Michelle - Our Harvey Girl
La Posada in Winslow, AZ
La Posada embodies the visions of both Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter, the hotel’s renowned architect, and Allan Affeldt, its current owner. But the story really begins with Fred Harvey, who “civilized the west” by introducing linen, silverware, china, crystal, and impeccable service to railroad travel. Harvey developed and ran all the hotels and restaurants of the Santa Fe Railway, eventually controlling a hospitality empire that spanned the continent.
In the 1920s, Harvey decided to build a major hotel in the center of northern Arizona. “La Posada”—the Resting Place—was to be the finest in the Southwest. Construction costs alone exceeded $1 million in 1929. Total budget with grounds and furnishings was rumored at $2 million (about $40 million in today’s dollars). They chose Winslow, then (as now) the Arizona headquarters for the Santa Fe Railway. Winslow was ideally situated for a resort hotel since everything to see and do in northern Arizona is a comfortable day’s drive. They asked Colter to design the new hotel.
Colter worked for the Fred Harvey Company from 1905 until her retirement in the 1950s. Although famous for her magnificent buildings at the Grand Canyon, she considered La Posada her masterpiece. Here she was able to design or select everything from the structures to the landscape, furniture, maids’ costumes, and dinner china. Many people consider this the most important and most beautiful building in the Southwest.
Originally trains in the West did not offer meal service, leaving the passengers to fend for themselves at mealtimes. This situation gave rise to exploitation, and passengers were soon victimized by poor food and high prices if they could find anything.
Fred Harvey decided there was a better way, and established a series of restaurants on the Santa Fe lines. Trains would stop, allowing passengers to get a good meal for a reasonable price in clean surroundings. The Fred Harvey Company would recruit women via newspaper ads from towns and cities across the United States. The women had to be of good moral character, have at least an eighth grade education, display good manner and be neat and articulate to work in his restaurants. In return for employment, the Harvey Girls would agree to a six month contract, agree not to marry and abide by all company rules during the term of employment. If hired, they were given a rail pass to get to their Company chosen destination.
Harvey Girls were the women who brought respectability to the work of waitressing. They left the protection and poverty of home for the opportunity to travel and earn their own way in life while experiencing a bit of adventure.
La Posada opened May 15, 1930, just after the stock market crash of 1929, and remained open for just 27 years. In 1957, the hotel closed to the public. The museum-quality furnishings were auctioned off in 1959. In the early 1960s, much of the building was gutted and transformed into offices for the Santa Fe Railway. Several times over the ensuing 40 years, the building was nearly demolished, as recently as 1994 when the railway announced its plans to move out for good.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation found out about La Posada’s peril and added it to their endangered list — where it came to the attention of Allan Affeldt. But La Posada was never for sale. Allan Affeldt purchased it from the Santa Fe Railway after learning that the property was in danger. He visited the hotel in 1994 and decided to help local preservationists save it. This daunting task entailed negotiating for 3 years with the railroad and resolving various legal, environmental, and financial obstacles. He established La Posada LLC to take on the enormous risk and complexity of the estimated $12 million restoration. Allan and his wife Tina Mion moved in April 1, 1997. Daniel Lutzick became the third partner and General Manager.