Kolb Studio needs your help. Perched on the edge of the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, the 109-year-old building is in need of some serious repair. Earlier this year, the Grand Canyon Association launched a fundraising campaign to save this historic site. Over the years, countless visitors and extreme weather have taken a toll on the structure. The association hopes to raise $400,000 by the end of the year (they’ve raised $273,752 to date) to replace the entryway; repair and replace structural beams, wooden porches, and log and shingle siding; and remedy other issues. The goal is to restore the structural integrity so visitors can continue to learn about the Kolb brothers and the Grand Canyon.
Below, director of communications and publishing Miriam Robbins talks about the Save Kolb Studio campaign and why your help is desperately needed.
Talk to us about the Save Kolb Studio campaign. How did it come to be?
The Grand Canyon Association is Grand Canyon National Park’s official nonprofit partner. In additional to running seven bookstores at the park and several programs for the public like the Grand Canyon Field Institute, we raise funds to help with specific park projects every year. Kolb Studio is more than 100 years old and was built literally on the edge of the rim of Grand Canyon. Grand Canyon Association are stewards to this building, and we run one of our stores out the building and ensure that the historic integrity of the building is intact. While Kolb has undergone some restoration over time, the hard weather conditions at Grand Canyon and the age of this historic building require that we provide some maintenance to the building so that it’s structurally sound and maintained for future visitor use.
Why is this campaign so important? What’s going on?
Right now, Kolb Studio is open to the public as a retail store for Grand Canyon Association; we also run an exhibit hall there (currently showing The Amazing Kolb Brothers). There is also a large area of the building that is only open for special tours. This area was the main residence of the Kolb family for decades. If the building is not restored at this time, we may not be able to allow public visitation to this building. It is a valuable historic site, and its preservation ensures people can learn about the early pioneers, the Kolb brothers, for many generations to come.
Who were the Kolb brothers and what did they do?
Ellsworth and Emery Kolb ventured to Grand Canyon National Park in the early 19-teens of last century. They were entrepreneurial and started a photography business to capture tourist photos at Grand Canyon. They originally got a small piece of land on the rim from early pioneer John Cameron before Grand Canyon was a national park. In fact, at that time, the popular Bright Angel Trail was a toll road, charging a fee of $1 to enter. Kolb Studio started out in a tent, then a small, one-room house that they built up over time. The brother’s photography business flourished, and they took many photos of people coming down Bright Angel Trail — especially on mules. In the early years, they did not have water at the rim, so one brother would hike 4 miles down to Indian Garden, where there were springs, to develop the photos and then hike back up to deliver the prints to the tourists. The Kolbs were also known as daredevils and would hike into the Canyon to capture images that no one else could reach by hanging off cliffs and rocks. They also made a movie of their harrowing trip down the Colorado River, which was shown all over the country and at Kolb Studio until the 1970s. This video encouraged people from all over the world to visit the Grand Canyon. Over time, Ellsworth and Emery parted ways, but Emery stayed and continued showing the movie while raising a family at Kolb Studio. After Emery’s death, the Park Service took ownership of the building, and it was refurbished and turned into a store and interpretive facility in the 1990s by the Grand Canyon Association.
What role does Kolb Studio play at the Grand Canyon today?
Grand Canyon Association park stores sell products relating to Grand Canyon. In addition to the 44 books published by the Grand Canyon Association, we also sell other gift and educational items, including junior-ranger materials, jewelry, T-shirts and water bottles. Our mission is to educate the public about Grand Canyon National Park, so all our products help people understand the Grand Canyon. Purchases are tax free, and all proceeds help support Grand Canyon National Park. Kolb Studio also has long-term exhibits that rotate out every few years — The Amazing Kolb Brothers is currently showing, and it talks about the history and lives of the Kolb brothers and the building; and every September through January, there is an exhibit and sale of the Plein Air paintings for the Grand Canyon Celebration of Art event. During the winter months, Grand Canyon rangers hold daily tours of the Kolb Studio residence, which is normally closed to the public.
How can our readers help Save Kolb?
Share the www.savekolb.org website and learn more about the Kolb brothers, their history and the importance of this historic building. You can also make a donation. If you make a donation of $75 or more, you’ll receive a Kolb poster. There are four posters to choose from, each showing a depiction of one of the Kolbs’ photos. They are custom designed 12×18 posters (not framed). You can also share your photos and stories on the Grand Canyon Association Facebook page.