey Girls uniforms were leading a tour of La Posada.  The Fred Harvey Co. oversaw construction of several hotels and restaurants along the Santa Fe route, starting in the late 1800s.

In The Turquoise Room, the lunch menu included salmon cakes, which we ordered. Two hefty cakes apiece. Wonderful.

For dinner, we enjoyed Colorado bison and Snake River sturgeon. My Best Friend chose the bison. That will be my choice next time.

Our waiter returned. He recommended the bread pudding for dessert. We chose crème brule, with strawberries and whipped cream on the side. Imagine your taste buds in overdrive.

We learned later that evening that Executive Chef (and restaurant owner) John Sharpe is a semifinalist for an annual James Beard Foundation award in the “Best Chef: Southwest” category. The five finalists will be announced March 21.

More information about the Turquoise Room is available at www.theturquoiseroom.net.

Between our meals, we wandered the property. The ballroom was occupied by someone torturing the piano, so we found some quiet space in the lobby where we caught up on reading and email.

A chess set and a grand piano in the hotel’s ballroom await the nimble minds and fingers of interested players. Copyright photo by Mike Padgett

La Posada’s historic atmosphere is relaxed and homey, the service is courteous and friendly, and the meals are fantastic. Although many trains pass La Posada each day, the pulsing of the powerful diesel engines did not keep us awake at night. And never did we hear a train whistle. The experiences offered by La Posada are memories to be savored.

La Posada Hotel, opened in 1930, became the last of the Fred Harvey Co. railroad hotels built for passengers along the Santa Fe Railway. Copyright photo by Mike Padgett

Future work

The challenges Affeldt and Mion faced in restoring La Posada, because of the condition of the property in 1997, were formidable.

They also are tackling the rescue of another railroad hotel, the El Garces Hotel, opened in 1908 in Needles, Calif. Visit www.elgarceshotel.com for details.

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Mar 7th, 2011

One Comment to 'Historic Arizona Hotel Offers Peace, Memories and Time to Recharge'

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  1. Carol Romley said,

    Hi Mike,
    I love your Arizona Notebook! You and your best friend visit the neatest places. When I am reading your stories and enjoying your photos I feel like I am right there, now that is a real compliment.
    Thanks,
    Carol Romley

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