When we enter the park, we are going immediately have the chance to visit one of the most spectacular locations in the entire national park. It’s not just about the view, but the place from where we get to take in those spectacular views.
This place is the Desert View Watchtower. The story about it is also all about the architect, designer and builder who envisioned it and then oversaw its construction. Her name was Mary Jane Elizabeth Colter. Yes, Mary Colter is a woman of course!
This was a highly unusual situation a century ago, and well let’s just make the call that in her day, Mary Colter was the most pioneering female in the male dominated field of architecture, certainly in the US. Female architects were so unaccepted and unproven when she set out in her career, that a male architect had to sign off on her designs and drawings. Whoaahh. Hey, I’m just the messenger here.
To help understand her character she was described as a chain-smoker and that she was a perfectionist.
Mary Colter was responsible for the design and construction of 5 other important buildings at the canyon, and they are all listed as historic landmarks.
In the village itself we will find Hopi House, her first Grand Canyon project from 1905, The Lookout Studio from 1914, and the Bright Angel Lodge which was completed in 1935.
If we take the shuttle to Hermits Rest west of the village, that’s one of hers. And the famous Phantom Ranch cabins at the bottom of the canyon was transformed from canvas tents to something suitable for the new rich breed of tourists who were coming by train.
The common theme in all of her buildings was the desire to blend into the surroundings and to draw from the Native Americans who originally inhabited the area.
By not making her buildings take your eyes away from the scenery, she made them even more special. And yet they were incredibly interesting and appealing designs.
This core concept became the philosophy of many of the National Park’s architecture throughout the country.