Did Mary Colter fabricate her role as a Fred Harvey Company architect?

Mary Colter

For decades, historians cited Mary Colter as the key architect and designer for early 20th-century buildings in the Fred Harvey Company and the Santa Fe Railroad, including iconic structures at Grand Canyon National Park and La Posada in Winslow, Arizona.

A book published last month on Amazon Kindle by Fred Shaw with the title “False Architect: The Mary Colter Hoax” maintains Colter never was trained as an architect and that she falsely claimed designs by others. Shaw’s well-researched volume threatens to upend at least 60 years of the Colter mythos.

Shaw, a banking executive in the Chicago area, said he intended to write a book about Kansas City architect Louis Curtiss, whose work for the Santa Fe Railroad also dots the American Southwest. As Shaw began his research into Curtiss’ colleague Colter, he found discrepancies in her claimed history after perusing newspapers, magazines, U.S. Census data and other resources.

Shaw says many distortions in Colter’s record began with Colter herself. During the early 1950s,  National Park Service officials requested information about her history with the Santa Fe Railroad and Fred Harvey Company for an archive. Colter’s eventual submissions became key source material for several books, including Virginia Grattan’s “Mary Colter: Builder Upon the Red Earth” in 1980.

Shaw acknowledges he couldn’t have written “False Architect” without access to online archives, including Newspapers.com and Google Books, that allowed him to double-check Colter’s claims. He also insists Colter’s history wasn’t thoroughly vetted by authors.

Footnotes, credits for hundreds of images and the bibliography take up about 25 percent of Shaw’s book, so no one can accuse him of not doing his homework.

A summary of a few findings in “False Architect: The Mary Colter Hoax”:

Colter had no architectural training. She attended the California School of Design in San Francisco, but the college did not offer classes in architecture or mechanical drawing. It’s possible Colter could have been self-taught in architecture, much like Charles Eads did before designing his Eads Bridge in St. Louis. But no verified architectural drawings by Colter have emerged.

Colter claimed she designed the Avarado Hotel and its Indian Building in Albuquerque. She did not. Shaw shows through newspaper and magazine articles in 1901 and early 1902 that Charles Whittlesey, an architect for the Santa Fe Railroad, designed the interior, exterior and furnishings of those buildings. The Avarado opened in May 1902. Colter wasn’t employed by Fred Harvey until at least June 1902. Before, she worked as an art teacher in St. Paul, Minnesota. (The Avarado was demolished in 1970, to the regret of many Albuquerque residents.)

Colter falsely claimed architectural roles for the Grand Canyon’s El Tovar Hotel, Hopi House, Hermit’s Rest, Lookout Studio, Phantom Ranch, Desert View Watch Tower and Bright Angel Lodge. Whittlesey designed El Tovar in 1902, before Colter’s arrival, and he designed Hopi House. The architectural origins of other structures proved more difficult, as blueprints submitted to the railroad often were unsigned. But Shaw shows convincingly through comparisons of known architectural and lettering styles that many Grand Canyon structures were designed by Curtiss, Robert Raney or other Santa Fe Railroad architects.

Colter taking credit for the designs of others happened repeatedly. Shaw found contemporary articles in which Colter took credit for a design, then the publication later issued a correction or clarification. In one notable case, western novelist Zane Grey wrote a letter to the editor excoriating Colter for “exploiting” Louisa Wade Wetherill’s idea for sand paintings inside the now-gone El Navajo Hotel in Gallup, New Mexico, during its dedication.

The La Fonda Hotel addition was not designed by Colter, as claimed. The hotel in downtown Santa Fe, New Mexico, needed a face-lift during the 1920s. The Santa Fe Railroad hired local architects John Meem and Cassius McCormick for the job. Meem kept detailed notes — now archived at the University of New Mexico — about La Fonda construction meetings. None of those documents mentioned Colter as a designer. Shaw also says Raney helped Meem with the project’s technical challenges and furniture layouts.

Colter’s 1930 “masterpiece,” La Posada, was not hers. A Winslow Daily Mail article in 1929 reported Santa Fe Railroad engineers supervised the design and construction of La Posada, including its landscaping. Shaw says Raney likely designed La Posada, along with his assistant architect, Emmett J. Corman. Shaw bolsters his case by interviewing Corman’s son, who often accompanied his father to jobs, who provided no evidence Colter designed La Posada.

Shaw cites other projects in which Colter claimed to be an architect — such as Chicago and Kansas City’s Union Stations and the Fray Marcos Hotel in Williams, Arizona — where evidence to support those notions doesn’t exist.

The book prompts a question — if Colter’s claims indeed were grandiose, how did she get away with it? One answer is many of the key figures in the Fred Harvey Company and Santa Fe Railroad died before World War II. The old-timers who could have refuted many of Colter’s claims during the early 1950s were long gone.

Concluding his book, Shaw theorizes Colter suffered from Narcissist Personality Disorder and lays out his evidence. Shaw is less convincing in this attempt. Colter made many of her spurious claims when she was in her 80s; senility could have been the cause. Shaw also uncovers the fact Colter’s father died in an insane asylum, which brings up the possibility she may have inherited his mental illness.

The book has produced mixed reactions. Those who have the most to benefit from the Colter-as-architect narrative have criticized Shaw’s book. Allan Affeldt, co-owner and savior of La Posada, wrote in an email last week “all of us in the Harvey world are quite upset about the book” and that Shaw “is clearly a misogynist.”

Affledt added:

“The attributions of Colters works to Curtis and others is preposterous, and obviously discounted by the many including Harvey family with direct knowledge of Colter and the buildings. We have collectively decided it best to ignore these self published rantings and not give Shaw a podium for his hatred.”

Affeldt also forwarded a “disturbing” email purportedly from Shaw that compared Kathy Weir, who maintains the Fred Harvey / Mary Colter Fan Club page on Facebook, to dictators Josef Stalin and Mao Zedong with the message: “Are you really THAT afraid of the truth?”

Weir, in a separate email, declined to comment on Shaw’s book except to say: “It is a very interesting read.”

Arnold Berke, contributing editor of Preservation magazine and author of 2002’s “Mary Colter: Architect of the Southwest,” wrote in an email “it would be premature for me to comment about it now.”

Stephen Fried, author of 2010’s “Appetite for America: Fred Harvey and the Business of Civilizing the Wild West — One Meal at a Time,” did not respond to an email about Shaw’s book.

But two historians who read at least part of Shaw’s book praised it.

Rick Hendricks, New Mexico’s official state historian, was cited in a brief blurb on Shaw’s Amazon page.

Hendricks elaborated in an email last week:

It is a very interesting work, exhaustively researched, and richly illustrated. A big part of my job is to encourage research on New Mexico, and I try to do so, irrespective of my views. My comments to Shaw do not mean, however, that I agree with or endorse the author’s conclusions. I am not an expert on Colter. Moreover, when I read the manuscript, it did not have the provocative title it now bears.  I pointed out to the author that many of my colleagues in the historical preservation community would be interested in his work. It should provoke a lot of discussion, which is a good thing.

I know that reputable scholars argue that Colter did many of the designs that men took credit for, so I find it fascinating that someone is making an argument based on some really deep digging into the sources that something else entirely happened. What he says runs counter to everything I knew about Colter, which is, as you say, intriguing.

R. Brooks Jeffery, associate vice president for research of arts, culture and society at the University of Arizona, also was mentioned in a Shaw blurb. Jeffrey wrote in an email last week:

I did not read the entire book, but read enough to recognize the depth of primary scholarship that challenged the secondary sources that I had used in my writing on Colter.  He challenged our work, but I have not had the time to corroborate/validate his work.  It is certainly worth further attention.

Perhaps Shaw’s critics will produce evidence to refute Shaw’s findings. At the least, Shaw’s book demands that Colter’s role with the Fred Harvey Company and Santa Fe Railroad be more thoroughly researched so a more complete picture can emerge. “False Architect” brings up too many facts and issues that are impossible to ignore.

Until those issues are resolved, Colter probably should be regarded as a very good interior designer, but not as an architect.

UPDATE 9/18/2018: Shaw has offered a $10,000 reward to the first person who can prove Colter designed La Posada and the Grand Canyon’s buildings. Deadline is April 4, 2019, which would have been her 150th birthday.

(Image of Mary Colter at age 23 via Wikimedia Commons; image of Alvarado in Albuquerque by jasonwoodhead23; image of El Tovar Hotel by Grand Canyon National Park; image of La Fonda in Santa Fe by Brett VA; image of La Posada in Winslow, Arizona by Jayjay P)

34 thoughts on “Did Mary Colter fabricate her role as a Fred Harvey Company architect?

  1. The real question is to a large degree is–do you have to have a degree in architecture to be an architect, the answer is NO?

    1. You are missing the point and your question is irrelevant; the fact remains that she never designed any buildings – with or without a degree. She did decorate them, however, and have some influence over aesthetic considerations for some buildings designed by others. Frank Lloyd Wright – the most famous architect around – never had a degree in architecture either but, unlike Colter, he actually produced architectural drawings and construction documents of his own conception and by his own hand. Where are Colter’s blueprints? There aren’t any.

  2. This has got to be one of the most interesting and important issues ever posted on this site.
    Being a fan of Mary’s, and a good friend to both Allan and Kathy’s, I support their positions. If any of Shaw’s findings are found to be true, depending to what degree, it will NOT change the fact that Mary Colter will remine a key figure in the history of the Southwest.

  3. One does not need a bit of paper to show one has the ability to do something. Many people at the start of the Industrial Revolution had no pieces of paper, some no training either. How many artists whose work sells for millions of pounds had “training”?

    The pity is that, when women are seeking a greater place in many professions, Shaw may be shown to have been a charlatan. As the saying goes, if something seems to good to be true, it may well be just that.

    1. No one has said you need a bit of paper to prove ability; that’s not what the issue is about. You do need to read and comprehend the book before you judge it or its author, however.

      You haven’t read the book, have you?

  4. It is without question that MEJC did build buildings of her own design, i. e.; Grand Canyon Watchtower, Bright Angel Lodge, El Navajo, Phantom Ranch, as blueprints and copies thereof exist of her work in archives of several libraries, including vast collection at Northern Arizona University and likely, the Heard in Phoenix. Did she have help from engineering standpoint? Likely. Would the buildings look anything like they do now (and then) without
    her handiwork? NO Did any other female designer/architect come close to being her equal?
    Not on this planet! Would some of the research have gaps as to the exact portions she created and left some to others to finish a project? Absolutely! Attempting to totally trash a grand legacy spanning over 7 decades because some journalist wasn’t around at every specific moment is nothing but literary misanthropy and controversy provoking. The woman deserves every bit of gold glory. Get a life, Mr Shaw..

  5. The Heard Museum has no architectural design drawings in their Fred Harvey or Mary Colter collections.

    NAU’s many elevation and perspective sketches & watercolors of Bright Angel Lodge, long misattributed to Colter, are indisputably the work of Fred Harvey’s genuine architect, Robert J. Raney, except a few that were by his assistant Robert L. Nusbaum.

    Grand Canyon Museum’s architectural design drawings of Desert View Watchtower, also misattributed to Colter, are Raney’s.

    Grand Canyon Museum’s Hopi House initial design drawings are dated 1901, a year before Colter herself said she worked for Fred Harvey. They were drawn by Santa Fe Railway staff architect Wiliam H. Mohr, and further refined by Charles F. Whittlesey, who also designed E. Tovar.

    Although no architectural drawings of Phantom Ranch are known to survive, the buildings in the first phase there are based upon designs contained in the 1916-17 Grand Canyon Working Plan. Despite Colter placing her initials upon those drawings, they are the work of Kansas City architect Louis Curtiss.

    Other than crude pencil sketches of a few interior design features, there are no drawings of any kind that can legitimately be attributed to Colter.

    I devote a chapter in the book to early women architects. There were over 300 women working as architects in the 1910 census, and a couple thousand drafters/designers. Check out the work of Louise Bethune, Julia Morgan, Marion Mahony Griffin, and Fay Kellogg, just a few of the pioneering women who actually did groundbreaking work as architects.

    All of the above is detailed and well documented in my book. Thank you for this opportunity to clarify.

  6. On Phantom Ranch…and others

    If Louis Curtiss was left to see the final renderings of Phantom Ranch, why would he permit
    MJC to in fact, place her initials on the paper, if truly it was his design, and he saw her initials in architect’s location? As a male dominated profession and under the contract with male dominated Fred Harvey Company, why would this be allowed??

    No answer from the building of El Navajo in Gallop, N M? The blueprints have been displayed publicly at the N M Museum of History in Santa Fe, and others, with her name and no one else – as say, co-architects.
    Another ‘ghost’ architect that ‘allowed’ such a travesty to happen?

    As to the other locations of evidence, the Zimmerman Library at UNM has extensive details in their S W History and Research arm for Colter and others. Historian and author Stephan Fried just did a related lecture there last October and has lauded this library for it’s authentic
    material. Never has he discounted the claims of Colter’s work. And his Harvey research is deeper than any other contemporary .

    If the Fred Harvey establishment was so satisfied with their existing in-house architects
    under contract, why would they shift to a womankind, specifically MJC, who was unlicensed
    and unheralded at the time? Why would she grow in the organization as a ‘lead designer’
    if not a head architect if others – males – were so successful and outstanding? The logic
    does not hold up… Did she have a secret ‘promoter’ journalist that was making sure she
    got all the headlines? Whittlesey and Curtiss have gotten their due, and made fine contributions. But Colter endured, and was brought out of semi-retirement to do a final
    Harvey project. Can not fathom that all these contributions were fabricated just to enhance her ego in an era that had little regard for female expertise. Again, in a male dominated journalism world, who would want to glorify her at the expense of male contributions in such
    a headline company as Fred Harvey? Was there a real feminine conspiracy afoot that
    no one would investigate?

    Yes – other female architects did arise and flourish but their work paled with the originality
    and popularity of Colter. The fact that she excelled without a spouse as a support gives further credence to her fierce standards and commitment to her craft.

    Just can not buy this argument… why would so much history be written about her if she was a fraud? Don’t you think it would have been unearthed by now?
    Not convinced.

    1. Your comments in quotes below, with my responses under them.

      “If Louis Curtiss was left to see the final renderings of Phantom Ranch, why would he permit MJC to in fact, place her initials on the paper, if truly it was his design, and he saw her initials in architect’s location? As a male dominated profession and under the contract with male dominated Fred Harvey Company, why would this be allowed??”

      Please reread what I wrote, which was that the buildings in the first phase of Phantom Ranch were BASED UPON Curtiss’s design drawings in the 1916-17 GRAND CANYON WORKING PLAN. I also said that no copies of the actual drawings for Phantom Ranch are known to exist.

      “No answer from the building of El Navajo in Gallop, N M? The blueprints have been displayed publicly at the N M Museum of History in Santa Fe, and others, with her name and no one else – as say, co-architects.
      Another ‘ghost’ architect that ‘allowed’ such a travesty to happen?”

      First, there are no actual blueprints of El Navajo with Colter’s name on them. They were signed by E. A. Harrison, Santa Fe Railway’s in-house architect who was the supervising architect, as the railroad built buildings to lease to Fred Harvey. Harrison did not design buildings, other than utilitarian structures.

      The myth that Colter designed El Navajo came from Virginia Grattan’s 1980 book, Mary Colter: Builder upon the Red Earth. Grattan gave no sources that supported her assertion. She also said El Navajo was built in 1923, when in fact it opened January 31, 1918. The 1923 “dedication” was for an addition that doubled El Navajo in size.

      “As to the other locations of evidence, the Zimmerman Library at UNM has extensive details in their S W History and Research arm for Colter and others.”

      I obtained copies of all Fred Harvey-related documents from the Zimmerman Library, and even had John Gaw Meem’s 3000+ page La Fonda file scanned to PDFs and made readable by OCR. No primary sources at the Zimmerman even remotely support the idea that Colter was an architect.

      “Historian and author Stephan Fried just did a related lecture there last October and has lauded this library for it’s authentic material. Never has he discounted the claims of Colter’s work. And his Harvey research is deeper than any other contemporary.”

      Beginning in November 2014, Fried and I exchanged numerous emails on this topic, right up until not long before my research was concluded in April 2017. He’s a journalism professor, so his questions were designed to challenge, and I answered every one of them.

      If you attended 2017 Fred Harvey events, in June at the Heard Museum and in October at the New Mexico History Museum, you may have noticed that Fried’s presentations avoided mention of Colter as an architect.

      The topic of his June presentation was “New Fred Frontiers: The Future of the Past of Fred Harvey, the Harvey Girls, Mary Colter and the Santa Fe RR,” implying there was a lot still to be revealed about Colter. He was aware of the impending publication of my book at the time.

      In October, he spoke of “My Day with Mary Colter’s Collection, and other tales of the future of the past of Fred Harvey.”

      Fried told me early on that he doesn’t “have a horse in this race,” and although I’d never expect him to take the lead in correcting the Colter narrative, I also doubt he is craven enough to deny our correspondence, of which I have copies.

      As for further vetting, my research can withstand factual challenge by you or whomever you choose to do so. They or you can contact me via Facebook.

      “If the Fred Harvey establishment was so satisfied with their existing in-house architects
      under contract, why would they shift to a womankind, specifically MJC, who was unlicensed and unheralded at the time?”

      I’m not sure why you presume this shift ever took place, when there is zero evidence that Fred Harvey had Colter design any buildings.

      “Why would she grow in the organization as a ‘lead designer’ if not a head architect if others – males – were so successful and outstanding? The logic does not hold up.”

      Again, not sure why you presume she was given that title, but there is no record that anyone who worked at Fred Harvey during the time of construction ever called Colter an architect.

      “Did she have a secret ‘promoter’ journalist that was making sure she got all the headlines?”

      As documented in the book, Colter solicited mention of her name in periodicals.

      “Whittlesey and Curtiss have gotten their due, and made fine contributions. But Colter endured, and was brought out of semi-retirement to do a final Harvey project.”

      She was brought out of semi-retirement to DECORATE the Cantinita at La Fonda in Santa Fe in the late 1940s. She was not its architect. If you’ll actually read my book, you’ll see the 1948 letter from Byron Harvey, Jr. to Robert J. Raney, imploring him to move to Chicago from Kansas City, where he would again be Harvey’s architect working with a decorator – as he had done before from 1923 to 1942.

      “Can not fathom that all these contributions were fabricated just to enhance her ego in an era that had little regard for female expertise. Again, in a male dominated journalism world, who would want to glorify her at the expense of male contributions in such a headline company as Fred Harvey? Was there a real feminine conspiracy afoot that no one would investigate?”

      Again, your presumption is faulty. The idea that Colter was an architect is latter-day revisionist history, as no one who worked at Fred Harvey’s Kansas City headquarters during the years of construction ever called her an architect. Every claim that Colter was an architect has Colter herself as the root source.

      My book comes with a money-back guarantee if you do not find it factual, so if you buy and read it, you have nothing to lose but some misconceptions.

  7. From a practical point of view, would Colter have earned enough income from her undisputed work to live on? Since she lived to a good old age, even though she never married (?) how did she support herself all those years?

    1. Colter made a good living at Fred Harvey, which was known for treating its employees well. Her position as interior decorator and quasi tenant’s representative placed her position higher than most women in the corporate America of her time.

      She also inherited money from her mother Rebecca, a savvy real estate investor, as well as from her older sister Harriet, to whom her mother had transferred considerable assets while Colter was still a student.

      The Colter legend says she had to teach to support her mother and sister, but no evidence supports this.

  8. Several people have made the claim that Mr. Shaw is a misogynist. I would like to say that I am a woman who has worked for Fred Shaw for the past 27 years. Mr. Shaw holds a position of very high esteem. He is Bank President/CEO. He has worked there for close to 40 years. For the record, 17 of the 25 people employed at the bank are women and 9 of them have been employed there anywhere from 20-40 years. Another woman and myself hold officer positions. Believe me when I say that the claim that he is a misogynist is ludicrous. If he was, would we all still be there working under him for all these years? It’s so far-fetched, it’s almost comical. He has never been anything but respectful to us and all the women that have passed through the bank over the years.

    I was one of the first people Mr. Shaw showed his discoveries to, since he and I have a shared interest in architecture. At first he was in total shock as he explained what he found and showed me the proof. I had no prior knowledge of Mary Colter previous to this. He asked my opinion and I couldn’t dispute the facts. He spent ALL of his free time for the next 3 years, trying to find more evidence and putting it together in book form. This was no small feat, and certainly not cheap. He made numerous donations to historical societies and other sources. The portion of proceeds he’s receiving from the book will in no way cover what he has spent. He’s not doing it for the money.

    It was not done in an attempt to discredit Mary Colter, but more in an effort to set history straight and give credit where credit is due. The true architects deserve to be recognized. PERIOD.

    I’m sorry if his discovery has upset the Mary Colter followers, but instead of crucifying him, we should be praising him for the time and effort spent working on this project and bringing the facts to light.

    I, for one, think the book is amazing and want to say thank you Mr. Shaw!

    1. I’m a real person, Bredanna, as are the other 16 women that work for him. I have a Facebook page if you need proof. https://www.facebook.com/donna.christensen.505. Do you realize that the only people calling him a Misogynist are men? Allen Affeldt and the Harvey family don’t even know Mr. Shaw, yet they throw out such a rude accusation. Mr. Affedlt needs to do the right thing now. He needs to stop the name-calling and get down to setting the record straight both with his hotel and the new Winslow Arts Trust Museum which is due to open in September. Apparently there is going to be an entire room devoted to the buildings attributed to Mary Colter.

  9. How curious – two comments by “Architectural Observer” on other people’s postings here, both on 6 Sep 2018, rather than directly on the original article. Why now, months after those postings? And who is “Architectural Observer”? I thought we went by our real names on this website.

    1. I checked it out, Eric, before approving the comments. Architectural Observer is a website that just a few days ago published a review of the Mary Colter book. And people can use whatever name they like as long as they’re not spammers, write libelous material, aren’t racist, etc.

  10. Thanks Ron. I’ve just had a look at Architectural Observer.com and Architectural Observer.eu . Quite anonymous but plenty of “opinions”. So, who is behind it? The line at the bottom of the webpage reads: Copyright © Architectural Observer. All Rights Reserved. WordPress Development and SEO by EMZM LLC. EMZM LLC claims to be run by Brandon – “The Brains”, Darion – “The Dreamer”, Trevor – “The Machine”, and Joni – “The Graphics Guru”. Still pretty unidentified. And what is SEO? Super Egotists Only? As for the concept that “people can use whatever name they like as long as they’re not spammers, write libellous material, aren’t racist, etc”, an opinion with no identifiable name has little value. Think of Facebook and Twitter. Think of the New York Times Anonymous Op-Ed piece that is exercising Mr Trump at the moment.

    1. SEO stands for search-engine optimization. Webmasters know what it means and how crucial it is for higher rankings in Google and Bing searches.

      I have a few readers who post by nickname only, and most of them have something of value to say. If it’s not, I delete it.

  11. Fred Shaw’s work is fantastic and a page Turner in it’s own! I never had good feelings about MJ Colter and no it has nothing to do with her being a woman, I am a Woman! It has to do with the fact that she snuck her own signature on to someone else’s designs and lied to people in high positions about it. She was younger than the true architects and once they died off she stole their work.

    Nowadays stealing someone’s photographs online can be dealt with in court but no one is batting an eye at this monumentous theft by Colter??

    Thank you Fred Shaw! Also happy belated birthday!

  12. Mary Colter was not a trained architect, nor the first registered architect, as the NPS Grand Canyon guides state (I was just there). In fact it is more common that she worked in concert with other architects, as we do today, where most men do not feel they need to claim ownership of the design of a building, but appreciate that it takes many people to create a successful design.
    The mostly male (and some female) “starchitects” of today have one brilliant, but usually nonfunctional, idea and it takes a staff of 20-50 to turn it into a building. Even FLW worked this way, though he was too proud to ever acknowledge that fact (ie Marian Mahoney Griffiths, a trained architect and his first employee, was not acknowledged as the author of any designs or even of the beautiful renderings of his buildings until well after his death).
    I take Mr. Shaw’s well-documented and articulate findings with a grain of salt because, as an architect who started practicing 40 years ago when the profession was still very proudly male dominated, I found the role of women in firms, and their contributions, to be routinely downplayed. In the early 1970’s I transferred into architecture school in my 3rd year because women had to have SAT scores in the top 2% in the NATION (as quoted to me at Cornell) in order to be admitted as a freshman (compared to the top 15% for a man in his high school graduating class). That old adage that a woman has to be outstanding in order to be comparable to a typical male still stands in many firms today even though women occupy 30-50% of the architecture schools. My point is that women have had to command respect all through their careers, including all the women Mr Shaw cites in his book, long before they get credited for their work. In fact, most of them worked as the right hand of well known architects or industrialists (ie Julia Morgan for William Randolph Hearst). So it may well be that Mary Colter was an opportunist, possibly because she was someone who was pushed to the sidelines and was just looking for credit for her contributions.

  13. Hi, Melissa. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and concerns. I address them below, with your comments contained within quotation marks.

    “Mary Colter was not a trained architect, nor the first registered architect, as the NPS Grand Canyon guides state (I was just there).”

    True. She also neither studied architecture at a school nor apprenticed with an architect. Why would anyone assume she could design structures?

    “In fact it is more common that she worked in concert with other architects, as we do today, where most men do not feel they need to claim ownership of the design of a building, but appreciate that it takes many people to create a successful design.”

    Why do you believe this process was ‘common’ during Colter’s working years? Projecting today’s practices upon earlier times without confirming those were the practices then in effect does not produce accurate history.

    “The mostly male (and some female) “starchitects” of today have one brilliant, but usually nonfunctional, idea and it takes a staff of 20-50 to turn it into a building.”

    Why is this relevant to small structures like Hermit’s Rest, Lookout Studio, Desert View Watchtower, or even Bright Angel Lodge?

    “Even FLW worked this way, though he was too proud to ever acknowledge that fact (ie Marian Mahoney Griffiths, a trained architect and his first employee, was not acknowledged as the author of any designs or even of the beautiful renderings of his buildings until well after his death).”

    Wright was loath to credit anyone, male or female, other than himself. Marion Mahony Griffin (not Marian Mahoney Griffiths) graduated in architecture from MIT in 1894. She was credited in the December 3, 1903 Indianapolis News as the designing and supervising architect of Evanston’s All-Souls Church.

    When Wright ran off with his mistress in 1909, Griffin declined to take over his practice. She did, however, work for architect Hermann Von Holst to complete Wright’s commissions. In the October 1913 issue of Western Architect, Von Holst credited her with the design of the Amberg House in Grand Rapids. The June 8, 1917 edition of Melbourne, Australia’s The Age newspaper noted her lawsuit seeking payment for a house design.

    Griffin had both education and a body of work that document her abilities. Colter had neither. Their circumstances were not remotely analogous.

    “I take Mr. Shaw’s well-documented and articulate findings with a grain of salt because, as an architect who started practicing 40 years ago when the profession was still very proudly male dominated, I found the role of women in firms, and their contributions, to be routinely downplayed. In the early 1970’s I transferred into architecture school in my 3rd year because women had to have SAT scores in the top 2% in the NATION (as quoted to me at Cornell) in order to be admitted as a freshman (compared to the top 15% for a man in his high school graduating class). That old adage that a woman has to be outstanding in order to be comparable to a typical male still stands in many firms today even though women occupy 30-50% of the architecture schools.”

    Sadly, the circumstances you describe still exist in too many professions and industries. As a fellow Baby Boomer, I observed this irrational gender discrimination in the 1970s as well. My hat is off to you for forging a successful career despite such obstacles.

    That said, how far do you think any man or woman would have gotten in your field if they neither studied nor trained in architecture? Your personal experience is not at all comparable to that of the architecturally untrained and uneducated Mary Colter.

    “My point is that women have had to command respect all through their careers, including all the women Mr Shaw cites in his book, long before they get credited for their work. In fact, most of them worked as the right hand of well known architects or industrialists (ie Julia Morgan for William Randolph Hearst).”

    This is precisely the kind of architectural urban legend that has permitted the Colter myth to persist for so long. Although W. R. Hearst was a valued client of Julia Morgan, her career hardly depended upon his benevolence. In fact, she was well into the second decade of her own successful independent practice before she began work for Hearst. She hung out her shingle in 1904, and first designed for him in 1919.

    A graduate of the University of California at Berkeley and the first woman graduate of the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, Morgan designed over 700 structures during her long and fruitful career. Like Griffin, Morgan’s education and oeuvre are well-documented.

    “So it may well be that Mary Colter was an opportunist, possibly because she was someone who was pushed to the sidelines and was just looking for credit for her contributions.”

    Researching Colter rather than just positing unfounded speculation, one discovers all evidence indicates Colter had a lifelong habit of taking credit for the work of others. In reality she elbowed other people to the sidelines.

    From some of your comments, it sounds as if you may not have actually read the book. If you have not, please email me at [email protected] and I’ll have Amazon send you a complimentary Kindle edition.

    If that is too time-consuming, you can watch the 45 minute video of my February 22ND presentation at the Grand Canyon Historical Society’s Centennial History Symposium here: https://bit.ly/2EA85GK.

    Here is a link to a PDF of the Spring 2019 issue of Ol’ Pioneer, the journal of GCHS: https://bit.ly/2FsWYjx. I contributed an article on “The Genuine Genesis of Hopi House” that begins on page 10. You cannot see the evidence and come away believing Colter designed HH.

  14. Colter died in Santa Fe. Her will shows an estate that would have been worth $2 million in today’s dollars. Salary records exist showing her salary and expenses that were reimbursed. She was well compensated.

  15. Fred Shaw posted on 27 May 2018 about Colter: “She also inherited money from her mother Rebecca, a savvy real estate investor, as well as from her older sister Harriet, to whom her mother had transferred considerable assets while Colter was still a student.” How much of the “$2 million in today’s dollars” came from what she was paid for her architectural work – and how much from other sources and her and her mother’s investments? If her salary records exist, what she received after tax for her architectural work can easily be added up – and deducted from the remainder of her estate. What are both figures?

  16. @Kathy. I retained a paralegal in Santa Fe to reproduce the entire Colter file from the Santa Fe County Probate Court for my research. There is an immense difference between the $151,000 total cash bequests Colter made in her February 1957 will versus the $3,081,56 actual cash disbursed from her estate (after expenses) in March 1959.

    According to the final March, 1958 inventory of her estate filed with the court, Colter’s estate consisted of no real estate, $6,017.64 cash on deposit at First National Bank of Santa Fe, personal effects of $60.00, silverware of $85.00, household goods and furnishings of $264.00, 854 books valued at $256.20, miscellaneous collection of objects and bric-a-brac of $80.00, and an Oriental collection of $105.00.

    The total value of the estate in March 1958 was $6,867.84. Using the United States Bureau of Labor Statistic Consumer Price Index Inflation Calculator, $6,867.84 in March 1958 dollars is worth an August 2019 equivalent of $61,180.53. https://bit.ly/33o7vpv

    Even Colter’s unfounded total cash bequests of $151,000 from her February 1957 will has an August 2019 equivalent of $1,398,565.27, not the $2 million you suggest. The true cash distributed from her estate, $3,081.56, has an August 2019 equivalent of $28,541.48.

    The 26th paragraph of Colter’s February 1957 will states “If my net estate shall be insufficient to pay in full all cash bequests herein, I desire that such bequests be reduced proportionately without resort to any property herein specifically bequeathed or devised.” As the $3,081.56 cash to be distributed from her estate was only 2.04% of the total $151,000 bequests, each legatee received roughly two cents on the dollar of what Colter claimed she was leaving them.

    Colter was bedridden in her final months and died at home, so she was probably paying for 24/7 home nursing care. If you figure that type of service costs a high estimate of $20,000 per month in August 2019, it would have cost Colter only about $2,160 per month in 1957. She lived only eleven months after her February 1957 will was written, and would have spent only about $25,000 during that period in home care and maintenance.

    This means her bequests reflected an exaggerated value of her estate that exceeded reality by nearly $125,000. Even facing death, Colter could not resist overstating her accomplishments.

  17. Hi, Eric. Colter was paid zero dollars for architectural work, as she never designed any buildings. Her estate was also worth nowhere near $2 million in today’s dollars. Please see my comment of today documenting the vast disparity between what Colter claimed she was leaving legatees and what they actually received.

  18. Thanks, Fred. I read your latest response. I was using the term “architectural work” in its loosest sense; in the UK a draughtsman (or draughtswoman) involved with lesser details of a building might well be said to be doing “architectural work”. One does not have to be the designer of a structure to be given that description. I would have thought Colter was paid for what she actually did do in the field of building design. As for her having had no architectural training, that could be said about many 19th century engineers; but they had the flair to invent and make what had never been made before. Henry J. Kaiser apparently had no experience of ship design or construction, yet he received the acolade of “the father of modern American shipbuilding”. His Liberty ships were important in the Allies winning WWII. People pick things up along the way; I think Colter simply embellished what she truly did. After all, many people moving in the shadows of the great take to themselves a bit of their mentors’ charisma. The trick is knowing when to say enough is enough; when to stop over-egging the pudding. I had an unmarried woman friend some twenty or thirty years older than me. Adele was a trained draughtswoman who never – to my knowledge – “designed any buildings”, but her life was in “architectural work”.

  19. Hi, Eric. In the absence of proof to the contrary, it is tempting to speculate what Colter’s career might have been. But her story does not exist in a vacuum. I’ve published the facts in my book and shared some further findings in my February 22 presentation at the Grand Canyon History Symposium. https://bit.ly/2EA85GK My Spring 2019 article in the Grand Canyon Historical Society’s journal clearly documents with multiple primary sources that Colter’s role at Hopi House was solely to decorate the interior of a building completed before her arrival at Grand Canyon. https://bit.ly/2FsWYjx

    Unlike your friend Adele, there are zero architectural drawings penned in Colter’s distinctive lettering. Saint Paul school records confirm Colter was not competent to teach mechanical drawing.

    Nearly every post-1980 mention of Colter cites Virginia Grattan’s 1980 book, Mary Colter: Builder upon the Red Earth, as the definitive source. That book was never peer-reviewed, nor was it vetted until I undertook that endeavor, although it has been accepted as gospel, including in the National Register of Historic Places nomination for Grand Canyon Village.

    Just last year Grattan donated her Colter research archive to the University of Arizona library. In late January of this year I obtained a copy of that archive in its entirety, including two audio recordings. I was stunned by what I found. In 1977-78 Grattan had corresponded with four of Colter’s longtime coworkers at Fred Harvey’s headquarters. Not one of these contemporaneous primary sources alluded to Colter being an architect or having designed any structures. Grattan listed their letters as sources in her book, suggesting they concurred with what Grattan wrote, yet none supported her conclusions.

    In 1977 Grattan also interviewed Charles O. Coverley, who worked as a draftsman at Fred Harvey’s Kansas City headquarters from 1923 to 1926. He left that position for a similar one with the Santa Fe Railway in Chicago, and retired as the railroad’s chief architect in 1968. Excerpts of the audio of that interview are in my History Symposium presentation. Because the railroad owned the structures Fred Harvey leased, Coverley was in a position to know Colter’s role if anyone was. He unequivocally states twice that Colter could not draw, that she was not an architect, that she had nothing to do with building design or construction, etc. None of that made it into Grattan’s book.

    For reasons known only to her, Grattan chose to ignore the firsthand accounts of Colter’s coworkers and substituted her own fabulist version of Colter’s career. For instance, Grattan states as fact in her book that Colter was employed by both Fred Harvey and the Santa Fe Railway, despite Zelma Fowler, a longtime Harvey who had been Ford Harvey’s secretary, informing Grattan that Colter worked only for Fred Harvey and not the railroad.

    Grattan’s book is rife with falsehoods, and the myth she manufactured has unfortunately become the received version of Colter’s life and career. If you haven’t read my book, please do. You’ll find it enlightening, and if you send your email to me at [email protected], I’ll have Amazon send you a complimentary Kindle edition. Best, Fred

  20. Very intriguing information Mr. Shaw. I live in Northern Arizona and am very familiar with Fred Harvey, and Mary Colter including the buildings alleged to have been designed by her. You bring up some very interesting points and it sounds like I need to check out your book. In the meantime, I noticed the Arizona Historical Society providing a presentation covering both viewpoints. I wonder if this is in response to your findings and if you were in any way associated with the discussion. Not sure if posting an external link is appropriate so I will refrain from that but the presentation is titled “I’ll take credit for that” scheduled to occur Jan. 28, 2021

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.