When Allan Affeldt decided to buy the abandoned La Posada Hotel in Winslow, Ariz., no bank would offer him a loan.
The deal sounded like a steal at face value in 1994: $158,000 for a 72,000-square-foot historic hotel set on 20 acres. But La Posada, which had hosted Clark Gable and Howard Hughes in its heyday, had been boarded up for years.
Estimates put renovation costs at $12 million. And once it opened, who would stay there? Aside from stray tourists pulling off I-40 to see the corner the Eagles sang about in “Take It Easy,” Winslow was not on anyone’s bucket list of places to see before dying.
But love is blind, some say.
Affeldt traveled from Laguna Beach, Calif., to see La Posada after it appeared on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s endangered list. He instantly fell in love with the building and a woman, Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter, who died in 1958. A visionary architect and interior designer, Colter had designed and furnished some of the Southwest’s most fascinating buildings, including La Posada, as well as the Hopi House and Desert View Watchtower on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.
Twenty-two years later, travelers can stay in one of La Posada’s 54 beautifully-restored rooms and dine in its award-winning Turquoise Room run by James Beard-nominated chef John Sharpe.
“When we bought La Posada, Mary Colter was almost completely forgotten,” Affeldt says, who, with his wife artist Tina Mion, restored the hotel that had operated from 1930-57. “But there’s been a renaissance of American history that was partly forgotten and we are part of that. We are essentially collaborating with an architect who is dead and gone.”
Colter was part of an industrious team that included the Santa Fe Railway and Fred Harvey, a business man with an acute mission to deliver unrivaled hospitality. Together they developed dozens of elegant restaurants and hotels along the Santa Fe railroad line that cut through vastly underpopulated stretches of New Mexico, Arizona and California.
In doing so, Harvey created the nation’s first chain of restaurants and hotels, drawing inspiration from the Southwest’s Native American and Spanish influences and distinct landscapes. He hired thousands of single women, referred to as “Harvey girls,” known for their stellar customer service.
The first of the hotels was La Castaneda in Las Vegas, N.M., built in 1899 60 miles north of Santa Fe. In 2014 Affeldt bought the boarded-up building that had closed in 1948. He’s in the process of restoring it but offers tours. Down the street, Affledt owns La Plaza Hotel, a beautifully restored 1882 Italianate style hotel.
Today, the art-filled hotels attract railroad aficionados, architects, history buffs, Route 66 fans and travelers who serendipitously discover them. For a town like Winslow, Affeldt and Mion’s labor of love has quite literally changed its face.
“We literally get people from all over here now,” says Bob Hall, Winslow Chamber of Commerce CEO. “I met an architect from Milan, Italy, the other day who’s a fan of Mary Colter. It’s the pride of the region. People fly in from Palm Springs and Chicago just to have dinner.”
For more information:
La Posada Hotel & Gardens
303 E. 2nd St, Winslow, AZ