Colter, Mary

Mary Colter

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Dates of Birth and Death

April 4, 1869-January 8, 1958


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania


  • San Francisco Art Institute (formerly known as California School of Design)

Years of practice



  • Fred Harvey Company

Related websites


Arizona, Grand Canyon, Southwest US, commercial, interiors

View Mary Colter‘s profile on the Pioneering Women website


Early Life and Education, Career in Architecture

Mary Colter was born in Pittsburgh on April 4, 1869. She studied at the California School of Design in San Francisco. In 1901, she began her 40+ year tenure with the Fred Harvey Company. She began as an interior designer and her first project was decorating the Alvarado Hotel. In 1910, she moved from interior design to architecture. She was able to build a steady career due to the rapidly growing railroad, tourist trade and the National Park System. Colter strove to give visitors of her sites a sense of adventure of the Grand Canyon’s history.

Over the next thirty years, she completed 21 projects across the southwest. Her most famous piece of work was the hacienda style La Posada Hotel. At the end of her career, she designed a café in the Los Angeles Union Station. Mary Colter died in 1958. By the 1960s Mary was virtually an unknown because her name was not associated with her work. Sante Fe Railroads chief architect EA Harrison signed off on all her work and in news and magazine articles she was known as the ‘Harvey designer’.

Major Buildings and Projects

* Denotes a National Historic Landmark

  • Hopi House, Grand Canyon National Park, AZ (1905) *
  • Hermit’s Rest, Grand Canyon National Park, AZ (1914) *
  • Lookout Studio, Grand Canyon National Park, AZ (1914) *
  • Phantom Ranch, Grand Canyon National Park, AZ (1922)
  • El Navajo, Gallup, NM (1923)
  • La Posada Hotel, Winslow, AZ (1930), National Register of Historic Places
  • Desert View Watchtower, Grand Canyon National Park, AZ (1932) *
  • Painted Desert Inn, Painted Desert, AZ (1937) *

Awards and Honors

  • Eleven buildings on the National Register of Historic Places
  • Five buildings (see above) designated National Historic Landmarks
  • Mary Colter Weekend held in Santa Fe, NM (April 2011)



Allaback, Sarah (2008). The First American Women Architects. University of Illinois Press

Berke, Arnold (2002). Mary Colter: Architect of the Southwest. Princeton Architectural Press

Grattan, Virginia L. (rev. 2003). Mary Colter: Builder upon the Red Earth. Grand Canyon Association

Morgan, Susan (2007). In Arizona, A Railway Town Rediscovers a Touch of Past Glory. New York Times, 2007