The Painted Desert Inn
Evaluation of Structures and Cultural Resources
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The Painted Desert Inn is a remodeled structure, finished in 1937-1938 when an earlier smaller building was gutted to bare walls and then extensively enlarged. Most of the walls are of rubble stone and mortar, with a plastered finish, and are 27 inches thick.

The Inn has nearly 30 rooms, of which six are small guest rooms with fireplaces. The building covers an area of about 7500 square feet. Although the building was closed in 1963, the "Ranger Room" was successfully used as a summer contact station last year.

This building is a harmonious assembly of plastered masonry and weathered wood which blends wonderfully with its surroundings; it sits with composure and dignity at its location, the edge of lip of a mesa rim which overlooks the Painted Desert at Kachina Point. Away from the rim, the land is open in nature with low rounded hills, with sparse wildgrasses, small growing scrub trees and bushes and barren earth.

To walk around the outside is a delightful experience in exploring the many interesting architectural elements. There are terraces, walks, short narrow steps, broad sweeping stairs, flat roofs with parapet walls porches, buttresses, low walls and sheer high ones. All of these parts and others as well composed perfectly together. The Pueblo Indian-New Mexican architectural style is dynamic, with the projecting log vigas from plastered walls forming strong dramatic shadow patterns at all times of day. Various levels and projections of elements also lend to the drama of the building. Simply summarized, this building is an unsymmetrical grouping of low lying shapes different from each side and stacked on top of itself with the highest part toward the centre.

Most window openings are now covered with inset plywood panels which protect the building against break-ins. To see it without those panels would probably change its appearance; certainly, it would have a more open and inviting feeling. When the building was in use, the feel of invitation must have been strong. There are doors on every side so that in spite of the natural sense of enclosure which this type of architecture conveys, the numerous doors, porches, and patios give it a very welcoming aspect.

Exterior detail holds much interest. Built-in hand hewn or sand blasted lintels were used at windows and door openings. In two or three places, there are porches which are supported on peeled wood columns or posts. These carry decorated wood corbel blocks which in turn support beams, vigas, savinos, and ultimately the roofs. Low walls or buttresses in some spots carry flat stones like steps. The stone protects the structure from wash of rainwater, and thus from damage. The Inn has recently been given a coat of fresh paint the color of which is an earthtone pink which fits the surroundings. Wood viga projections, lintels, posts, beams, etc., were stained with linseed oil and burnt umber which provides an attractive contrast.

There seems to be a minimum amount of planting close to the building; it certainly has not been obscured by shrubbery. On the short walk between the Inn and Kachina Point Overlook about mid-way there is a permanent bronze benchmark which gives the elevation here as 5826 feet.

The roof of the Inn seems to be in good condition, with the exception of that over the Curio Shop. Roofs are generally flat, sloped only to drain. There are some canals and some downspouts for carrying off rainwater. It was recommended to the Park staff that new finished roof materials be put on over the curio shop especially from the exterior walls of the skylight to the parapet wall on the perimeter of this space. On the roof above the Northwest and Northeast two corners there are several apparent roof patches which must have been put on in an attempt to stop leaks at these corners. Inside, there is evidence of bad leaking in the two outside corners of that room. The Superintendent is taking action to stop the leaking and the accompanying accelerating deterioration in the two outside corners and is commended for this prompt action.

The Major Rooms

The Dining Room is about 20 by 25 feet. There are two wood log posts nine feet apart in the centre of the room. These support a wooden ceiling system composed of beams, vigas, and savinos all of which are typical of this kind of architecture. Windows are on three sides and a painted wainscot with three Indian murals on the walls decorate the room. The concrete floor has an interesting incised painted Indian pattern which was designed to fit the room. There are glazed french doors leading to a small dining porch with a fine view over Painted Desert looking North. The dining room is in good condition.

The Coffee Shop or Lunch Room has main dimensions of 18 feet wide by 28 feet long. There are two sets of double wood doors which lead into the Curio Shop and another pair give access to the Dining Room. There are casement wood windows on one side and at one end. Another door gives access directly onto the entrance patio. The wood floor appears to be random width oak flooring. Walls are plastered and have some unimportant cracking. There is a painted wainscot and two Indian murals. The room has a typical decorated wood ceiling of the Pueblo style. The Service Counter has been removed, but its configuration remains, defined by linoleum floor covering on the working side. There are three booths remaining in place along one wall which are part of the original furniture.

The Kitchen, an "L" shaped room, main part is 18 feet square, has a linoleum floor covering and windows on three sides which are mixed double hung and casement. Walls and ceiling are plastered, and have been enameled. There is quite a lot of food preparation equipment still in the room. A pair of wood doors lead from the ell to the dining room and one door into the coffee shop, at the other end one door leads to the receiving and storage porch.

The Curio Shop or Trading Post Room is a large room with four free standing 12 inch round log posts that form a symmetrical rectangular arrangement at its centre. There are six tin Mexican-type chandeliers. There is an elaborate ceiling within the post-defined rectangle which carries a highly decorated painted 50 glass panel skylight. The skylight has a superstructure over it, and the light must be quite filtered as it comes into the room. However, large fixed windows on the north end and several casement windows on each long wall would have given much light to the shop. All but the fixed windows are still covered with plywood. There is a pair of wood doors to the dining porch, another pair to the Rangers information room, and two pairs lead into the coffee shop. At the south end of the room there is a low U-shaped wall with rounded tops. This defines a broad stair which led to the lower level bar, but is now floored over and sealed off. This room is in quite good condition except for a heavy layer of dust over surfaces, some rather severe cracks in both the east and west walls, and some evidence of a roof leak at each of the two outside corners. Roof leaking has caused the plaster to come off the walls on the northwest and northeast corners and expose the construction rock of the thick walls. The assumed structural cracks in east and west walls have a piece of tape stretched across each of them at about seven or eight feet above finished floor. The east wall crack tape is unbroken and a note beside it says the tape was applied 5-9-66. The crack was, and is 3/8" wide at the tape. This is irrefutable evidence that the crack has not changed for nearly nine years. The tape on the west wall, at about the same height above floor has not broken, and the crack has closed, causing the tape to buckle up, which shows that the condition which caused the original crack has not further deteriorated.

The Ranger Room has two spaces, one for visitors which is 10 x 15 feet and is separated from a work space by a counter, and another area 10 x 12 feet with two storage closets on one end, and wood casement windows on one side and at one end of the room. There is a heavy wood lintel carried on carved brackets over the counter. The concrete floor on the visitor side has an incised Indian-type painted pattern that was designed to fit the room. A decorated natural finish wood ceiling is typical for this building and is in superb condition. Walls are plastered and have been painted green. This room is two steps down from the Curio Shop. There are two pairs of glazed wood double doors, one on the end wall and the other side wall, both sets leading to the entry patio of the Inn.

Bar Room or Refreshment Room is one floor lower than other major rooms in the Inn. This space has two free-standing posts, 10 feet apart, with corbel blocks, beams and other elements of typical pueblo ceiling construction. One of the corbels and the notched spliced beam are cracked and slightly displaced. This would indicate structural movement at one time. Outside corners show plaster loss and evidence of leaking, which collaborates the leak damage visible in the Curio Shop directly above it. The floor is natural flagstone. There are some holes that have been dug in it by crews checking foundations and they have not been filled in. From observation and prints of original drawings, we know there were no spread concrete foundations. Walls were thick and construction was directly on the rock or undisturbed soil and carried up from there.

In the basement area or ground floor, there are numerous small rooms, and one or two larger ones. Of the latter, two are museum rooms which have reinforced concrete roof construction, the roof is actually a part of the terrace area on the level above. These museum rooms were very dark, as there are no window openings and it was difficult to tell much concerning its condition. There is a large furnace room on the west side of the building which is very utilitarian with its plastered walls and concrete floors.

Other bad cracks are found in these utilitarian portions of the lower floor. Here supposed structural cracks show up. These are not new and in fact were the subject of a structural investigation in 1965, and as a result of that investigation that may have begun efforts to remove this building. The efforts could have begun earlier than that.

To summarize interior materials, they are most often plastered walls, decorated wood ceilings and either wood or concrete or stone floors. Wood doors frequently are glazed, most wood windows are casement type.


The building should be retained and rehabilitated for compatible uses, but the Park should take care that none of the Architecture or Decoration fabric is altered.

We found it refreshing to meet with a Park staff which is honestly enthusiastic about an older building. None are anxious to have it removed, and all would like to see it used for some good purposes.

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Last Updated: 14-Aug-2009