The Painted Desert Inn
Evaluation of Structures and Cultural Resources
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The Petrified Forest National Monument was established by proclamation of President Theodore Roosevelt, December 8, 1906, and since establishment, the boundaries have been changed four times: In 1911 the original area was reduced. On November 14, 1930, the Blue Forest and Newspaper Rock (Petroglyph) area was added. On November 30, 1931, about one acre was added to correct the boundary. On September 23, 1932, the Painted Desert section was added.

During the early years of settlement in northern Arizona, access to this area was generally by railroad. The Atlantic & Pacific Railroad (Western Division) built across this part of northern Arizona in 1881 and 1882, en route from Albuquerque, New Mexico, to Needles, California, via Flagstaff. This railroad became a subsidiary of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway and during the 1890's was absorbed completely into the Santa Fe system.

The railroad served a small station called Adamana located northwest of the original monument. "The Forest is Adamana's reason for being," noted a 1908 Santa Fe Railway brochure advertising the Petrified Forest; "Except the small hotel and the railway station there are few buildings." One of them was the Forest Hotel, operated that year by Al Stevenson, and offering "good board and lodging" for $2.50 per day. Stevenson also operated a "livery"—which in 1908 meant coaches or wagons and teams—capable of carrying forty people, although the hotel itself could accommodate only fifteen guests and serve meals for thirty. An individual named James Donohue served as guide to the Petrified Forest, which was divided into the First, Second, Third, Blue, and "North Sigillaria" Forests. Round trip to any of the forests cost $4.00 per person or $2.50 each for two or more, with an extra fifty cent charge for visits to either "Hieroglyphics" (meaning petroglyphs), and "Ruins," meaning the prehistoric Indian ruins. At that time, the terms "Crystal Forest" and "Rainbow Forest" were local names for parts of the Third Forest, and the "North Sigillaria Groves" were located in the Painted Desert region, but the Painted Desert itself received only one brief mention in the 1908 brochure, as being on the route to Hopiland.

According to a 1917 railway brochure, Chester B. Campbell operated the hotel at Adamana, which by then featured "sanitary plumbing, with hot and cold water." Campbell charged $3.00 per day for board and lodging, and like his predecessor Stevenson, operated a "livery," which at this time apparently consisted of automobiles rather than horse drawn stages, although the map in the brochure, dated 1912, still showed all the roads in the Petrified Forest and Painted Desert regions as "wagon roads." Campbell, like Stevenson, ran tours to the various concentrations of petrified wood, to the "Aztec" ruins—by which was meant the prehistoric Indian ruins—to the Wide Ruin Trading Post and other locations on the Navajo and Hopi reservations to the north, and to the Painted Desert, which by this time had itself become a scenic attraction. The fare for a tour to the Painted Desert in 1917 was $5.00 for one person, $6.00 for two, and $2.50 for three or more, and the round trip from Adamana to the Painted Desert, nine miles distant, was considered a one-day trip.

By the 1920's, automotive travel in northern Arizona had overtaken rail passenger traffic in volume so that rail-oriented hostelries such as the hotel at Adamana were less important. Located several miles south of U.S. Highway 66, which was becoming a major artery of travel across northern Arizona, the Adamana hotel was not really suitable as accommodation for auto-oriented tourists. There was a need for new facilities to serve the tourist on U.S. 66, and the nearby southern rim of the Painted Desert offered a logical location for such an enterprise.

In 1924, using Indian labor, Herbert D. Lore constructed a two story building in two sections each with a hipped roof, located at Kachina Point, overlooking the Painted Desert north of Petrified Forest National Monument. Lore employed native stone and petrified wood in his building but unfortunately, used a sandy adobe or soil mortar, so that either initially or at a later date, all of the mortar was tuck-pointed with a portland cement mortar in order to waterproof it. The land on which Lore's building stood sloped downward to the north and towards Kachina Point, so that the southern end of Lore's "Painted Desert Inn" was of single storey construction, while the northern end was of two storeys, with the upper floor supported on four stone pillars over an open driveway beneath. The building housed a lunch counter, an Indian "trading post," and the owner's living quarters. Lore had to haul water to his establishment, and he had no electricity or sewage disposal facilities. He cleared a crude, one-way loop road which was connected at each end with U.S. Highway 66, and was designed to carry the traveler along the rim which formed the southern edge of the colorful, eroded bentonite badlands or mal pais which formed the Painted Desert. Lore operated his "Painted Desert Inn" for ten years and the business served not only as an oasis for automobile tourists crossing northern Arizona on Route 66, but provided an outlet for sale of a small quantity of Navajo and Hopi arts and crafts.

In January 1936, a $133,500 Public Works Administration allotment was established for the purchase of inholdings and the installment of utilities such as electricity, telephone, and sewage disposal system. On February 29, 1936, after lengthy negotiations, the National Park Service purchased Lore's four sections of land and his building for $59,400. On June 29, 1936, National Park Service Chief Architect Thomas C. Vint, accompanied by three NPS landscape architects, arrived at Petrified Forest National Monument and on June 30 made a study of the Painted Desert addition. A month later, on July 28, 1936, the boundaries of Petrified Forest National Monument were enlarged to include the land acquired from Lore, thus incorporating into the Monument Lore's building and much of the Painted Desert. Subsequently, the Government spent $1,522.20 drilling a well, $26,933 laying water lines and installing a sewage disposal system, and $1,450 for water pumps. Under a separate PWA allotment, the Bureau of Public Roads constructed in 1936 and 1937 a 4.8-mile "Painted Desert Rim Drive" which it completed in September 1938 at a cost of about $62,000. Lore's old loop road was then abandoned and natural growth allowed to reclaim and obliterate it.

During the summer of 1936, National Park Service architects faced the problem of what to do with Lore's old building. It was simply too small to serve as a combination NPS visitor center/museum and concessioner lodge, food service and sales facility. Furthermore, there were signs of structural failure in the center portions of both the northwest and southeast walls. Associate Architect Lorimer H. Skidmore from the NPS Branch of Plans and Design in the Washington Office visited the site with Superintendent C. J. Smith, gathering data and measurements necessary for preparation of working drawings. He noted that the ten year old stone walls were badly cracked in many places and discovered that beneath the cement tuck-pointing was the unstable sandy adobe mortar.

The PWA fund allotment was insufficient to finance both demolition of Lore's building and new construction. Consequently, in August of 1936, Associate Architect Lyle Bennett in the Region Three Office in Santa Fe drew up preliminary drawings. for "alterations and additions" to the Painted Desert Inn. Skidmore described the architectural style as

. . . influenced by the buildings of the Pueblo Indians. A softening and decorative touch of Early Spanish is introduced by the use of adzed beams and carved corbels and brackets. Windows, doors, and frames are sandblasted. The ceilings, excepting in utility rooms, are framed of local Ponderosa Pine "vigas" (beams) exposed in rooms across which are placed split and whole aspen savinos in Indian fashion, (which) form the finished ceilings. The three coat lime plastered walls are finished with a lime putty finish. Floors are flagstone or concrete, excepting those in the Trading Post Room, Lunch Room, and Kitchen, which are of wood . . .

The building presents a very pleasing appearance from the exterior and blends harmoniously with the surroundings. It is entirely "in character" being located in the heart of the Hopi, Navajo, and Zuni Indian country.

Bennett's plans were approved, and in October 1936, Bennett and his associates in Santa Fe, augmented by two people from the Washington Office, began to prepare final working drawings and to draw up specifications for contracting the job.

The architects completed the final working drawings in December 1936. They consisted of thirteen sheets entitled "Alterations and Additions to Lodge at Painted Desert, Petrified Forest National Monument, Holbrook, Arizona," and were approved and dated January 15, 1937, under the number NM.PF/3100-D.

C. W. Andrae in the Planning Office in Washington prepared the mechanical drawings and mechanical sections of the specifications. The specifications were intended for a single contract and were issued on January 15, 1937, as PWA Federal Project No. 669, Contract No. I-1P 5664. Bids were due and received on March 15 1937, but the lowest bid was higher than the money available for the project, consequently all the bids were rejected. NPS planners then decided to use the available money to purchase the materials necessary for the project and to employ Civilian Conservation Corps labor from CCC Camp NM-1-A, which was located at Rainbow Forest, in the southern end of Petrified Forest National Monument, 25 miles from the Painted Desert. Using CCC labor, it would be possible to commence construction before the allotment of PWA funds would be rescinded. The planners assumed that they could obtain some additional funding at a later date, and that skilled labor needed for plumbing, carpentry, and plastering would be available in the form of various CCC foremen, who, if not available in the Rainbow Forest camp, could be borrowed from other CCC camps; the latter proved to be a false assumption. The remainder of the CCC labor would be unskilled labor, requiring close supervision. The architects estimated that the materials would cost $15,000, and decided to contract the heating and ventilating work. Specifications for this work were issued on April 2, 1937. Architect Lorimer H. Skidmore from Washington was appointed Supervising Architect for the project, and drew up plans for a 25 by 96 foot wood frame material storage shed.

The Branch of Plans and Design in the Washington Office prepared lists of the materials needed and drew up eight separate contracts covering linoleum and similar material, paint and thinner, cement, gravel, etc., reinforcing steel, hardware, plumbing materials and tools, electrical materials and tools and timber, pipe covering, and roofing material. The contracts totaling about $14,600 were awarded to 29 different companies with an average delivery date to the job site set at about July 15, 1937. Additional materials required would be purchased with CCC camp funds.

Monument Superintendent C. J. Smith was responsible for direction of the project, with Skidmore assisting as Supervising Architect. Skidmore conferred with officials in the Santa Fe Office, and reported for duty in the Park on May 6, 1937. Work commenced on May 12, 1937. The first step was construction of the 25 by 96 foot storage shed. Materials costing $1,111.13 were purchased using PWA money, and an additional $116.53 in CCC funds was used to line the office with plywood, complete the tool room, and install two large sliding doors. This sturdily built gable-roofed wood frame shed had a gravel floor except in the office and tool room, and its materials cost a total of $1,227.66. The CCC labor, figured at $2.00 per man day, brought the total cost to $2,427.66, or $1.01 per square foot and eight and a half cents per cubic foot.

Bids for the heating and ventilating contract were opened in Washington, and on June 9, 1937, the NPS awarded the contract to Charles A. Schiemann, Sr., of Chicago for $10,748. This contract was the only one involving actual work on the Inn. Schiemann was to commence work within ten days of being notified to proceed by the contracting officer.

Due to the nature of the labor, construction of the Inn would be a long drawn-out project, and when on June 18, 1937, Schiemann visited the job site and conferred with Superintendent Smith, Skidmore, and CCC Camp Superintendent, H. W. Cole, he learned that the heating and ventilating plant would have to be installed in different phases.

In June 1937, Superintendent Smith prepared invitations for bidding for millwork required to complete the Inn. This included all doors, windows, window frames, screens, hand rails, toilet stall posts and plywood for the stalls, bedroom cabinets, counter linoleum and chromium plated counter edging, counter gates, wood grills, spindles, frames, shelving lumber, sash balances, etc. Olds Brothers of Winslow offered the low bid of $2,326.99, and was awarded the contract on June 25, 1937.

The sugar pine doors had to be milled on the West Coast, causing some delay, and the final shipment under this contract was not received until September 7, 1937.

Most of the material ordered for the project had arrived at the Monument in August 1937 and was stored in the frame storage shed. The lumber and timber used was largely obtained from Government lands. Ponderosa Pine logs for use as vigas (beams) were obtained from Sitgreaves National Forest in Coconino County. As Sitgreaves contained no aspen, such as was needed for the savinos, the NPS negotiated procurement of aspen poles from the White Mountain Apache Indian Reservation, south of the Monument. Civilian Conservation Corps enrollees from the Petrified Forest camp established temporary quarters at the Los Burros CCC Camp near Pine Top, Arizona, and working from there cut and peeled 680 pine logs varying from six to 24 feet in length and 4,300 aspen poles. A skilled woodsman named Nikolaus was hired for $215.18 to supervise the selection and cutting of timber, and the Forest Service classified the project as "forest thinning." The CCC put in 500 man days of labor between June 7 and July 31, 1937, obtaining this lumber and trucking it to the Painted Desert. The logs were stacked and protected with canvas, but such protection proved inadequate since they developed a mold which required many days' labor scrubbing the logs with brushes. CCC enrollees also quarried and hauled local building stone to the site of construction.

Water and sewage systems at the Inn were completed and accepted by the Supervising Architect on September 15.

The initial work at the Inn consisted of tearing down walls which showed evidence of structural failure and rebuilding them. This was done in three foot sections. Walls were braced, decayed sections removed and replaced, a time-consuming process which probably took longer than construction of a new wall would have required. These sections were rebuilt with sound stone and mortar, and time was allowed for the mortar to "set-up" before work was commenced. on an adjoining section. The entire transverse wall between rooms 103 and 104 required replacement. In several places, walls of poured cement were substituted for stone walls. The old hipped wood-frame roof was left on the building during these "surgical" repairs, and when it was removed some additional wall failure and collapse occurred, requiring yet more wall rebuilding. Then new walls were added.

Work on rebuilding the walls progressed during the winter of 1937-1938. On April 1, 1938, Superintendent Smith was able to report that "All masonry and fire walls are practically complete and the roofing is about 75% complete." Nevertheless, the work did not progress as swiftly as it might have since a number of problems arose. There was a shortage of CCC foremen, both skilled and unskilled, a deficiency which slowed construction markedly. Most of the time there were only three men available. Also, during the term of construction, several groups of CCC laborers who became experienced to the job were transferred elsewhere, and new inexperienced labor had to be trained. On August 2, 1938, an entirely new CCC staff, recruited largely in Pennsylvania, replaced the old one, which had left late in June. The remoteness of the camp from the job site was in itself a source of frustration, requiring a 50 mile round trip daily for all employees over rather poor dirt roads. This factor reduced the work week to 25 to 30 hours, rather than 40. Furthermore, skilled labor such as was needed for carpentry, plumbing etc., was seldom available at the time it was needed, causing delays. Under the peculiar funding arrangement, skilled laborers could be hired only one at a time, and the carpenter had to be laid off in order to hire the plumber, and then rehired when the plumber was laid off if more carpentry was required. Inadequacy of funds for purchase of materials and tools at the time required also slowed construction. Finally, the character of the original building was a source of problem. Excavation and underpinning existing walls was unusually difficult: dynamite could not be used for excavation in the vicinity of existing walls, so more expensive and time consuming methods employing jack hammers and hand labor were necessary. Existing floors were uneven, and had to be corrected.

In one instance, inability to obtain funds to purchase lumber for a particular wall resulted in a decision to build the wall of stone instead since this material could be quarried locally by CCC labor without requiring expenditure for material. In June 1938, it became apparent that authorization for use of CCC labor and money would soon expire and it would be necessary to halt work on the Inn. This occurred on July 15, when the limitation was reached. By that time, the CCC had expended $10,795.01 on the project, $7,382.75 of it for skilled labor, the rest for materials and tools. Unskilled CCC labor was not figured into this cost. The Acting Director of the Third Regional Office in Santa Fe had already asked Skidmore to prepare an estimate of the cost of completion of the Inn, as well as for equipping the building, and Skidmore completed this work on July 22, 1938. On August 1, Superintendent Smith was notified that the Director in Washington had authorized expenditure of $5,655 more of CCC money for materials and skilled labor to complete the work listed in the first nine of Skidmore's twelve estimates. Of this sum, $2,625 had been appropriated in cash, the remaining $3,000 to be used in the form of regular CCC camp funds. CCC work on the Inn resumed on August 7, 1938.

On September 10, 1938, Assistant Chief of Planning, W. G. Carnes in the Branch of Plans and Design in Washington requested that Skidmore, who had been transferred to the Regional Office in San Francisco, return to the Monument to write a complete report on the job to date. Skidmore returned to Petrified Forest on September 20, completed his report on October 1, and returned to the San Francisco Office. His report contained this description of the building:

This large twenty-eight room, two story stone structure covers 7,520 square feet of ground. Its stone walls are twenty-seven inches in thickness. Approximately 1,400 cubic yards of stone were used in its construction and over 3,000 sacks of cement were required for installing masonry, concrete floor slabs, steps, overhead slabs and beams, etc. The building is divided into two units, namely the Government operated portion on the Northeast side and the operators (concessioner's) portion which takes in the rest of the building. The Government operated portion of the building includes:

1. Ranger Room—Information and Public space containing electrically cooled drinking fountain.

2. Two museum rooms underground, (concrete slabs and terrace over).

3. Two public toilets and utility room (with vent ducts and exhaust fans controlled from the Ranger Room above).

4. Large Trading Post Room - for display and sale of curios, petrified wood and Indian-made artifacts. An ideal view is obtained from a partially enclosed porch on the Northeast end of this room.

5. Six small sleeping rooms equipped with corner lavatories and corner fireplaces.

6. Men's and women's shower and toilet rooms to serve the six sleeping rooms.

7. A Laundry Room, small hired help toilet room, and Refrigeration Machinery Room.

8. Two large storage rooms and a Linen Closet.

9. Refreshment Room.

10. Boiler Room and work area.

The building is heated by means of steam radiators . . . Electrical wiring was run in rigid steel conduit throughout.

Provisions for telephone and radio installations are made as well as provision for an electrically operated dumb waiter.

On September 26, 1938, a crew of eleven CCC workers together with a foreman went to the Los Burros CCC Camp in Sitgreaves National Forest to cut additional poles necessary to finish the building. At the Inn, meanwhile, by October 4 the first plaster coat had been applied to the inside walls, and the finish coat had been put on the walls in the toilet and showers. Flagstone floors had been laid in most of the guest rooms. By the end of the month interior plastering had been completed, and work was underway on finish flooring. Most of the flagstone had been laid in the taproom as well. By the end of November, most of the oak flooring had been laid, and outside plastering was being applied. Low exterior walls bordering walks and terraces were being finished.

The new heating plant was not working as it should have, and the oil furnace was occasionally backfiring. On December 22, it backfired so strongly that it blew the doors off the firebox.

The building was nearly finished, but it seemed that the nearer it was to completion, the more slowly the work went. It dragged on throughout 1939. The CCC commenced making furniture and tin light fixtures which imitated native Mexican tin decoration.. On October 11, 1939, Conrad Wirth, Supervisor of Recreation and Land Planning for the National Park Service visited the Monument and inspected the Inn, accompanied by Associate Landscape Architect A. C. Kuehl who had worked on the project from the beginning, and a CCC inspector named Taubert.

The CCC also built most of the furniture used in the Inn, according to designs which had been prepared by the NPS architects. The chairs and tables in the dining room and soda fountain were attractive wood furniture decorated with carved Indian designs. Thus the furniture blended Mexican styles with native Indian decorations. Similarly decorated wooden swivel mounted fountain stools, were installed in the soda fountain. Thus from the beginning to end, from the building itself to the light fixtures and the basic furniture, the Painted Desert Inn was a Civilian Conservation Corps job, designed and supervised by the National Park Service with a contracted heating/ventilation plant.

On June 1, 1940, the Monument Superintendent estimated that the Inn would be completed in another two weeks—which proved to be an unduly optimistic estimate. A butane gas system still had to be installed, probably in the kitchen, and a broken section of the hot water boiler damaged in the December 22 backfire required replacement. The bedroom furniture was not yet finished, nor was installation of all the light and plumbing fixtures. The refrigerator also had to be installed, and the entire building and grounds needed to be cleaned up. Consequently, on July 1, the Superintendent was still unable to report the job finished. His monthly report of that date stated:

Our most important project, "Painted Desert Inn," and one that has taken precedence over all other construction projects in the Monument, is near completion. There remains but few odd jobs to bring the project to completion. The operator (concessioner), Edward McGrath, arrived on June 28 and immediately started preparations to partially open July 4. He hopes to have the entire unit in operation July 15. He is handicapped by not having sufficient electric power to operate all appliances and lights with the small plant now in operation. It is expected that two new units of 8-kw each will arrive about July 15.

On August 1, the Superintendent reported that the Inn had "been in operation the entire month with the operator increasing his stock and service as the public demands." Thus the precise date of opening is clouded—the Painted Desert Inn was apparently not open on July 1, but must have opened soon thereafter, perhaps on July 4, as the Superintendent originally indicated.

To supply power in the interim, McGrath rented an 8-kw power plant until the new units arrived. The new units reached the park on August 18. During the first several weeks of operation an average of 200 people per day visited the Inn, and it had an average of ten requests daily for overnight accommodations. During August, 29,570 people visited the Painted Desert, and of that number 10,000 registered at the Painted Desert Museum which the National Park Service had installed in the northeast corner of the new building. The CCC forces completed the final work on the building in October 1940. At that time the "tap room" or bar was opened for business.

As a concessioner, McGrath was incorporated in Illinois under the name "Standard Concessions, Inc." But the stock was all in the family, most of it owned by his mother, Rose, who held 98 percent, and was President of the firm. Edward managed the Inn and served as vice president, and his wife, Marie, assisted as Secretary-Treasurer. A stipulation agreed to when McGrath was granted this concession was that he dispose of other interests in Chicago and give management of the Inn his highest priority. His initial three year lease was dated July 1, 1940, and gave him net profits of 6 percent, with the Government receiving 47 percent of any profits over the 6 percent net. In addition, McGrath paid the Government $10 per year for the concession to operate the Inn.

In 1941, a gas station (now obliterated) was added at the Painted Desert end of the Park, and Greyhound tours commenced operating over the Rim Road, with a stop at the Inn that increased McGrath's profits. But McGrath still was not satisfied. He deemed the liquor license necessary to improve his profits, although the NPS was skeptical of its advisability. In addition to the problem of minors, McGrath was known to have personal problems. Furthermore, the small power plant had all it could do to supply electricity for the rest of the building, without serving the Tap Room too. Still, that room had been designed by the NPS, and in the end it was allowed to open.

The United States entered the Second World War on December 7, 1941. The Painted Desert Inn continued to operate for ten months, but in September 1942, McGrath asked permission to close the Inn until such time as it would again prove profitable to operate it. Permission was granted, and it closed in October 1942. McGrath subsequently entered the U.S. Navy.

After the War, in 1945, McGrath returned and applied for a renewal of his concession. Local residents opposed granting him the concession, as did the Monument Superintendent. Nevertheless, Director Hillory A. Tolson thought it would be best to allow McGrath another opportunity as concessioner. Under his management, the Painted Desert Inn reopened in April 1946. But in August of that year, the Monument Superintendent relieved McGrath from his position as manager due to family and personal problems. Andrew Gould took over as manager after McGrath, and in October 1946, Standard Concessions advertised their contract for sale. On April 3, 1947, Standard Concessions transferred its contract to the Fred Harvey Company. A subsidiary of the Santa Fe Railway, Fred Harvey operated depot hotels throughout the Southwest and managed the hotels at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon in Grand Canyon National Park, and had been considered a thoroughly satisfactory concessioner. The Fred Harvey firm had long exhibited interest in Petrified Forest National Park as a tourist attraction. Between 1930 and 1932, a Fred Harvey subsidiary, Hunter Clarkson Courier Cars, operated tours to the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest National Monument connecting with the Santa Fe trains. In August 1939, Mary Jane Colter, the Fred Harvey designer and interior decorator, visited the Monument and undoubtedly inspected the new Inn then under construction. Thus the Fred Harvey firm had long exhibited an interest in the Monument.

On May 28, 1947, Fred Harvey Company officials inspected the Painted Desert Inn. When they made the decision to take over this concession, probably earlier than this inspection, is unknown. But the Harvey Company took over operation of the Inn on June 1, 1947. Sale of liquor was then discontinued. The following month, the Monument Superintendent reported:

With the operation of Painted Desert Inn under the satisfactory management of the Fred Harvey Company, many improvements have been made. Compliments have been voiced by visitors with respect to meals. New items of equipment have been installed in the kitchen. Technicians have inspected and repaired the hot water heater, electric motors and furnace. The curio room is very attractive and business in both the eating section and curio room has exceeded expectations.

Thus the National Park Service found the Fred Harvey firm to be a much more satisfactory concessioner than Standard Concessions.

Furthermore, the Fred Harvey firm took steps to renovate the building. The Monument Superintendent reported on November 10, 1947, that the company expected to send its interior decorator, Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter, to visit the Inn that month. Whether she was there in November or not is uncertain, but it is known that she was at the Painted Desert Inn on December 5. She was accompanied by several other Fred Harvey officials as well as the Monument's staff painter, and they decided that morning on the interior color scheme and the painter commenced work that same afternoon. Painting continued throughout January 1948, and one small employees' room was replastered. In March the lunch counter was slightly rebuilt and the stools were reinforced with metal bands.

On June 12, 1948, the Monument Superintendent reported, "The Fred Harvey Co, Operators of the Painted Desert Inn, have Miss Colter supervising the painting of murals on the interior walls of the buildings." Mary Colter had hired a 48 year old Hopi Indian artist named Fred Kabotie, then an art instructor at Oraibi High School on the Hopi Indian Reservation. Kabotie was by then a well-known artist, some of his work having been published as early as 1924. Mary Colter wanted Kabotie because she had already made use of his talents in Fred Harvey properties at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, where in the mid-1930's he painted murals in the new Bright Angel Lodge. By the time he did the Painted Desert Inn murals in May and June of 1948, Kabotie had turned to silversmithing, and his Painted Desert murals may have been some of the last mural painting in his career. As Kabotie was even by then an important Indian artist, his murals at Painted Desert Inn constitute a significant artistic resource.

As early as 1950, it had become apparent that there were structural problems in the Painted Desert Inn, due to the fact that parts of the building rested on bentonite clay soil which possesses the peculiar characteristic of expanding as its moisture content increases, contracting when moisture decreases. This bentonite is capable of moving walls back and forth an inch or more horizontally, as well as a similar distance vertically. In 1951, it appeared that a cracked water line might be allowing water to escape into the bentonite, hence causing cracking and shifting of walls and floors. Furthermore, park engineers inferred that much water lost from a broken water line some distance away in the utility area could have followed a geological fault or seam to reach the bentonite beneath the Inn. Whatever the cause of the moisture, the swelling of the bentonite was causing serious cracking in the Painted Desert Inn.

In October 1958, Chief Architect Dick Sutton assessed the structural integrity of the Painted Desert Inn and concluded:

The structural failure (indicated by cracks in walls and floors—there was no actual collapse of any part of the structure) seems to be directly connected with the central portion of the building which incorporated the walls of an existing structure. These walls were constructed of basalt bounders and petrified wood laid up in mud mortar, and pointed with Portland cement mortar. About 50% of the walls were rebuilt when the lodge was constructed in 1939-40. The basic failure was due to the instability of these walls which did not have adequate footings for the clay soil on which they were erected and were not properly bonded to provide integral strength. The additions on the sides and ends of the original structure appear to be reasonably sound except where the superstructure depends on the original walls where settlement has pulled the adjacent walls out of line. If the building is to continue in use or is to be adapted for other purposes, it will have to be stabilized by underpinning and constructing footings and reconstructing the walls in the central part of the building.

The degree to which the unstable bentonite was a factor in the decision to close the Painted Desert Inn, replacing it with a whole new complex nearer to the main highway is unclear.

This new complex of buildings was completed and opened to the public in 1963, at which time the Painted Desert Inn was closed. One or two rooms of the old Inn, however, have since occasionally been used as a small Painted Desert Interpreter Center during summer months. The new complex near the Interstate Highway contains an information counter, but no museum and no interpretive exhibits, a lack which, in a small way, the old Painted Desert Inn has continued to supply. This is in accord with some decisions made prior to completion of the new complex. A master plan drawing approved by the Director on June 15, 1960, noted that the Painted Desert Inn was to be "adapted or replaced by interpretive center on present site." Another decision apparently was made in October 1961 to rehabilitate the present structure.

In April 1963, leaking water lines flooded the basement, and raised the question whether these lines might not have been leaking underground for years and causing some of the recent cracking of walls. Perhaps some of this leakage had continued since the problem was first noted in 1951.

In 1965, after water to the building had been shut off for two years, the Chief of the Western Office of the Division of Design and Construction noted that "Cursory investigations during this period have shown no evident movement in the basement walls of the structure." However, a later and more thorough investigation revealed apparently new cracks in several places, including the Museum Room (Room 20). The Chief Architect of the Western Office of Design and Construction then advised that "it would not be economically advisable to rehabilitate the building." Of course, this decision was based on (a) the existence of the new complex, and (b) the fact that the building was then virtually abandoned. Historical and architectural significance of the old Inn were not taken into account.

Meanwhile, the public found the building to be attractive and intriguing, and the number of verbal inquiries about the old structure resulted in the placement of a brief interpretive sign in front of the building explaining its history. One tourist wrote in September 1967 inquiring about the "lovely pink adobe building" and said:

Since this is such a lovely building and seems still to be in quite good repair, we are very interested in knowing just what its future will be. We would also like very much to know what it was used for and why it was closed.

In forwarding this woman's letter to the Regional Office, Park Superintendent Donald Dayton commented:

. . . We believe that this letter is representative of the thought of many visitors viewing this interesting building. I was somewhat disturbed to note in the Master Plan (evidently a later version than the one mentioned above) . . . that this building is recommended for obliteration. My thoughts on first seeing this building were similar to this visitor's. This type of architecture and construction is fast becoming a lost art. It may well be considered of historic value a few years hence. Of course, any use of the building would require extensive interior rehabilitation. However, in view of the fact that the Master Plan calls for an interpretive facility for this vicinity, I believe that it would be preferable to invest funds in this building which blends into the surroundings rather than in a new building of modern design.

The local people are also quite interested in the building. Recommendations have been made that it not only be used to interpret the Painted Desert, but also house exhibits and artifacts to interpret the rich Indian history of the region . . .

Superintendent Dayton further noted that he had been told that Horace Albright had visited the area a year or so earlier, and was "violently opposed to any thought of demolition of the building" and indicated that he would convey such objections to Washington if its removal was proposed.

The Acting Regional Director in Santa Fe replied that "we too have mixed feelings about razing the old structure at Kachina Point. It is a delightful building and could probably serve its purpose if a portion of it were retained." He then went on to cite a soil study indicating that rehabilitation of the structure would be costly, and, although not impossible, very difficult. But again, the same conclusion applies to all of the new complex of buildings opened in 1963, none of which have a fraction of the architectural merit of the old.

As late as 1969, although Fred Harvey operated a sales store in the new complex, the firm was still interested in using the old Inn, proposing to turn it into an Indian handicraft shop, and they also wanted to open a snack bar there. Yet another structural examination was scheduled, and it produced an estimate of about $69,000 for renovation (memorandum, Regional Director Frank Kowski to Director, September 30, 1969). Demolition of the building would cost an estimated $114,000 (10-238 Package PD 128 cited in PD Package 10-136). Inflation, of course, has since rendered these figures obsolete, nor are the specifics known of what the renovation figure included. There exists at present no realistic estimate of cost of preservation.

As NPS management struggled with the question of what to do with the old building, the Park Superintendent was asked to supply a statement in justification of razing the old Inn, and responded on April 10, 1972, as follows:

The old Painted Desert Inn, although architecturally pleasing, is situated on the lip of the rim overlooking the Painted Desert Wilderness. It thus serves as a subtle but constant reminder to the wilderness hiker of a man made intrusion being visible from almost any portion of the desert. Additionally, the building outlived its purpose when new concession facilities were constructed at Painted Desert Headquarters. Since abandonment in 1963, apparently due in part to structural weakening, the building requires park maintenance funds to repair the more serious aspects of deterioration such as roof leaks, broken doors, etc.

Aside from the fact that this is a weak justification, it is also largely specious. When one is down on the floor of the Painted Desert badlands close enough to the Inn for it to be intrusive, it cannot be seen looking up over the edge of the rim from below because it was built slightly back from the rim. When one is far enough out in the Painted Desert so that it can be seen, it is sufficiently distant and its pink adobe color blends sufficiently well with the Painted Desert clay that it is no longer intrusive, and it is certainly never as intrusive as the jet contrails which constantly scar the desert sky. Far from being an intrusion, the Inn not only blends with the terrain, but with the architectural style of the natives and Spanish colonists who traveled through and settled in this region.

Nevertheless, with this rather inadequate justification, in hand, the Director of the Western Region signed on June 29, 1972, a 10-238 Development Package Proposal to raze the building.

In view of the Historic Preservation Act of 1966, on November 21, 1972, Historian Bill Brown assessed the Painted Desert Inn from the standpoint of historical significance. He concluded that "it has no substantive history that is not duplicated elsewhere, wherever the CCC's built similar facilities." As of 1975, the building is basically thirty-seven years old, with some portions of walls and floors dating from 1924 and being thus fifty-one years old, although thoroughly altered since then. Brown assessed the architectural significance as follows:

. . . the structure is not unique nor is it superior to numerous revival style Pueblo-Spanish structures in Santa Fe and other places in New Mexico. In fact, this style is not really indigenous to this part of Arizona at all. The Rio Grande Valley was the center of historic period Pueblo-Spanish architecture, upon which the revival is based. Nevertheless, in a Southwest regional context, the building fits.

Brown is correct in that the adobe Mexican-Pueblo style of flat roofed architecture featuring vigas and savinos which this building represents is primarily indigenous to the Rio Grande Valley but variations on the basic style are common to other sections of the American Southwest. The stone masonry of the Inn parallels the Arizona Hopi pueblo construction while its plaster coating echoes the New Mexico Rio Grande River Valley adobe and plaster structures.

It should be noted that much 20th Century Pueblo/Mexican Adobe Revival architecture is essentially "phony"—in that the buildings are really of wood frame construction with plastered exteriors faking adobe construction and with interior fake vigas. The Painted Desert Inn is a much purer form of Pueblo/Mexican revival architecture in that all roof vigas and savinos are authentically structural in function. The only exception is the top floor room which serves merely as a cover over the skylight in the trading post, and is of frame construction plastered to match the rest.

In his 1972 report Historian Brown went on to cite the practical problems of structural restoration and use, while adding that "everyone not concerned with practical problems is appalled by the idea of the building's demolition. It is very attractive, and an excellent representative of its style." He further said, "As a historian, I would like to see the place saved." As of January 1975, Brown believes the building can be described as being of local historical significance.

It is apparent that practically every person who has faced the question of whether to preserve or not to preserve the Inn has been entranced by the building's character and appalled at the thought of demolition, but sufficiently intimidated by practical problems involved to evade the issue and defer a decision until some future date.

Complete renovation of the building would undoubtedly prove costly, but demolition would be costly also.

It is the recommendation of the Historic Preservation Team, Western Regional Office, that the Painted Desert Inn be retained, rehabilitated and adapted for such uses as may be needed by the Service.

As the Painted Desert Inn is, in itself, an important architectural resource which merits preservation, the obvious choice is an adaptive restoration of this building.

As Interpretation is now almost totally lacking at the northern end of the Park, and perhaps the Inn could be employed not only to deal with the Painted Desert and its geology, flora and fauna, but with the rich prehistory and history of the region. It could illustrate the prehistoric Indian past, early Spanish and American exploration of the region, the Navajo wars in the area, development of the 35th Parallel Route, the building of the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad, etc. Such other uses could be made of the Inn as deemed advisable by management so long as it does not alter the basic structure or its interior decor.

The Historic Preservation Team is of the opinion that the Painted Desert Inn clearly qualifies for nomination to the National Register of Historic Places primarily on the basis of its architectural significance, with secondary significance in local history, governmental programs, and artistic values.

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Last Updated: 14-Aug-2009