El Tovar Hotel

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Discover El Tovar Hotel, which is the premier lodging facility at the Grand Canyon National Park where President Theodore Roosevelt stayed.

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El Tovar Hotel, a member of Historic Hotels of America since 2012, dates back to 1905.


A U.S. National Historic Landmark, the El Tovar Hotel is among the most cherished holiday retreats in Arizona. This spectacular historic hotel is located in the heart of Grand Canyon Village, which overlooks the expansive Grand Canyon National Park. The El Tovar first debuted in 1905 following President Theodore Roosevelt’s famed visit to the area some two years prior. Roosevelt spoke eloquently of the Grand Canyon, stimulating great national interest in the process. The Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway decided to capitalize upon the region’s newfound popularity. It subsequently partnered with the Fred Harvey Company to construct a quaint hotel that could cater to the potential scores of people that were anticipated to visit the area. The two companies opted to use an architect named Charles Whittlesey to oversee its construction. He quickly set about designing the new structure with a budget of $250,000.

Whittlesey utilized a combination of local limestone and Oregon pine to develop the brilliant combination of Swiss Chalet and Mission Revival-style architecture that still defines the El Tovar Hotel today. Once Whittlesey finished the project, the Fred Harvey Company named the hotel after Spanish explorer Pedro de Tovar in honor of those who explored the Grand Canyon in the 16th century. The El Tovar Hotel quickly became an overnight sensation. So many people had arrived within the first few years of its existence that the hotel had to be expanded exponentially. Among many of the guests who flocked to the El Tovar was Theodore Roosevelt, who returned to the Grand Canyon twice in the immediate aftermath of his presidency. Roosevelt even wrote about his experiences at both the El Tovar and the Grand Canyon shortly after his second visit in 1913. The El Tovar Hotel continues to host countless people who share President Roosevelt’s enthusiasm for the inherent beauty of the Grand Canyon.

Image of Historian Stanley Turkel, Historic Hotels of America Image of Stanley Turkel's Built to Last, 100 Year-Old Hotels West of the Mississippi, Historic Hotels of America

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Nobody Asked Me, But… No.257;

Hotel History: El Tovar 8 Hopi Gift Shop (1905)

By Stanley Turkel, CMHS

One hundred and sixteen years ago, two architectural jewels opened in the Grand Canyon National Park: the 95-room El Tovar Hotel and the adjacent Hopi House Gift Shop. Both reflected the foresight and entrepreneurship of Frederick Henry Harvey whose business ventures included restaurants, hotels, railroad dining cars, gift shops and newsstands. His partnership with the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway introduced many new tourists to the American Southwest by making rail travel and dining comfortable and adventurous. Employing many Native-American artists, the Fred Harvey Company also collected examples of indigenous basketry, beadwork, kachina dolls, pottery and textiles. Harvey was known as the “Civilizer of the West.”

Long before the U.S. Congress designated the Grand Canyon National Park in 1919, the earliest tourists came via stagecoach and stayed overnight in tents, cabins or primitive commercial hotels. However, when the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway opened a spur almost directly to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, it created a shortage of adequate accommodations. In 1902, the Santa Fe Railway commissioned construction of El Tovar, a first-class four-story hotel designed by Chicago architect Charles Whittlesey with almost one hundred rooms. The hotel cost $250,000 to build and was the most elegant hotel west of the Mississippi River. It was named “El Tovar” in honor of Pedro de Tovar of the Coronado Expedition. Despite its rustic features, the hotel contained a coal-fired generator that powered electric lights, steam heat, hot and cold running water and indoor plumbing. However, since none of the guestrooms had a private bathroom, guests used a public bathroom on each of the four floors.

The hotel also had a greenhouse to grow fresh fruits and vegetables, a chicken house and a dairy herd to provide fresh milk. Other features included a barbershop, solarium, roof-top garden, billiard room, art and music rooms and Western Union telegraph service in the lobby.

The new hotel was built before the Grand Canyon became a protected Federal national park following President Theodore Roosevelt’s 1903 visit to the Canyon. Roosevelt said, “I want to ask you to do one thing in connection with it in your own interest and in the interest of the country- to keep this great wonder of nature as it is now… I hope you will not have a building of any kind, not a summer cottage, a hotel or anything else, to mar the wonderful grandeur, the sublimity, the great loveliness and beauty of the Canyon. Leave it as it is. You cannot improve upon it.”

Fred Harvey’s restaurants were built almost every 100 miles along the Santa Fe Railway through Kansas, Colorado, Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and California. He staffed his restaurants and hotels with “Harvey Girls”, young women recruited across the U.S. with “good moral character, at least an eighth grade education, good manners, clear speech and a neat appearance.” Many of them later married ranchers and cowboys and named their children “Fred” or “Harvey”. Comedian Will Rogers said of Fred Harvey, “He kept the west in food and wives.”

The El Tovar was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on September 6, 1974. It was declared a National Historic Landmark on May 28, 1987 and is a member of Historic Hotels of America since 2012. The Hotel has hosted such luminaries as Albert Einstein, Zane Grey, President Bill Clinton, Paul McCartney, among many others.

The Hopi House Gift Shop (1905) was built to blend into the neighboring environment and modeled after Hopi pueblo dwellings that used local natural materials such as sandstone and juniper in their construction. While El Tovar catered to upscale tastes, Hopi House represented emerging interest in Southwestern Indian arts and crafts promoted by the Fred Harvey Company and the Santa Fe Railway.

Hopi House was designed by architect Mary Jane Elizabeth Colter starting an association with the Fred Harvey Company and the National Park Service that lasted more than 40 years. It was designed and built as a place to sell Indian artwork. She enlisted the help of Hopi artists from nearby villages to help build the structure. Colter made sure that the interior reflected local Pueblo building styles. Small windows and low ceilings minimize the harsh desert sunlight and lend a cool and cozy feel to the interior. The building includes wall niches, corner fireplaces, adobe walls, a Hopi sand painting and ceremonial altar. Chimneys are made from broken pottery jars stacked and mortared together.

When the building opened, the second floor exhibited a collection of old Navajo blankets, which had won the grand prize at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. This display eventually became the Fred Harvey Fine Arts Collection, which included nearly 5,000 pieces of Native American art. The Harvey collection toured the United States, including prestigious venues such as the Field Museum in Chicago and the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh, as well as international venues such as the Berlin Museum.

Hopi House, then and now, offers a wide range of Native American arts and crafts for sale: pottery and woodcarvings arranged on counters draped in hand-woven Navajo blankets and rugs, baskets hung from peeled-log beams, kachina dolls, ceremonial masks, and woodcarvings illuminated by the suffuse light of the structure’s tiny windows. Hopi murals decorate the stairway walls, and religious artifacts are part of a shrine room.

The Fred Harvey Company invited Hopi artisans to demonstrate how they made jewelry, pottery, blankets, and other items that would then be put up for sale. In exchange, they received wages and lodging at Hopi House, but they never had any ownership of Hopi House and were rarely allowed to sell their own goods directly to tourists. In the late 1920s, the Fred Harvey Company began allowing some Hopi Indians into positions of responsibility in the business. Porter Timeche was hired to demonstrate blanket weaving but was so fond of chatting with visitors that he rarely finished a blanket to sell, at which point he was offered a job as a salesman in the Hopi House gift shop. He later served as a buyer for the Fred Harvey concessions at the Grand Canyon. Fred Kabotie, the famed artist who painted the Hopi Snake Legend mural inside Desert View Watchtower, managed the gift shop at Hopi House in the mid-1930s.

From the prominence of Hopi House many visitors may assume that the Hopi were the only tribe native to the Grand Canyon, but this is far from the truth. In fact, today 12 different tribes are recognized as having cultural ties to the Canyon, and the National Park Service has been working to accommodate the cultural needs of these other groups as well.

Hopi House was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1987. During a complete renovation in 1995, Hopi consultants participated in the restoration effort and helped ensure that none of the original architectural or design elements were altered. Hopi House and the Lookout Studio are major contributing structures in the Grand Canyon Village National Historic Landmark District.


About Stanley Turkel, CMHS

Stanley Turkel is a recognized consultant in the hotel industry. He operates his hotel consulting practice serving as an expert witness in hotel-related cases and providing asset management an and hotel franchising consultation. Prior to forming his hotel consulting firm, Turkel was the Product Line Manager for worldwide Hotel/Motel Operations at the International Telephone & Telegraph Co. overseeing the Sheraton Corporation of America. Before joining IT&T, he was the Resident Manager of the Americana Hotel (1842 Rooms), General Manager of the Drake Hotel (680 Rooms) and General Manager of the Summit Hotel (762 Rooms), all in New York City. He serves as a Friend of the Tisch Center and lectures at the NYU Tisch Center for Hospitality and Tourism. He is certified as a Master Hotel Supplier Emeritus by the Educational Institute of the American Hotel and Lodging Association. He served for eleven years as Chairman of the Board of the Trustees of the City Club of New York and is now the Honorary Chairman.

Stanley Turkel is one of the most widely-published authors in the hospitality field. More than 275 articles on various hotel subjects have been posted in hotel magazines and on the Hotel-Online, Blue MauMau, Hotel News Resource and eTurboNews websites. Two of his hotel books have been promoted, distributed and sold by the American Hotel & Lodging Educational Institute (Great American Hoteliers: Pioneers of the Hotel Industry and Built To Last: 100+ Year-Old Hotels East of the Mississippi). A third hotel book (Built To Last: 100+ Year-Old Hotels in New York) was called "passionate and informative" by the New York Times. Executive Vice President of Historic Hotels of America, Lawrence Horwitz, has even praised one book, Great American Hoteliers Volume 2: Pioneers of the Hotel Industry:

  • “If you have ever been in a hotel, as a guest, attended a conference, enjoyed a romantic dinner, celebrated a special occasion, or worked as a hotelier in the front or back of the house, Great American Hoteliers, Volume 2: Pioneers of the Hotel Industry is a must read book. This book is recommended for any business person, entrepreneur, student, or aspiring hotelier. This book is an excellent history book with insights into seventeen of the great innovators and visionaries of the hotel industry and their inspirational stories.”

Turkel was designated as the “2014 Historian of the Year by Historic Hotels of America,” the official program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. This award is presented to an individual for making a unique contribution in the research and presentation of history and whose work has encouraged a wide discussion, greater understanding and enthusiasm for American History.

Works published by Stanley Turkel include:

Most of these books can be ordered from AuthorHouse—(except Heroes of the American Reconstruction, which can be ordered from McFarland)—by visiting www.stanleyturkel.com, or by clicking on the book’s title.

Contact: Stanley Turkel


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