My parents were both from Tucson, born in the very early part of the 20th century. They met there, married there, and lived there as they started their family. My sister, Vicki, had such horrible asthma they were advised by their physician to move her to the coast for the moist air. In 1943, they left their own families and friends behind and moved to Santa Barbara, where my brother was born the following year. While I know they would never have done anything differently, there was, in retrospect, always the sadness of leaving Tucson hanging in the air in our home.
The promise of a better job moved them to the Los Angeles area after WWII. I showed up a few years later, and I grew up listening to my parents' stories of the desert and all its magic and cruelties...the desert blooms in the spring, the clear skies (gone from L.A. by the mid-fifties), tales of Superstition Mountain and the Lost Dutchman mine, Arizona Highways Magazine, the horrid sand storms, flash floods, and the droughts that caused the ranchers' cattle to die in the desert. I heard story upon story about Tucson, to the point that I felt I knew the town myself.
From this comes my own love of the desert, and the Sonoran desert, in particular. Maybe it's from my upbringing, maybe it's from the endless westerns I watched as a kid, or maybe it's because I always felt I was supposed to have grown up on a ranch. Whatever it is, it's there, deeply ingrained in me.
Which brings me to one of my favorite places, where we stayed last night...the La Posada Hotel in Winslow, Arizona. The last of the great Santa Fe Railway hotels designed by the famous architect Mary Colter, the La Posada is thought to be the jewel in her crown, as it were. Not only was she commissioned to design the hotel, unlike her previous jobs, with the La Posada she was in charge of the whole show...designing furnishings and landscape as well as the hotel. Opening in 1930 during the Great Depression, economic prosperity somehow never came to be for this glorious property, although it did have a hay day of its own right. It was, at one time, a busy hub for both railway passengers and coast to coast airplane flights (in the days when they still had to stop somewhere along the way to refuel). The local airport was designed under the watchful eyes of Charles Lindberg, and everyone from famous Hollywood stars of the day to Howard Hughes to Albert Einstein stayed there.
Alas...time wasn't so kind. After the interstate was built and Route 66 was bypassed, the La Posada closed her doors for the last time in 1957. In 1959, an auction was held to sell off all the glorious furnishings. Then another sad thing happened...although certainly this story could have had a worse ending...the Santa Fe Railway decided to occupy the La Posada as both offices and switching center, back when lots and lots of equipment was needed to do what we do with such sophisticated equipment today. Entire sections of the hotel were either stripped out inside and/or covered over with acoustical ceilings and wall boards to make individual offices. Some portions of the hotel were just closed off entirely.
In 1997, the SF Railway moved out and the La Posada found her head on the chopping block. A couple from California with incredible vision and love found her on a list of endangered historic properties and stepped up to meet the challenge. This is another long story, but for now, the result is a grand old hotel well on her way to recovery and holding her doors open for you to come and visit. If you plan to be in the area, I highly recommend you at least stop in, take a tour, and enjoy a meal in their fabulous restaurant....even if you can't stay the night. (Or visit them now: La Posada.) Being inside her walls you can't help but feel the spirits of her golden age...I promise you.