Pueblo Deco, started by the best known unknown architect, Mary J. Colter
May 22, 2017 1:33 PM   Subscribe

The 1923 opening of the El Navajo Hotel in Gallup, N.M., created a sensation, with the event reported as far away as in the Washington Post. Its architect, Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter, had merged the bold Art Deco patterns with those created by native artists in the American Southwest to start a style called Pueblo Deco. This style was often seen inside and out on Harvey Hotels and restaurants, where she was exclusive employed from 1910 to 1948. Though a number of Harvey Hotels have been demolished, including El Navajo Hotel, you can still visit (Google maps street view) and stay at La Posada hotel in Winslow, Arizona and the Slaton Harvey House in Slaton, Texas (Google maps), which is currently a bed and breakfast, event hall and railroad museum.

Colter graduated from the California School of Design in San Francisco (having also apprenticed with a local architect) in 1890—when the U.S. census counted only 22 female architects in the entire country. She started designing interiors for the Fred Harvey Company—and, by extension, the Santa Fe Railway—before becoming the architect for a number of Harvey properties in the Southwest. Colter used Hopi, Zuni, Navajo, and Mexican motifs, and primarily around the Grand Canyon, more rustic styles.

But her buildings weren't merely copies of native designs. For example, Hopi House was an actual dwelling: some of the Hopis who worked in the building lived on the upper floors, and the Desert View Watchtower includes an upper Hopi Room with paintings by Hopi artist Fred Kabotie, who took the room's theme from the Hopi Snake Dance, while other artworks were copied from prehistoric pictographs and petroglyphs at a New Mexico archaeological site that is now destroyed. These may be the only surviving record of that rock art. In 2000, NPR produced a two-part story with an accompanying gallery on Colter (Real Media audio and a gallery of small images).

While she was the origin of the style, Colter's Pueblo Deco style spread. There are two key examples that still stand today in downtown Albuquerque, less than a block apart. The most notable example, particularly on the highly ornate end (via) of the style, is the KiMo Theatre (Google maps), which was designed by Carl Boller, of the two Boller Brothers from Missouri. Head west and you'll see (Google maps) Skip Maisel's Indian Trading Post, the only Pueblo Deco building in Albuquerque that employed work by Pueblo and Navajo artists, which was designed by architect John Gaw Meem. Meem is one of the two notable names associated with the Pueblo Revival style. The other name? Mary Jane Colter.
posted by filthy light thief (11 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
If you want to read more, here are three books that may be of interest:
- Mary Colter: Architect of the Southwest by Arnold Berke (2002) Google books preview / Amazon
- Mary Colter: Builder Upon the Red Earth by Virginia L. Grattan (1992) Google books preview / Amazon
- Pueblo Deco by Carla Breeze (1990) Amazon
posted by filthy light thief at 2:02 PM on May 22, 2017 [3 favorites]

The Desert View Watchtower is one of my favorite places on earth. The Manual for Drivers and Guides Descriptive of the Indian Watchtower at Desert View was recently republished by the Grand Canyon Association. It's an excellent history with incredible detail about Fred Kabotie's paintings. Thank you so much for this post!
posted by pjsky at 2:31 PM on May 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

It seems that The Manual for Drivers and Guides Descriptive of the Indian Watchtower at Desert View can be downloaded here (PDF, 63 pages, no images, 453 KB), which seems to be material from the The Grand Canyon Association Field Institute (the file name is "document_learn_fieldinstitute_GTS_ClassDesertViewWatchtowerGuide1933.pdf"). You can pick up a proper re-published version from the Grand Canyon Association.

Related: Panoramas of Desert View Watchtower Murals, Grand Canyon National Park (PDF, 10 pages, 2.35 MB), Robert Mark & Evelyn Billo, ©Rupestrian CyberServices, 2004
posted by filthy light thief at 2:47 PM on May 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

A picture of her Watchtower is in this film of Grand Canyon Cloud Inversions, a post from yesterday.
posted by Oyéah at 5:43 PM on May 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

This is a fantastic FPP.

However, I do not see any Art Deco influence in this architecture. At. All. It's great architecture, though!
posted by radicalawyer at 7:13 PM on May 22, 2017

in the late 90's I worked for BNSF railroad in the southwest, and stayed for quite a while at the Harvey house in Winslow (I believe the same year they had just turned it into a B&B). BNSF had their office in an attached part of the building, which was a weird but convenient setup.

I remember them telling me that they wanted to demolish the building at one point but because the walls were 3 ft thick in some places that it was cheaper to just leave it as-is and work around it instead. (their office was abysmal and nothing like the rest of the building, as usual.)

It remains one of my favorite experiences working for the railroad and traveling the desert southwest on someone else's dime, and getting paid for it. I highly recommend a visit.
posted by EricGjerde at 7:36 PM on May 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

because the walls were 3 ft thick in some places

When you build with adobe, you're basically building a cave out of mud. You make the walls super thick because mud is basically free and the thick walls keep out the heat of the desert days but holds in heat in the desert nights.

I love adobe construction. If you're ever in southern NM, go out to Mesilla and drive around and see some really amazing old houses that have been there for ages and ages.
posted by hippybear at 1:58 AM on May 23, 2017 [3 favorites]

Here's a starting point for a Google street view tour of Mesilla, NM, and here's a Google Streetview of El Presidio de Santa Barbara State Historic Park, which was rebuilt with "cut-away" walls in the original location, but because there are sidewalks and a street through what was the building, the walls end and the footprint is identified, so you can see how thick those walls were. Mind you, that's a Spanish building, but still made of adobe bricks.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:13 AM on May 23, 2017

However, I do not see any Art Deco influence in this architecture. At. All. It's great architecture, though!

I think the Deco is in the details and ornamentation, while the Pueblo is the majority of the structure, plus the Southwest native art influences to the Deco designs.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:15 AM on May 23, 2017

The Slaton Harvey house does a great job of showing the Deco influence. The multiple. multilevel lines of the walls and roofs are beautiful and look absolutely Deco to me.

(move the Google Maps so that you are directly in front of it, just to the right (and behind) the blue pickup in the picture)
posted by oddman at 9:10 AM on May 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

I am shocked, absolutely shocked, no one has mentioned this piece of cultural appropriation.
posted by Oyéah at 4:40 PM on May 23, 2017

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