Winslow, Arizona’s La Posada Hotel
“Standing on the corner in Winslow, Arizona, and such a fine place to be” the Eagles song earworm plagued me for 230 miles.
A friend and I were hiking in New Mexico’s Bisti Badlands over parched and cracked terrain with only the rare sagebrush clinging to life. We met a guy in a flatbed Ford (I’m making the flatbed Ford part up) who mentioned we ought to see the Painted Desert near Winslow.
Why not? It was, after all, a road trip without a jam-packed itinerary. So, we went to Winslow to stand on the corner …
Like many detours, I found something unexpected that impressed me more than the badland’s foreboding landscape. That something was La Posada Hotel. It defied expectations. It juxtaposed the golden warmth of the Southwest with surreal, thought-provoking art and packaged it neatly in a historic hacienda. It made my head spin. The earworm mocked me—“Take it easy, take it eeeassy, don’t let the sound of your own wheels drive you crazy.”
La Posada Hotel is the last standing Harvey House—a chain of restaurants and hotels that welcomed guests off the Santa Fe Railway. Fred Harvey built his hospitality empire to serve good food, provide comfortable accommodations, and allow tourists to take ‘Indian detours’ during their Santa Fe train trips.
Harvey Houses sprung up in the American Southwest. Harvey Girls—with starched white aprons, conservative hemlines, and finishing school manners—provided impeccable service right down to linen napkins and polished silverware. Harvey, it is said, civilized the West.
La Posada opened in 1930. Architect and designer Mary Colter designed the hotel and many of its furnishings. No detail was left to chance—even the Harvey Girl aprons deviated from the norm and featured cacti and napping men with sombreros.
Colter had worked with Fred Harvey from 1903 until 1950 on dozens of projects including five lodges in nearby Grand Canyon National Park. But she was the proudest of this hotel. La Posada—the Resting Place—captured her heart and the essence of the American Southwest in a style called Pueblo Deco.
Even though the hotel opened at the start of the Great Depression, a long list of rich and famous stayed here—Albert Einstein, Amelia Earhart, Bob Hope, FDR, the Crown Prince of Japan. Guest room placards drop more glamorous names: Emilio Estevez–#241, Lauren Hutton–#220. Howard Hughes always stayed in #225.
Americans’ love affair with road trips spelled the end of passenger train travel to the Southwest. As tourists motored along Route 66, making their own decisions and detours, La Posada closed its doors to guests in 1959.
The Santa Fe Railway eventually took over and gutted the building, making it into office cubicles for the railroad’s headquarters until 1993. The railroad planned to demolish the hotel, but local residents Marie LaMar and Janice Griffith received a grant to buy the building. When asked how they intended to restore the hotel, they said “By the grace of God and the spirit of Mary Colter.”
By both grace and spirit, the building was resurrected. Its saviors? Three ambitious partners with zero hotel experience but a dream to restore the hotel and revitalize Winslow. It worked.
From Dreams to Reality
Patience was key, though. Allan Affeldt negotiated with Santa Fe Railway for three long years. Affeldt, his wife Tina Mion, and college friend Dan Lutzick bought and began restoring the hotel soon after the ink dried. That was in 1997.
Today, La Posada’s golden stucco façade and hacienda-style architecture with arched doorways, shady porches, and massive, coffee-colored beams welcome the road-weary. Bits of the hotel, auctioned off by Santa Fe Railway, found their way back during the restoration. Arched doors that for a time graced a Scottsdale garden are back in the dining room. Some pieces continue to evade them.
The hotel’s restoration included commissioning art pieces like La Posada Madonna to replace the one that was lost. She blesses the entry from her handcrafted tinwork niche. With artist-owners, both functional and decorative art is everywhere. Tina’s brother Kevin Mion helped with the restoration and handcrafted the walnut and maple bar in the Martini Lounge.
Lutzick’s contemporary mask and headdress sculpture hangs in the lobby. Tina Mion’s stained-glass patron saints watch over the hotel’s dining room—The Turquoise Room—whose James Beard-nominated Chef John Sharpe and attentive waitstaff must make Fred Harvey proud.
Not Your Typical Hotel Art
Tina Mion’s sometimes playful, sometimes dark, art begins with oil paintings in the lobby. The artwork is raw, clever, sometimes witty, often provocative and always in sharp contrast to the ‘saguaro cactus at sunset’ paintings you expect to see in the Southwest. Her second-floor mural is proof of that.
Her New Year’s Party in Purgatory portrays celebrities and friends who’ve died before their time. Mion painted herself with the noisemaker she used to summon the suicide victims and Liberace—who loved a good party but died of natural causes—to the celebration. Ernest Hemingway sports a bullet hole to his head, Sylvia Plath wears oven mitts, and Judy Garland accessories with a pill necklace. Mion hopes the paintings will destigmatize or at least spark a conversation about suicide.
Browsing Tina Mion’s upstairs gallery you’ll see paintings from her Ladies First series, like Stop-Action Reaction—a painting of Jackie Kennedy holding the bullet-severed King of Hearts playing card—as well as pieces from her quirky ‘Objects’ series.
The freestanding depot-turned museum recounts the hotel’s history from construction to restoration. There you can contemplate Mion’s largest work, Carry Us All that she says represents “the space between this life and what, if anything, comes after.” Or you can watch the westbound graffiti-laden freight trains rumble past the depot and just . . . take it easy.