TIO In Arizona: A Stop At La Posada
What does a giant crater in Arizona’s painted desert have to do with a grande dame of a hotel?
Sooner or later the Winslow Arts Trust will establish a major museum that will include a Sky Space by iconic artist James Turrell that will act as a gateway to Turrell’s ambitious Roden Crater Project, eventually, easily, the most significant work of landscape art in the world.
But Turrell is not acting alone in this very ambitious project that hopes one day to showcase art and artists from communities along Route 66 from Chicago to Los Angeles. He has partners: Paul Ruscha (of El Gran Art Garage), Dan and Ann-Mary Lutzick (of Southdrift Art Space) – and Allan Affeldt and artist Tina Mion of La Posada.
The majestic hotel was our first major stop on a trip that will eventually take us to Oahu, Hawaii.
El Gran was once home to La Posada’s “Indian Detours,” where the Cadillac and Packard touring cars were kept in Winslow’s heyday. (Now’s it’s May Day, hence The Project.)
Snowdrift was once Babbitt’s Winslow Department Store.
And La Posada?
Once upon a time just before the Great Depression in 1930, La Posada was the crown jewel of the late, great Fred Harvey Hotel chain built by the Santa Fe Railroad. Mary Coulter, considered the greatest architect of the Southwest in her day, the in-house talent, based her design on a what she imagined a fabulous Spanish hacienda might look like. Coulter was already famous for buildings such as the Hopi House at the Grand Canyon, but La Posada was reputedly her favorite undertaking.
The original hotel boasted 70 guest rooms, three dining rooms, tricked out lounges, well-appointed arcades, spouting fountains and museum-quality furniture. Grounds included acres of lush gardens, tennis courts, and a train station.
Every passenger train traveling from LA to Chicago stopped at the finest hotel on Route 66: John Wayne, Bob Hope, Dorothy Lamar, Albert Einstein and the Crown Prince of Japan among the passengers.
And then life went into warp drive.
People stopped riding trains.
Planes flew faster and farther, passing Winslow by, though Winslow also served the aviation world, as the airport was a critical fuel stop on early transcontinental flights. The aviation connection is portrayed in a wonderful graphic display in one long passageway. One of the interesting sidelights to this display is information that there was an airline created to give well-heeled visitors sightseeing flights over the Grand Canyon in Ford Tri-Motor aircraft.
La Posada was never for sale, but Affeldt determined to purchase the place from the Santa Fe Railroad after learning through the National Trust for Historic Preservation that the property was in danger of being torn down. Negotiations took three years. Restoration is ongoing.
All the rooms at La Posada are named for famous people, including James Cagney, FDR, Douglas Fairbanks, Frank Sinatra, Shirley Temple, and Amelia Earhart.
Not lost on my pilot husband, our room honored the memory of James Harold “Jimmy” Doolittle, the American aviation pioneer who served with honor in the Air Force before and during WWII. It should be mentioned that the room across the hall honors another flying great, Wiley Post.
And not lost on anyone, Winslow and La Posada’s unique ties to America’s history of flying.
Winslow was a TWA stop and Howard Hughes, owner, a frequent guest at the hotel. Charles Lindbergh stayed there on his honeymoon with Anne Morrow and while designing Winslow’s airport, the only surviving field designed by the famous flyboy. In the 1930s and 1940s, if you flew between Los Angeles and New York (or took the train), you probably stayed at La Posada.
In 1957, La Posada closed its doors and was nearly demolished.
In the 1960s, the place was gutted and sanitized into offices.
In 1993, the railroad announced plans to dispose of La Posada.
In 1994, the National Trust for Historic Preservation put La Posada on its endangered list.
In 2014? Thanks to Affeldt and Mion, La Posada is on a roll. Cue a breakfast cereal smile for a memorable stay. Thumbs up for ambiance; service; and art– paintings and sculpture, much of it Mion’s – and culinary: Chef John Sharpe’s Turquoise Room, featuring unfussy, flavorful, colorful, farm-to-table Southwestern cuisine.
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