Hotel Online  Special Report

The Grand Canyon's El Tovar, One of the Original
Great Lodges of the National Park System, Turns 100
Key Influence in Opening the Southwest to Tourism
GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK, December 14, 2004 - The Grand Canyon's El Tovar, one of the original great lodges of the national park system and a key influence in opening the Southwest to tourism, will turn 100 next year. 

At the turn of the 20th century, a visit to the Grand Canyon was not a simple journey. A stagecoach ride from Flagstaff was a 20-hour teeth-rattling affair, and upon arrival at the Grand Canyon, accommodations were rustic, at best. 

In 1901, the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway laid an 80-mile railroad spur from Williams, Arizona to Grand Canyon Village on the South Rim. Like other railroads, such as the Northern Pacific and Union Pacific, the company sought to increase its customer base and began making plans for the construction of a luxury hotel close to its terminal at the South Rim.

Charles Whittlesey, a native of Alton, Illinois and an architect with 25 years of experience in the Chicago area, was assigned the job. While hotel architecture at the time tended toward Victorian with wooden frame construction, the designers of national park and other lodges along and near the railroad lines were attempting to define new styles using natural and local materials to create comfort in assuming luxury.  Whittlesey mainly used local stone and Douglas fir trees shipped in from Oregon.

Described as a cross between a Swiss Chalet and Norway Villa, El Tovar cost $250,000 to build and opened January 14, 1905. The hotel originally had 95 rooms, but a later renovation reduced that number to 78 to allow for private bathrooms in all guest rooms. 

The front door to El Tovar is a mere 30 yards from the edge of the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Visitors entering through this door pass through the lobby known historically as the Rendezvous Room. The interior features dark log/slab paneling and exposed log rafters. 

The hotel is a three-story building. Counting the Terrace Level, it is a four-story building. The Rendezvous Room, registration area, two gift shops, lounge, dining room and a small number of guest rooms are located on the first floor. The Terrace Level as well as the second and third floors contain the remaining guest rooms, including 12 suites.

The exterior of the historic El Tovar Hotel. The hotel
opened in 1905 with a design that was fashioned
after European hunting lodges.
Like most old hotels, El Tovar has its share of stories, some quirky and others out of place in today's world. The hotel originally had separate men's and women's sitting rooms, a men's grotto, a photography studio with darkroom, a rooftop garden, wine room and billiards parlor.

While the dining room has been renowned for the high quality of its meals, it was difficult early on to obtain fresh ingredients. As a result the hotel had its own herd of Jersey cows, a milking barn, poultry barn, butcher shop, bakery and cold storage. Until a pipe was laid from the South Rim to Indian Gardens in the 1930s, water was brought in by the train.

The Fred Harvey Company, now Xanterra Parks & Resorts, managed El Tovar from the start. The famed Harvey Girls staffed El Tovar and other Harvey Houses throughout the West. The Harvey Girls went a long way toward "civilizing" the region, and many of the West's prominent families today are descendants of these women and local ranchers and businessmen. Some former Harvey Girls still live in northern Arizona.

The opening of El Tovar preceded Arizona's statehood by seven years and the Grand Canyon's designation as a national monument in 1908 and a national park in 1919. The hotel's presence is credited with helping to increase visitation and international awareness of the remote Grand Canyon region.

Interesting facts about El Tovar include:

  • The hotel was named for Spanish explorer Don Pedro de Tobar who reported the existence of the Grand Canyon to fellow explorers.
  • U.S. Presidents who have stayed at El Tovar include Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Gerald Ford, George H.W. Bush, Herbert Hoover, Calvin Coolidge, Dwight Eisenhower and Bill Clinton.
  • Celebrities who have stayed include Albert Einstein, Elizabeth Taylor, Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford.
  • When it opened, El Tovar was considered the most luxurious hotel between the Rocky Mountains and San Francisco. 
  • Even though guest rooms did not have their own bathrooms, they did each have their own telephones.
  • Harnessing electricity was still relatively new, and the hotel's lobby lights were known as "Electroliers."
  • El Tovar was originally to be called the Bright Angel Tavern, but its more elegant name was chosen before it opened.
  • Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter, architect of several famous Grand Canyon buildings, provided some of the building's interior design elements.
  • The Hopi House, a Colter-designed building next door, opened two weeks before El Tovar. 
El Tovar will close January 3 for a $4.5 million renovation and will reopen April 13, 2005. 

Xanterra Parks & Resorts (consisting of Xanterra Parks & Resorts, Inc. and Xanterra South Rim, L.L.C.) operates lodges, restaurants and other concessions at national parks and state parks and resorts. Xanterra Parks & Resorts is the country's largest national park concessioner.  Xanterra Parks & Resorts operates concessions in the following locations: Yellowstone National Park, the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Zion National Park, Crater Lake National Park, Death Valley National Park, Petrified Forest National Park, Everglades National Park, and Mount Rushmore National Memorial; and at the Silverado Resort in Napa, Calif.; Gideon Putnam Resort & Spa in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. and eight Ohio State Parks. Its affiliate Xanterra South Rim, L.L. C. operates concessions at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.


Xanterra Parks & Resorts
Mesereau Public Relations
(1) 720-842-5271

Also See: El Tovar Hotel and Grand Canyon National Park to Reopen after $1 Million Renovation / Mar 1998
Xanterra Parks & Resorts Completes Renovations to Four of its Seven Hotels in Grand Canyon National Park / May 2004

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