La Posada Hotel's new life

Tales of a Mary Colter masterpiece in Winslow, Arizona

Peter Fish

Tina Mion and Allan Affeldt still remember when their first guest arrived. They had spent a year living in the abandoned 80,000-square-foot La Posada Hotel in Winslow, Arizona, trying to fix it up. Now it was showtime.

"We panicked," Mion says. "We thought, Oh my god, we don't have the little hotel soaps."

That was nine years ago. Today La Posada has the little soaps, along with a reputation as one of the nation's most beautiful historic hotels. And it offers a lesson about the ways in which buildings, people, and towns can reinvent themselves.

La Posada's home, Winslow, is known by an entire generation ― mine, actually ― as the town where the Eagles stood on a corner eyeing the girl in the flatbed Ford. But before there was 1970s rock and roll, Winslow was a tourist center on the Santa Fe Railway, gateway to wonders like the Painted Desert. Which was why, in the late 1920s, a woman named Mary Colter arrived here.

If you want to credit one person for making Americans fall in love with the Southwest, Mary Colter is it. As chief designer for the Fred Harvey Company, which worked with the Santa Fe Railway, she created hotels as luminously romantic as the landscape they inhabited. And La Posada, Colter decided, would be her masterpiece.

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