The Organic Architecture Guild

A Sustainability Union

Lookout Studio, 1914
Desert View Watchtower, 1932
Hermits Rest, 1914
Hopi House, 1905

Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter (1869 – 1958)


In the years following the American Civil War, Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter traveled with her family throughout the country and spent considerable time in Minnesota, Colorado and Texas.  Mary Colter attended the California School of Design in San Francisco and was hired as an Interior Designer by the Fred Harvey Company in 1901 and By 1910 she was a practicing architect.  Over the next 30 years, she came to love and know The American Southwest with an intimate appreciation and a cultural design sensitivity. She applied this perspective to the design of a series of hotels and lodges, most notably, structures along the south rim of the Grand Canyon.

Mary Colter designed Hopi House in 1905, the observatory Lookout Studio in 1914 and Hermit’s Rest in 1914, The Desert View Watchtower in 1932 along with the Bright Angel Lodge. Her work was deeply rooted in archeology and designed places imbued with historical significance. She understood the importance of using consultants to achieve an integrity of cultural design and not mere nostalgic surface washing. To this end, she employed the assistance of Hopi tribe members who lent another element of spatial design in the spiritual and natural realm.  Her success with local, natural materials became a benchmark for future landmark

architecture and remains a beacon for Organic Architects world-wide.

With the development, marketing and success of the Santa Fe Railroad, the visitation to the grand canyon became a popular tourist destination and one of the most visited camps was the Hermit Camp, where mule trip and hikers on foot would lodge within the canyon.

With the  increasing  level of tourism, more facilities were needed along the rim where other services and hospitality needs were taking root. The architect Mary Jane Colter was tasked with developing a suitable comfort station at the trailhead. The result was Hermit's Rest, completed in 1914.

She developed Hermits rest s a unique inspiration without any visual historical nostalgia, yet drew upon real anecdote for guidance.  Colter's referential inspiration was based on the legend of Louis Boucher, a "hermit" for which Hermit Gorge is named. Boucher is thought to have spent months if not years in a home-made shelter formed

by gathering and laying up stones within his immediate local.  He used the canyon as a mining base camp. Colter simply imagined life within this shelter as an almost ideal physical space from which to commune with nature and take in natural uniqueness of the landscape. Her lodge became a place that could evoke this sensibility.

The shell appears as a random composition of rocks tucked into a land form that was also fashioned by Colter to create a symbiosis  of site and structure.

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