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Restoration of Historic Kolb Studio

Project Description
Kolb Studio
"Kolb Studio after the 1911 river trip. Boat on display and billboard sign on side of house." Circa 1912 by Kolb Bros
Operated from l904 to l976 as the photographic studio of brothers Ellsworth and Emery Kolb, the Kolb Studio is a historic structure near the entrance to the trailhead of the Bright Angel Trail on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. At one time the Park Service had planned to destroy the building, but the Historic Sites Act forbids destruction of any park structure more than fifty years old. In l990 repairs and rehabilitation of the Kolb Studio began. Currently, the first floor of the building is used as a bookstore and the former auditorium, located on the second floor, is used by the Park as an interpretative center and art gallery. The GCNPF is seeking funding to continue restoration of the former living quarters of the Studio on the third, fourth, and fifth stories of the building.

Background material on the Kolb Studio summarized from Park Service materials:
"A glance at Kolb Studio reveals a tenacious structure built on the brink of the Grand Canyon. It was the home photographic studio and lab of pioneers Emery and Ellsworth Kolb. Begun in 1904, the building has gone through two major additions and countless minor changes in the nine decades it has clung to the side of the Grand Canyon. The evolution and survival of Kolb Studio is also the story of its builders, Emery and Ellsworth Kolb.

Kolb Studio
"Emery, Blanche, and Ellsworth Kolb standing on the back porch of the original Kolb Studio." Circa 1904

Ellsworth Kolb arrived at the Canyon in l901, followed by his younger brother. They founded a photo- graphic studio at the Bright Angel trailhead. At first, it was nothing more than a small cave in the side of the Canyon wall. With a blanket over the entrance, the cave served as a makeshift darkroom and lab until the first permanent structure was begun in l904. That year the crude darkroom was replaced by a two-story wooden structure built on a 55 by 20 rock shelf ballasted out of the Canyon wall.

The Kolb brothers secured a prominent place in Grand Canyon history in l912 with the completion of a boat trip down the Colorado River. While not the first to dare the rapids, the Kolbs were the first to record their adventures with a movie camera. After the river trip's completion and a trans-continental movie promotion tour, they returned to the Grand Canyon.

In l915 the brothers completed a three-story addition (for living quarters) and a small showroom (part of the present auditorium). The addition of the auditorium allowed them to show their river movie to Grand Canyon visitors. The movie was presented by Emery from l915 to his death in l976 at the age of 95. The Kolbs also took pictures of people astride the famous Grand Canyon mules as visitors maneuvered their way up and down the Bright Angel Trail. The Kolbs' photography business flourished but their business partnership became strained after Emery married and began to raise a family. In l924 the partnership dissolved. Emery continued to show the river movie, take pictures, and operate a gift shop until his death.
Kolb Studio
"Looking down on Kolb Studio from the wooden stairs above. Small white sign atop roof." Circa 1915 by Kolb Bros

The last major addition to the studio occurred in l926. The auditorium was expanded along with space for the lab and the darkroom. Throughout the following years minor changes to the building occurred but the structure has remained essentially the same for nearly seventy years. It measures five stories in height and contains twenty-three rooms. It is now listed on the National Registrar of Historic Places.

Perched aggressively on the brink of the South Rim, historic Kolb Studio is anything but conventional. It was built without a plan, its rooms added piecemeal over the years. The building is a vivid reminder of the two pioneers that ran the rapids, hiked the canyons, and photographed it all."

Continuing the restoration and preservation of Kolb Studio falls within two of the core projects that the Foundation has agreed to take on for the Park. First, the GCNPF has agreed to seek funding for completion of the restoration work at Kolb. Second, the GCNPF plans to establish an endowment for all historic buildings in the core area of the South Rim, including the Heritage Education Campus and Kolb Studio.

Kolb Studio is a wonderful, singular piece of Grand Canyon history. To see it now is a striking reminder of the innovative, courageous, and adventurous nature of the men who built it for love of the canyon. Please help preserve Kolb Studio by making a donation today.

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