El Tovar Hotel at the South Rim: Offering Elegance for 100 Years

One hundred years after opening its doors, the world-class El Tovar Hotel remains one the most famous landmarks at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Visitors continue to be fascinated by this beautiful, historic, limestone-and-pine structure, which has accommodated guests since 1905.

The El Tovar was designed by Chicago architect Charles Frederick Whittlesey as an elegant mixture of Swiss chalet and Norwegian villa. Whittlesey was chief architect for the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway, and the El Tovar was originally owned and operated by the railway in conjunction with the Fred Harvey Company, a large firm in the hospitality industry. The hotel’s luxury catered to the needs and expectations of wealthy Easterners who desired the classy comforts of home even during their trips to the rustic West. Constructed at a cost of $250,000, Whittlesey’s design won high praise from these elite visitors, as well as from architecture critics. Of special appreciation were the hotel’s lounges, dining room, billiard room, wine room, solarium, and rooftop garden.

The original look and feel of the El Tovar have been preserved as much as possible, though modern upgrades and renovations have obviously been made in terms of electricity, plumbing, Internet connections, and other conveniences. Today, the hotel has 78 guestrooms, each with a private bathroom. These rooms range in size from small single accommodations to large suites for groups. Many suites include balconies with stunning views of the Grand Canyon. A standard room can be reserved for about $200 per night (at announced 2016 rates). Reservation rates for suites are between about $420 and a little more than $500 per night. Smoking is allowed in a room for an extra charge of $175. In-room dining, full bell service, and a lobby concierge are available.

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The El Tovar was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1987. Famous guests over the decades have included presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Bill Clinton, scientist Albert Einstein, and musician Sir Paul McCartney. In regard to McCartney’s visit, a guest complained to the front desk about him playing the piano too loudly. So the hotel worker had to go up to McCartney’s suite to tell the world-famous former member of the Beatles to stop playing. This amusing story has become part of the historic charm of the El Tovar.