Most of the South Rim's historic buildings are concentrated in Grand Canyon Village, a National Historic District. Outside of the village, Hermits Rest on Hermit Road and the Watchtower on Desert View Drive are also of historical significance. For information about these two sites, refer to the Hermit Road and Desert View driving tours. Strange and beautiful, these historic buildings -- like the canyon itself -- take time to appreciate.
Mary Colter, a Minneapolis schoolteacher and trained architect who in 1902 began decorating the shops that sold Native American art on the Santa Fe Railroad line, designed more than a half-dozen of the canyon's historic buildings. Her landmarks include: Hopi House (1905), the Lookout (1914), Hermits Rest (1914), Phantom Ranch (1922), the Watchtower (1932), and Bright Angel Lodge (1935). Colter's work drew heavily on the architectural styles of Native Americans and Spanish settlers in the Southwest, long before these styles became fashionable among Anglos. The most noteworthy historic buildings in Grand Canyon Village are detailed below.
Bright Angel Lodge -- In the 1930s, Santa Fe Railroad representatives asked Mary Colter to design moderately priced accommodations for the many new tourists who had begun driving to the canyon. Colter laid out a number of cabins, as well as this rustic log-and-stone lodge, which would eventually house a lounge, restaurant, and curio shop. Completed in 1935, the lodge, near Grand Canyon Village's west end, looks low from the outside, but has a spacious lobby with wooden walls, flagstone floors, and a high, exposed-log ceiling. A remarkable hearth is in what was once the lounge and is now the Bright Angel History Room. Known as "the geological fireplace," it features the rock layers found in the canyon, stacked in the same order in which they naturally occur. Rounded, smooth river stones lie at the bottom of this bell-shaped hearth, and Kaibab Limestone, the rim rock, is on top. This educational room also tells the story of the Harvey Girls -- young women who came west, starting in 1883 through the 1950s, to staff the Fred Harvey restaurants and hotels along the rail lines.
Buckey O'Neill Cabin -- This is Grand Canyon Village's second-oldest surviving structure (the oldest is Red Horse Station, which was moved to the rim in 1890). Buckey O'Neill, who in the 1890s worked a number of local jobs, including sheriff, judge, reporter, and prospector, visited this cabin.
After discovering what he believed to be a rich copper vein in Anita, 14 miles south of the canyon, he pushed for the construction of a railroad line connecting Williams with the Grand Canyon -- via Anita, naturally. A Chicago mining company bought out O'Neill, but the project collapsed when the mine turned out to be less than rich. In 1901, the Santa Fe Railroad, perhaps realizing that tourism here would pay far greater dividends than copper, bought the line and laid the remaining track.
When Mary Colter designed cabins for Bright Angel Lodge, she fought to preserve O'Neill Cabin, eventually building her own structures around it. Today, this cabin, a few feet west of Bright Angel Lodge, is the park's most upscale guest suite. Guests staying here may, however, feel like zoo animals as tourists try to peer inside.
El Tovar Hotel -- A year after the Santa Fe Railroad linked the South Rim with Williams, Fred Harvey commissioned Charles Whittlesey, an architect who had worked with Mary Colter on Albuquerque's Alvarado Hotel, to build a large luxury hotel on the rim. Whittlesey fashioned El Tovar after the Northern European hunting lodges of that period. Built of Oregon pine, this 100-room hotel offered first-class accommodations, attracting well-heeled East Coast visitors looking for a Western adventure and luminaries such as George Bernard Shaw and Theodore Roosevelt. The hotel received a multimillion-dollar face-lift for its centennial in 2005. To find it, walk 200 yards east along the rim from Bright Angel Lodge.
Grand Canyon Depot -- Built in 1909, this was the Santa Fe station and is one of America's three remaining log train depots. It closed after the last train from the Grand Canyon departed in 1968, then reopened in 1990, roughly a year after the railway resumed service. About 100 yards south of El Tovar, this two-story depot is built of logs that are flat on three sides, making for smooth interior walls and a rounded, rustic-looking exterior. Once home to the station agent and his family, the depot's second floor now houses Park Service offices. Photos of old trains parked at the depot decorate the walls. The Grand Canyon Railway makes its way every day from Williams to the Grand Canyon Depot, arriving in the morning and returning in the afternoon.
Hopi House -- Aware that travelers were captivated by the idea of meeting Native Americans, representatives of the Fred Harvey Co., best known for its railroad restaurants (and famed "Harvey Girls") alongside the Southwest's principal rail lines in the early 1900s, brought a group of Hopi artisans to Grand Canyon Village. At the same time that it was erecting El Tovar Hotel on the rim, the company commissioned Mary Colter to design a structure 100 feet east of the hotel that could serve as both a dwelling for the Hopi and a place to market their wares.
Colter fashioned Hopi House after the pueblos in Oraibi, Arizona. Completed in 1905, this stone-and-mortar structure rises in tiers, each level connected by exterior wood ladders and interior stairways; each level's roof serves as the porch for the level above. Inside, low doorways and nooks in the walls recall the snug quarters of real pueblos. The concrete floors are made to look like dirt, the plaster walls to look like adobe. Log beams support thatched ceilings.
Through 1968, Hopi artisans lived on the top floor of this building, while creating and selling their pottery, rugs, and jewelry on the lower floors. Nightly, they chanted and danced on a platform behind the building. Today, Hopi House still sells Native and non-Native American arts and crafts downstairs, and higher quality Native American art and jewelry on the second floor, which looks like an art gallery. Native American dancers perform just outside Hopi House afternoons in summer. Once used for religious purposes, the kiva on the second floor remains off-limits to non-Native Americans. Hopi House is open daily from 8am to 8pm (winter hours reduced).
Kolb Studio -- In 1902, two brothers, Emery and Ellsworth Kolb, began photographing tourists descending the Bright Angel Trail on mules. After snapping the photos, they ran to Indian Gardens, where they had water to develop their plates, then raced back to the rim in time to sell the photos. Flush with profits from the business, in 1904, they started to build this home and studio beside Bright Angel Trail's head, along the rim at Grand Canyon Village's westernmost edge. Several years later, the brothers launched a more ambitious project: a motion picture of a raft trip through Grand Canyon. Completed in 1912, the film earned them international fame and drew throngs of people to the studio's viewing room.
After clashing regularly throughout the years, the two brothers eventually flipped a coin to determine who would have the privilege of remaining at their beloved Grand Canyon. Emery won two out of three tosses. So Ellsworth moved to Los Angeles, and Emery continued to live and work at Kolb Studio, introducing the brothers' film to audiences, continuing to photograph mule riders going down the Bright Angel Trail, and selling curios each day until his death at age 95 in 1976, after which the Park Service took over the building.
Today, Kolb Studio houses a nonprofit gift shop (in the former viewing room), which features books, gifts, and free exhibits year-round. There is no sales tax, and all proceeds are reinvested into the park's operating budget for educational purposes. Kolb Studio is open daily from 8am to 8pm (winter hours reduced).
Lookout Studio -- Seeing the crowds drawn to Kolb Studio, the Fred Harvey Company launched a similar business, only closer to the railroad terminus. Mary Colter was hired to design the building, which she eventually named "the Lookout." Unlike some of her buildings, which were fashioned after occupied pueblos or well-preserved ruins, this one, on the canyon rim about 100 yards east of Kolb Studio, resembles a collapsed ruin. Its original chimney and low-slung roof looked like a pile of rocks and seemed barely higher than the canyon rim. To add to the effect, Colter planted indigenous plants on the roof. After its completion in 1914, tourists came here to buy souvenirs or to photograph the canyon from the deck, where a high-power telescope was placed. Today, Lookout Studio still serves much the same purpose. Lookout Studio is open daily from 8am to 8pm (winter hours reduced).
Verkamp's Visitor Center -- A true visionary, John G. Verkamp may have been the first to sell curios at the Grand Canyon. In 1898, before the railroad even reached Grand Canyon Village, Verkamp was hawking souvenirs out of a tent on the grounds of Bright Angel Lodge. Although his first attempt at the business failed, Verkamp returned in 1905, after the trains began running, and opened a curio shop in a wood-shingled, Craftsman-style building 200 feet east of Hopi House. This time he succeeded. In 2006, the National Park Service purchased the family's interest and now operates a bookstore and visitor center here with displays of Grand Canyon history. Ranger programs, including history talks, often begin here. There's also a walking history tour on the floor of Verkamp's highlighting key moments in area history. Verkamp's is open daily from 8am to 8pm (winter hours reduced).
Grand Canyon Lodge & Cabins -- This lodge sits quietly on the North Rim, gracefully blending into its surroundings. Built in 1928 by Union Pacific Railroad workers, the original structure burned down in 1932 and was rebuilt in 1937. Inside, an expansive 50-foot-high lobby opens into an octagonal sunroom with three enormous windows affording dramatic views of the canyon. You can also enjoy the views in a chair on one of two long decks outside the sunroom. For a cool treat, descend the lodge's back steps and look directly below the sunroom. There, you'll find the romantic Moon Room, a popular spot for marriage proposals. Ranger programs are also offered every night in the lodge's auditorium.
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