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.
"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.