The Historic Structures of the South Rim
Grand Canyon Architecture

Mary Colter - Architect

After the Civil War, the West was developing and interest in travel to the southwest areas was growing With the advent of the Railroad, travelers wanted quality places to stay and to eat.   The Fred Harvey Company formed to do just that.   In 1901 the Company hired Mary Colter, a young architect and one of the few women architects of the time, to design and decorate Landmark Hotels and other structures for the explorer/ tourist.   The beautiful El Tovar Hotel on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon was one of those Landmarks built by the Fred Harvey Company and decorated by Mary Colter.

Between 1901 and 1931, Mary Colter completed 21 projects for the Fred Harvey Company, many on the South rim of the Grand Canyon.   Besides the El Tovar Lodge, she designed Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, Hopi House, Hermitís Rest, the Lookout Studio, the Desert View Watchtower, and Bright Angel Lodge.

She died in 1948 after retiring to Santa Fe.   The many artifacts she collected over the years were donated to Mesa Verde for their museum.


The Fred Harvey Company

In 1850, Fred Harvey came from England to work in the restaurant business in NYC.   Later he began his career with the railroad, and in 1876 joined the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway as a partner.   There he introduced the idea of fine dining while traveling by train and built the first dining cars.   He also built the famed Harvey Houses all over the Southwest, running 84 at the peak of the companyís history.   El Tovar Hotel was one of those Harvey Houses, built in 1905 and decorated by Mary Colter.   It is one of the few Harvey House structures still in operation.




Grand Canyon Village Historic District
part of the Mary Jane Colter Buildings National Historic Landmark.


The Hopi House

This was a residence for Natives of the Hopi tribe who sold cultural artifacts to the visitors.

It was patterned after a similar building located in Hopi tribal lands on the Third Mesa in Eastern Arizona.

Mary Colter designed and built this building in 1905.



The Observatory Lookout Studio was one of the five buildings on the South Rim designed by Mary Colter.  It was constructed by the Santa Fe Railway and established first to be a photography studio.

Built with indigenous rocks to blend with the environment, it has an outdoor terrace where visitors can observe the view through high powered telescopes.  A good view of the Bright Angel Trail can be had from here.

The studio operates as a gift shop.  Photography, books, and rock and fossil specimens can be purchased.

Lookout Studio

Desert View Watchtower



Patterned after an ancient Anasazi watchtower, this 70 foot tower is one of Mary Colterís best known works.  It was opened May 1933 with a gift shop on the bottom floor and an observation deck (reached by a log ladder but no longer opened to the public) looking out at the Canyon and the Colorado River at the bottom.

Murals painted by a Hopi artist cover the interior walls and circular balconies edge the stone all the way to the top of the tower.   The main entrance opens to a circular Kiva room with a ceiling crafted of old logs salvaged from the Grand View Hotel.   Petroglyphs have been duplicated on the walls, Stones were all hand picked for their aged look.

It is truly a southwest treasure and is located 27 miles from the Grand Canyon Village.

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