Mary Colter always began designing her buildings by creating a rich fantasy about their history. She envisioned La Posada as the grand hacienda of a wealthy Spanish landowner, whose family lived here for 120 years, occasionally expanding the hotel until it finally resembled the structure we see today. This fantasy guided every aspect of her architectural design.
Don Alphonso de los Pajaros walked one last time among the peacocks. The market crash of 1929 had wiped him out. La Posada, his family home for 120 years, had been sold to the Santa Fe Railway. The childless Don Alphonso whispered goodbye to the birds and old trees, to the art and the furniture, and to the memories collected by four generations of his fabled forebears watching quietly from every corner of the hacienda. “Keep watch for me,” he murmured.
The estancia had been wrested from the wilderness before there were cattle, before the steam trains shattered the stillness of the high desert, by the stubborn will of Don Pajaro’s great, great grandparents.
The first Don and Dona, Spanish Basques by way of Mexico, arrived in the early 1800s with a collection of books and exotic birds in elaborate, wrought iron follies. They set about building La Posada as an oasis in this strange land of dancing katsina spirits and Navajos on Spanish horses courtesy of Don’s Tovar and Onate generations before.
The oldest part of the home—the central two floors—rose like a dream adrift in a sea of wild sage. The second Don Pajaro grew the herd to 20,000 head, watering greedily from the headwaters of the Little Colorado all the way to Grand Falls, and added the east wing (now the dining room and railway offices) as the ranch quarters. Here the empire prospered: Furniture was made, ranch hands bunked down, and the huge ranch kitchens produced everything from tallow candles to hides for the market at Santa Fe and for trade to the Indians.
To relieve the isolation, the family traveled and collected. The third Don fell from his horse at the age of 43, leaving the Dona to reign, queen of the painted desert, for 30 years. It was she, finally too old to travel, who sold land to the Atlantic & Pacific on the condition that their shiny trains pass the front door of La Posada and bring the world to her, a parade of steel and steam, passengers marveling at the grand hacienda on their way to fortune in California.
The fourth Don Pajaro was a man of great culture born to fabulous wealth and a million-acre ranch. He added the west wing—33 guest rooms for his friends—and built gardens that were the envy of the Arizona Territory. By 1920, the hacienda looked as it does today—72,000 square feet of wonders from around the world. By 1930, it was all over; everything was sold, and it was not enough.
The Harveys, who were contracted to run the hacienda as a new hotel, promised to maintain La Posada like a proud estate. The guest rooms would be rented. Travelers would dine beneath the Pajaro’s magnificent chandeliers, seated beside the Pajaro’s patron saints—planting, cooking, and building in their fragile and forgotten innocence.
The last Don bade quiet goodbye to his staff and beloved La Posada in the early dawn, walked out the door, with nothing but the ebony cane of the first Don and two parrots perched happily on his shoulders, and was never seen again.
Every spring, a flock of turkey vultures arrives, Spanish grandees in black satin, and watchfully circles until winter. Guests still claim to see the Don at twilight, quietly strolling the gardens in the magnificent Arizona sunset.
303 E. 2nd Street (Route 66)