Mary Colter's Buildings at Grand Canyon

Mary Colter was the chief architectural designer and interior decorator for the Fred Harvey Company from 1902 to 1948. Her creative free-form buildings at Grand Canyon took direct inspiration from the landscape and served as part of the basis of the developing artistic aesthetic for appropriate development in areas that became national parks.

She designed eight unique Grand Canyon Buildings. (All are still in use today). Hopi House, Hermit's Rest, Lookout Studio, Phantom Ranch, Desert View Watchtower, Bright Angel Lodge, and the two Fred Harvey employee dormitories, Colter Hall and Victor Hall. (Now dormitories for Xanterra employees).

To protect Mary Colter's work, four of her buildings at Grand Canyon (Hopi House, Lookout Studio, Hermit's Rest, and Desert View Watchtower) were declared National Historic Landmarks in 1987.

Full length photo of Mary Colter sitting in an elaborate wicker chair that wraps around her.
Architect Mary Colter at age 50

Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter

Mary Colter was born in Pittsburgh in 1869 and grew up in Texas, Colorado, and St. Paul, Minnesota. While attending the California School of Design in San Francisco she apprenticed in an architect's office and then went into teaching back in St. Paul.

Through informal contacts with the Fred Harvey Company, Colter eventually landed a job as interior designer of the Indian Building adjacent to the Santa Fe's new Alvarado Hotel in Albuquerque, along the main line. Although the Mission Revival style had been popular in California since the 1890s, the Alvarado Hotel and its adjacent Indian Building (both destroyed) were the first of their kind in New Mexico. Her reputation swiftly grew, and her use of natural materials in forms that mimicked nature served as the basis for later work by architect Herbert Maier and others who designed what we now term "rustic" architecture.

As a full-time architectural designer/decorator in the Fred Harvey Company, Mary Colter would design and oversee the construction of eight buildings on the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona. Colter was a perfectionist, who spent a lifetime advocating and defending her aesthetic vision in a largely male-dominated field. In 1948, at the age of 79, Colter officially retired from the Fred Harvey Company. On January 8, 1958, at the age of 88, Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter died.


Explore A Park Map

Explore all of Mary Colter's buildings on the interactive map below. To learn more information about a site click on the images below the map or a number on the map. Zoom in to see a site or area more clearly.

An stone arch structure with a bell on the top.
Hermit's Rest History

Hermit's Rest provided a place for visitors to rest when traveling on the Fred Harvey Company’s sightseeing tours.

A stone building with the Grand Canyon in the background.
Lookout Studio History

Inspired by the natural landscape around her, Mary Colter modeled this building after southwestern Native American architectural styles.

A group of people standing outside the entrance of a hotel
Bright Angel Lodge History

The Fred Harvey Company built the Bright Angel Lodge on the former site of the Bright Angel Hotel and Camp established by James Thurber.

A adobe pueblo building with two signs in the front.
Hopi House History

The Hopi House pays tribute to the Hopi and their ancestors that have inhabited the Grand Canyon for centuries.

A stone cabin halfway blocked by a tree showing fall leaves.
Phantom Ranch History

Only accessible by mule, by foot, or by rafting the Colorado River, Phantom Ranch is the only lodging facility below the canyon rim.

A stone
Desert View Watchtower History

Modeled after Ancestral Puebloan dwellings found at Hovenweep and Mesa Verde, the Desert View Watchtower opened in 1932.

Last updated: April 4, 2022

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PO Box 129
Grand Canyon, AZ 86023



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