|Desert View Watchtower.|
Grand Canyon Desert View Watchtower
Build a structure that provides the widest possible view of Grand Canyon
yet harmonizes with its setting: this was architect Mary Colter's goal
when the Fred Harvey Company hired her in 1930 to design a gift shop and
rest area at Desert View. Colter's answer was the Watchtower.
A perfectionist, Colter scrutinized every detail, down to the placement of
nearly every stone. Each stone was handpicked for size and appearance.
Weathered faces were left untouched to give the tower an ancient look.
With a lavish, highly publicized dedication ceremony, the Watchtower opened
in May 1933.
The Indian Watchtower is at the eastern end of the south rim of the
Grand Canyon. From a distance the building's silhouette looks like the
Anasazi watchtower it was meant to mimic. In actual size the tower is
considerably larger than any known Anasazi tower. In plan the structure
is composed of one enormous circle at the north, a small circle at the
south, an gently arced forms connecting the two. The largest circle and
the arced portions are the sections of that building that are just one
story in height. The smaller circular plan is for the tower itself, more
than five stories high. The building sits out on a promontory overlooking
the Grand Canyon.
|Historical 1932 picture of Desert
View watchtower. Photo by Santa Fe Railroad.|
The most noteworthy aspect of the exterior is the stonework--a variety
of uncoursed rubble below and coursed sandstone above, with decorative
patterns of triangular stones adding architectural interest directly
below the tower's parapet and other bands of color masonry adding even
more visual interest. Colter's use of texture in the masonry creates a visual
depth. Large walls sections of the tower, for instance, have a relatively
smooth finish that in places is broken up by slightly larger stones
protruding from the wall surface. Fenestration in the tower is
irregular--tiny windows or those with irregular shapes--with the exception
of the observation area at the top of the structure where large trapezoids
of plate glass allow the viewer to see the surrounding countryside in
all directions. Colter's careful massing of forms added more architectural
emphasis to the tower.
|Historical 1932 picture of the Hopi
room at Desert View watchtower. Photo by Santa Fe Railroad.|
The main entrance into the structure leads into the largest room of
the building, originally known as the kiva room, that is circular in
plan. The ceiling is made up of logs salvaged from the old Grand View
Hotel on Horseshoe Mesa at the Canyon. The logs are laid in a pattern
found in prehistoric native American architecture and still used in
some Indian structures today. A ladder from the center of the room leads
up to an opening in the ceiling that looks functional but is actually
false. A low, arched fireplace on one edge of the room has a small mantle
and am enormous picture window directly above it where the chimney
normally would be--the flue actually draws the smoke from an upper corner.
The floor of this room is flagstone, and walls are stone. This room
has undergone little change since construction. Directly above this
room on the roof of this part of the structure is an outdoor observation
deck. Other spaces on the first floor are used for sales areas, as this
is, and a small amount of storage space. The kiva room contains heavy,
rustic furnishings of large chunks of wood and rawhide, also included
in this nomination.
The most architecturally impressive section of the building is
undoubtedly the tower interior. The space is an open shaft surrounded by
circular balconies edging the walls and small staircases that lead up to
subsequent levels. Only the uppermost observation area has a complete
floor area covering the circular plan, and large plate-glass windows
overlooking the surrounding expanses of the vast southwest. The rooftop
observation area, reached by a ladder of sturdy log construction, is
closed to the public. The steel and concrete structure of this space is
entirely plastered and all of the walls are covered with murals. The
most distinct images, painted by Hopi artist Fred Kabotie depict various
aspects of Hopi mythology and religious ceremonies. The other murals
done by Fred Greer are more subtle in color and purposefully softer in
detail, and are copies of prehistoric pictographs and petroglyphs. The
tiny windows of the tower let in a minimal amount of light which adds
to the cave- like, mystical atmosphere of the space. Experiencing the
multiple levels and circular balconies and the hundreds of prehistoric
images inundates the viewer with an overwhelming sense of the southwest.
Copyright © 2004-2006 Calvin & Rosanna Hamilton. All rights reserved.