AKA: Hotel El Tovar, Grand Canyon National Park, AZ

Structure Type: built works - dwellings -public accommodations - hotels

Designers: Whittlesey, Charles F., Architect (firm); Charles Frederick Whittlesey (architect)

Dates: constructed 1903-1905

3 stories

view all images ( of 1 shown)

El Tovar Road
Grand Canyon National Park, Grand Canyon Village, AZ 86023

OpenStreetMap (new tab)
Google Map (new tab)
click to view google map
Google Streetview (new tab)
click to view google map
Coconino County


Planning and design for the El Tovar Hotel occurred in 1902, with construction beginning in 1903 and concluding in 01/1905. The hotel was designed by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway's (ATSF) architect, Charles F. Whittlesey, who designed a number of hotels and restaurants for the Fred Harvey Company, which was closely affilated with the ATSF. The Grand Canyon National Park ATSF depot was located a scant 330 feet away from this Harvey House Hotel. The El Tovar was one of a new type of grand tourist lodges being constructed at the new national parks during the early twentieth century. Railroad service to these parks made them nationally-accessible tourist destinations by thie 1890s and 1900s. Architects Gilbert Stanley Underwood and Robert Reamer designed several of these grand lodges at Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton Naitonal Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, and the Olympic National Forest.

Building History

IL-born architect Charles F. Whittlesey (1867-1941) designed this (and other) hotels for the Fred Harvey Company, which built restaurants and hotels for travelers along the Atcheson, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad lines; this rustic wood frame tourist lodge opened in 1905; the influential Hopi House, a gift shop also operated by Fred Harvey, had a rustic appearance derived from local Native American Buildings. Designed by Mary Colter, this Fred Harvey store was one of the first commercial enterprises to mimic the rusticity and local character of Native American architecture and was an early outlet for tourists set up to sell the crafts and display the ceremonies of nearby tribes. Architects like Gilbert Stanley Underwood, who would go on to design a number of hotels for the National Park Service, was influenced by the Hopi House. Architect and historian Joyce Zaitlin noted that the El Tovar has been called "...probably the most expensively constructed and appointed log house in America." The El Tovar cost approximately $250,000 in 1905, an exorbitant sum. (See Joyce Zaitlin, Gilbert Stanley Underwood His Rustic, Art Deco and Federal Architecture, [Malibu, CA: Pangloss Press, 1989], p. 21-24.)

The hotel was named for a Spanish explorer, Pedro de Tobar (or de Tovar), a member of the conquistador Francisco Vázquez de Coronado's 1540 gold-seeking expedition to the Desert Southwest. Coronado (1510-1554) directed de Tobar and a monk, Fray Juan de Padilla, to explore seven Hopi (or Moqui) villages, which at that time occupied the new Spanish province of "Tusayan." (Tusayan was an earlier Spanish term to describe the region northwest of Flagstaff, AZ, but the word was perhaps derived from the language of the Nahuatl tribe, members of which accompanied the Coronado party. It was used by Spanish cartographers during the succeeding two centuries. [See J. Walter Fewkes, "The Prehistoric Culture of Tusayan," The American Anthropologist, vol. IX, no. 5, 05/1896, p. 152.]) The de Tobar-de Padilla party then further sub-divided in 09/1540, when 12 men led by García López de Cárdenas, was sent to locate a river in the vicinty, known to another member of Coronado's military party, Melchior Diaz, as the "Rio del Tizon" or Firebrand River (now known as the Colorado River). In late 09/1540 or early 10/1540, Cárdenas's party was the first group of Euro-Americans to view the Grand Canyon's South Rim and the Firebrand River that ran at its base. (See United States Congress, House of Representatives, Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce,Hearing before the Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce of the House of Representatives, Sixty-Sixth Congress, Third Session, on H.J. Res. 460, 02/18/1921,"Renaming of the Grand River, Colo.," p. 16.)

Building Notes

The El Tovar Hotel had an eclectic, 19th-century character to it, with elements derived from Swiss chalets and Adirondack Mountain lodges as well as log cabin architecture of the American West. Additionally, Whittlesey derived other detailing from the Second Empire Style (its mansard roof). Its interior reflected the strong influence of the Arts and Crafts Movement, particularly in its use of rustic log furniiture. An interesting exterior detail was its tower with a pyramidal hipped roof, a Stick Style motif that can be seen in other building types of the era, such as public park casinos and railroad stations.

The hotel maintained a newstand, restaurant (the El Tovar Dining Room, seating 211), and the El Tovar Lounge, which could accommodate 60 patrons.

It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, added 1974 - Building #74000334;


A renovation in 1983 replaced original paired, wood-frame casement windows with alumiunum casements. The number of rooms at the El Tovar has diminished over the years, from 103 originally to 78 by 1983.

The Fred Harvey Company's successor firm, Xanterra South Rim, LLC, renovated the El Tovar Hotel's 78 rooms and suites in 2005 to celebrate the hotel's centennial.

A large renovation to upgrade HVAC, lighting, electrical, safety, plumbing, telecommunications and security systems, and to enable compliance with ADA requirements, was planned to occur between 01/01/2017 and 04/14/2017. The facility was also to be recarpeted and wood floors refinished and its rooms refurnished. (See Grand Canyon National Park Lodges, "Grand Canyon’s El Tovar to Close in Early 2017 for Major Rehabilitation," accessed 08/24/2016.)

National Register of Historic Places: 74000334 NRHP Images (pdf) NHRP Registration Form (pdf)

National Historic Landmark: ID n/a

PCAD id: 4305