A building known as ‘The Stone Treehouse’ stood in 1924 on the site where today the Painted Desert Inn stands. This building, in the style known architecturally as ‘National Park Rustic,’ looked strikingly different from what visitors to the Petrified National Park see today. In 1936 the National Park Service purchased the building and began a complete renovation, pretty much taking the building apart and beginning again on the same site. The reason for total renovation was twofold: first, many saw the building’s style as outdated, and second, the National Park Service determined the foundations of ‘The Stone Treehouse’ to be slowly sinking into the soft clay soil they had been built on.
The Painted Desert Inn was built in the years 1937-1939 by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) with funds from the Public Works Administration. Its history is one of constant renovation. The adobe walls of the building are over two feet thick showing the labor-intensive work of the CCC. However, the Inn was not operated for long by the National Park Service, who sold it to the Fred Harvey Company in 1947. It then went through a dazzling renovation, this time, centered on the interior. Fred Harvey brought in renowned designer Mary Coulter to spruce up the decade-old inn for new visitors travelling the increasingly popular Route 66. However, the inn never generated the amount of interest hoped for by the Harvey Company, and by the late 1950s had ceased to function. It then began to serve simply as a stop-off point for tourists to dine and shop as they took in the wonders of Petrified Forest National Monument (designated a National Park in 1962).
Over the next two decades the Inn began to fall into disrepair, and by the 1980s this state of disrepair had become exceedingly noticeable. Fortunately, at that point the National Park Service intervened and began both internal and external repairs to the structure. The building that visitors see today is the result of the hard work of many different sources including the CCC, Fred Harvey and most recently the National Park Service. Today the Painted Desert Inn serves as the visitor center for the Petrified Forest National Park, attracting thousands of visitors each year.