In Praise of Old Hotels — Part 10: Winslow, Arizona

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La Posada Hotel in Winslow Arizona

La Posada Hotel — I’m on the road again. I decided to give myself a Christmas present with a mid-December trip to Flagstaff, Arizona and a side trip to Grand Canyon. I might as well check out a few old hotels along the way. In the past I always sped through northern Arizona stopping only at gas stations or for fast food. This time I decided to take my time.

Winslow is a small town, getting smaller, and is semi-famous for the song lyrics: “Standing on the corner in Winslow Arizona…etc.  etc.” and for being close to some tourist attractions like the Painted Desert, Meteor Crater and the Petrified Forest. The Santa Fe Railroad brought thousands of tourists to Winslow each year and they all paraded through the La Posada Hotel because the hotel was also the train station. It still is but you can get to it from old Highway 66 or Business I-40 as we romantically call it now.

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La Posada is the creation of architect Mary Colter who had an impressive career designing structures in the southwest including Grand Canyon National Park. She designed Bright Angel Lodge where, if the weather cooperates, I will be staying in a few days (stay tuned). Colter also had an impressive imagination and was greatly inspired by southwestern, native, and Spanish architecture. Colter joined up with the Santa Fe Railroad and Fred Harvey and created a rambling hacienda complete with a fantastic story-line of four generations of local Spanish-Basque Grandees who ruled an imaginary cattle empire in the desert. Apparently Fred Harvey ate it all up and so did the Santa Fe Railway who paid for it all. You undoubtedly will recall the Fred Harvey hotel chain and the famous Harvey Girls that staffed the hotels. La Posada was the last great Harvey Hotel to be built, opening in 1930. It is in a Spanish hacienda style but is quite eclectic, especially after the last renovation, since the original furnishings were auctioned off. Most of what you see is inspired by the 1930s era but it is a mix of Spanish, Indian and even Chinese….almost as if some family lived here (the owners do).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe hotel was a (modest) hit and why not? People had to walk through once they got off the train and there wasn’t much else as competition. They were serving up over 1,000 meals a day in the restaurant. There was a fleet of Packard touring cars that took tourists on eye-popping drives to see the Painted Desert and the local Navajos.  The hotel stayed in operation as long as rail travel for tourists stayed strong. Route 66 brought people but by then there were some roadside tourist courts and these car people didn’t need the Packards. Finally the hotel closed down in 1957 and was later horribly renovated into offices for the railroad with drop ceilings and office partitions. The furnishings were auctioned off. In 1993 the railroad decided it wanted to dispose of the place (think demolition) and it was placed on the “most endangered” list by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. It seemed to be doomed.

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A white-knight appeared named Allan Affeldt who wanted to save the old hotel. The Santa Fe Railroad was not very cooperative but he finally purchased the relic in 1997. It was a mess. Besides the awful office conversion and auction and general deterioration, the walls were plastered with asbestos; apparently something that was in vogue in 1930.

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The hotel is now open and is a showcase for Colter’s architecture and art of every description from renown artists. There are several rooms and public areas that serve as galleries. It looks like most or all of the art is for sale. Some of the walls are decorated with Navajo rugs, also for sale.

It is a spacious place and it’s enjoyable just wandering around. They have an indoor walking tour that points out some of the original details.  There are also several gardens that greet the visitor but since I was visiting in December I didn’t investigate. There was a little bar — the Martini Room — that I did investigate. .There is an unusual amount of public space — lounges, galleries and sitting rooms — where a guest can find a cozy spot to read a book. The registration desk/counter is at the back of a large gift shop. Many of the public rooms have been repurposed because the hotel originally opened toward the tracks but now is geared more toward the street.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe guest rooms are very nicely decorated and researched. I stayed in the Victor Mature room, across the hall from the Bob Hope room and down the hall from the Gene Autry room. It’s not all guys…I think Mary Pickford and Dorothy Lamour rooms are close by as is Shirley Temple. These were pretty standard rooms but there is a Howard Hughes Hideaway suite and a nice Diane Keaton room and a Harry Truman room. Hughes stayed here quite often as the head of TWA, which had eight daily flights into Winslow. He could get here pretty easily.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy room, and I guess others as well, had a stocked library with about fifty books. Based only on the size of the bed I have to assume Victor Mature was a really big guy. The bathroom was refurbished in a 1930s black and white tile. They have Wi-Fi and almost everything else you need. The person checking in before me requested a refrigerator and they said they would bring one to her room. I don’t have one.  This is a railroad hotel which means the trains go by all the time. I brought ear plugs just in case and you should too if you are a light sleeper. The place is big and sturdy but you still know a train is going by. Like a lot of older hotels, you might be hard pressed to find enough electrical outlets for all of your electronic devices.  We bring a lot of stuff with us now.

I did eat in the Turquoise Room Restaurant and I can recommend it. Bring your credit card but the food is worth it. I had pan-seared Redfish with capers and Meyer lemon sauce, steamed vegetables and fingerling potatoes with an ample supply of bread. I passed on the salad and soup but had a small desert of dark chocolate gelato with raspberries and cream in a crepe bowl. The crepe bowl would have sufficed for desert by itself. Repent!! Repent!! You glutton!

Well — I won’t have much for breakfast.

When I waddled down the hall and up the spiral staircase to Victor’s room there was a guy playing some nice classical guitar in the sitting area.

They have complementary coffee and hot chocolate in the morning with some fruit. If you are still hungry…somehow…they also serve breakfast in the restaurant. I won’t be hungry.

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Painted Desert Inn (Petrified Forest National Park) — You can’t stay here but you can look. Years ago, back when there were Packard touring cars driving visitors through the Painted Desert, there was also a mom and pop privately operated “inn” perched up on one of the prime vantage spots in the Painted Desert.

The original place, known as the Stone Tree House, was made of petrified wood stones and operated from 1924 until around 1935 when the park bought the property. There are apparently parts of the original building inside the pueblo revival structure that you see today.

As the place converted over to being a national park the old inn was  rebuilt by CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) workers and became the Painted Desert Inn. The place is still there as sort of a relic with a few displays of what it was like back in the day and a Ranger answering questions. The CCC workers did a wonderful job and created almost everything you see including the furniture and light fixtures. It is a sturdy little place and stands as testament of what they were able to do.

I’m not sure how many of today’s visitors appreciate what this was and how it came to be. It was never very big but there were not many people who would forego the convenience of the Harvey Hotels… or they were of the other, hardier  extreme — camping in canvas tents along the highway. The dust bowl and the depression hit people very hard and the CCC put a lot of young men to work and a portion of their pay went to their families back home. I had an uncle who worked in a CCC crew.

Today there is an Artist in Residence program at the park and you will possibly meet him or her at the Inn. You may also see local artisans displaying and selling their creations. When I visited in the snow there were two local people — a jewelry maker and a weaver.

I’ve been here a few times now — in the heat of summer and on this cold and snowy day and I enjoy the chance to get out and see what’s what. Usually there is a different exhibit downstairs in what used to be the taproom. The Rangers are chatty and full of information.

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The Painted Desert in snow – view from the Painted Desert Inn

 

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Christmas Blur

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Wow.  Why does Christmas sneak up on me every year? I have plenty of warning. This year they were getting ready before Halloween. I think that’s part of the problem in my case – I just tune it out.

 

210x260-A-Christmas-Story-106A few things help me get back on track. My friend, Sandy, and I went to a wonderful musical play at the Popejoy Hall theater on the UNM campus. The story…called The Christmas Story…has been around for a while but I never saw it presented as a musical. It was truly enjoyable. That helped me stay on track but there were a number of distractions that sent me off on tangents.

 

Thanksgiving got me back in the spirit. My daughter, Jill, had been walking the Camino Santiago in Spain and I was pretty much focused on her progress toward Santiago de Compostela. She got there on November 13th and was there during the terrorist attacks in Paris.  That was scary but she made it home on November 19th safe and sound…but a little sore of foot and back.  She announced that she would probably never eat ham or pork (Jamon, in Spain) agsain.   OOOPS… Guess what I was thinking about cooking for Thanksgiving.  Yep…ham.  As a backup plan I had a pork roast in the freezer and I was going to give her a choice.

We had turkey. There was just the two of us so we got a small (3 pound) turkey roast. I’m still eating it and I’m not that fond of Turkey but I’m finding ways to make it better.

After Thanksgiving we Americans always celebrate Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Small Business Saturday, all followed by Buyer’s Remorse Wednesday. Jill went out looking for a new artificial Christmas tree and I tagged along. We eventually found one at Walmart – of course. She lives in a  top-floor apartment with a high vaulted ceiling so she wanted a tree that would not be lost in the space. She settled for a 6.5 foot tree and, based on the picture she sent, it looks fine. She has a cat that prefers not to walk on the floor and leaps from place to place. I expect the tree to go down a few times.  A new Christmas tradition!!!

PC020026.JPGWhen Jill was small we had a fairly large tree each year…usually a live tree. Now, living by myself, I have a small artificial tree. Many folks my age just forego the tree all together but I like to get mine out. It takes about a half hour to do the whole thing.  I try to get a live wreath or swag to bring some sort of live (actually dead) evergreen into the house.

 

Because we had a large tree, I have a bunch of ornaments that have come down through the decades.  Depending on how I pack things away each year I often come across these old ornaments. I have some from when I was a kid and a couple relics from when my dad was young. My brother and I would get to pick out a new ornament at the department store each year and, with appropriate pomp and ceremony, we would hang the shiny new ornaments on the family tree.  We would pick the most elaborate and most fragile ornaments we could find…some with tinkling bells and some with various sparkles and appendages. These hardly ever made it past a couple years because they would break so easily.  Sadly, I don’t actually remember what they looked like…the Christmas blur seems to run all of it together.   Anyway, I found a bunch this year that were quite old. I’m posting some pictures of what I found. Some of these went out of style and then came back.

The glass Santa is old but they have them in stores today. He brings back memories of other Santas that we had. One in particular was decorated with rabbit fur (I guess) and after a few years he had to be thrown out because the fur got very strange and my mom couldn’t deal with it anymore.

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The old colored glass balls faded over the years to a translucent or clear tinted glass. I have no idea how old some of these are but they have a bunch of years on them.

Some were hand painted or had sparkle stuff painted on as decoration. Some of the sparkle is gone but the rough paint is still there like a fossil of what it once was.

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One of my favorite things is the relic Christmas lights from my dad’s family tree when he was young. Again, I have no idea how old these are but they probably date to the 1930s or before. I can remember seeing them light up as a kid. We would screw them into our big and bulky Christmas lights on our tree and watch them light up for about a minute or two and then hang them on the tree like ornaments. They are heavy, hand-painted milk-glass.

I am cutting back this year and not putting as much stuff out. I will be gone for a week in December and it seems like a few less decorations might be warranted. I have the decorations out in the backyard shed and have to haul things back and forth. For some reason I seem to be missing a few things so there must be another box out there.

I am putting s few of my wife’s Santas out. She collected Santas and had around 300 when she passed away. I kept a couple dozen but parted with most of them. Some are very fragile and I’ve opted not to put them out this year. The big fabric ones are out. A couple ceramic Santas are out.

My mom took a ceramic class one year  and was making a nativity set. She didn’t get very far…but that’s what I use. I consider it an abstract, post-modern, minimalist version.

It wouldn’t be Christmas if I didn’t have Nigel, the Santa pig out. He goes into a special place of honor. I bought him for Joanne to add to her collection but she was not thrilled. She eventually warmed up to Nigel and he became one of our family favorites. (Looks like I need to get the cob webs out of the place of honor???)

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Nigel in his place of honor

So I’m back on track. I played some Christmas music and even started doing some Christmas shopping. Full speed ahead!!

Merry Christmas….

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Wednesday Roam — Christmas Greetings, etc.

Well, here we are — it’s Christmas Eve. The War on Christmas seems to be winding down — and since it never existed in the first place I guess that also is a false perception.  I’ve not heard that much out of the weak-kneed Bible Thumpers this year about how poor little Christmas was being attacked from all sides. Oh ye of little faith. My Christmas is as strong and robust as ever.

There are a number of religious holidays and observances this time of year. There is nothing wrong with wishing someone Happy Holidays or Seasons Greetings. Christmas doesn’t suffer a black eye because you wish the best for people of other faiths (or people of no faiths).  I sent out a number of “Seasons Greetings” cards along with my Christmas cards. Happy Solstice.

So for my many Christian friends, I wish you a joyous Christmas and hope that The Dawn of Redeeming Grace enlightens your life in the year ahead.