Our Mary Jane Colter weekend in partnership with the New Mexico History Museum was a high-energy event, we had more people than I expected—a perfect example of how history can be brought to life and made relevant to us today. A sold-out crowd of 150 history and culture buffs celebrated the legacy of La Fonda’s feisty architect and designer in a truly interactive weekend of talks, presentations, and socializing. The youngest participant was a 13-year-old “Fred head” who will be giving me a tour at the former Montezuma Hotel in Las Vegas tomorrow! Biographer Arnold Berke, historian Stephen Fried, and architect Barbara Felix, kept us intrigued and amused with the kind of insights that emerge when you do historical research. Barbara even made us metaphorically lift our carpets in the guest rooms to reveal Colter’s original painted concrete floor underneath, awaiting restoration.
One theme that emerged over the weekend is the renewed emphasis nowadays on historical preservation, rather than just knocking down the old. Colter herself shows why: Her then-unique taste in local materials, artisanal products, and what we would call ethnic design and recycling suggest how deeply rooted these aesthetic values are, and how we respond to them in buildings like La Fonda without knowing exactly why—or didn’t know, until this weekend.
I was especially pleased to see a large number of Harvey family members come and share their insights. Daggett Harvey closed the weekend with an affectionate portrait of a woman who was assertive before her time: Mary Jane Colter was decisive, visionary, and intimidating at a time when women were not even allowed to vote! I think he spoke for all of us in saying that he had a new appreciation of what she did for the Fred Harvey Company—and for its legacy at La Fonda and throughout the Southwest.