Standing at barely five feet tall with a crotchety temperament, Mary Colter was fixture on every construction site.
I can imagine her wearing a Stetson hat and multiple silver Indian rings on her fingers glittering in the sunlight as she chain-smoked and bellowed instructions to the construction workers.
Fred Harvey had the foresight to hire women who would become the famed Harvey Girls but in an equally bold move, he hired Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter in 1902. She was the chief architect hired to design his hotel interiors in a highly unusual move.
I learned about Coulter when I vacationed at the La Posada Hotel in Winslow, Arizona. The art-laden adobe hallways were a signature feature in what came to be known as Mary Jane Colter’s “Santa Fe Style.” This was the last of the Harvey House Hotels built by the Fred Harvey Company. You can read about his iconic Harvey Girls in the accompanying article but what I discovered as I settled into this posh hotel, was that this extravagant business venture cost Harvey a whopping $2 million to build in 1929.
Coulter’s story as an architect speaks to her talent and Harvey’s willingness to treat women as equals. Coulter’s first assignment was designing interiors for the Indian Building next to Santa Fe’s newest hotel, the Alvarado in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Her unique “rustic” style used natural materials that became a signature “Santa Fe Style.” Harvey appointed Coulter as his chief architect for projects along the Grand Canyon’s South Rim that became the most popular high-end destinations for visiting tourists, and showcased Native American arts and crafts .