Kolb Studio

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The Grand Canyon Association is launching a fundraising campaign to renovate Kolb Studio, a 109-year-old building perched on the edge of the south rim of Grand Canyon National Park. Kolb Studio served for decades as a business and home for brothers Emery and Ellsworth Kolb. They photographed hikers and tourists starting down the Bright Angel Trail. Their images helped document the Grand Canyon and early tourism in the West. Helen Ranney, Assistant Director of Philanthropy for the Grand Canyon Association, will talk about the Kolb Studio and the fundraising effort.

Ted Simons: They came from Pittsburgh in and set up a photo studio on the edge of the south rim of the Grand Canyon. Over the next years Emery and Ellsworth Kolb used the studio to photograph the canyon and visiting tourists. But Kolb studio is in need of renovation. Joining me now is Helen Ranney, assistant director of philanthropy for the Grand Canyon association which is leading a fund-raising drive to renovate the -year-old structure. Welcome to "Arizona Horizon."

Helen Ranney: Thank you. We're happy to be here.

Ted Simons: Kolb studio, where exactly is this, and what exactly was it used for?

Helen Ranney: It sits at the head of the bright angel trail on the south rim of the Grand Canyon, just below the rim. It was used for the photo studio and also a home, a family actually grew up there.

Ted Simons: Really? So this was a family residence.

Helen Ranney: A family residence. What is open to the public currently is the park store and also a gallery, where they used to show their movie and the residence is down below.

Ted Simons: We're looking at it right here. Back -- Does it look like this now, similar, or has it been expanded?

Helen Ranney: It's been expanded. That was the first renovation of the house and then it's gone on and had three or four since, it's a five-story house, 22 rooms.

Ted Simons: Built right there into the side of the canyon.

Helen Ranney: They blasted the heck out of it.

Ted Simons: I bet they did. Who were Emery and Ellsworth Kolb?

Helen Ranney: Well, they came from Pittsburgh and they were adventurers and tried to figure out a way to make some money, and figured out that people were starting to visit the Grand Canyon with the train coming in 1901, visitation increased, and before it was a national park they started taking photos of you riding a mule down to the bottom of the canyon. One thing they did back in those days photography required water, and had you glass plates. There was no water at the south rim, so they would run past you down to Indiana garden Bufor 4 1/2 miles down the trail, develop the film, run back with those developed plates and you had to buy the photo when you came out.

Ted Simons: You can't look at it and say I don't think so after all that effort. And did they -- Did they see this as a business at first or were they just hikers and photographers and thought, wait, a lot of folks are stopping by.

Helen Ranney: They saw it as a business at first. One of the things they did and I think that photo showed, there was a sign that said $1 trail, $1 toll for the trail, so they were the gate keepers of that toll road. It wasn't even called a trail.

Ted Simons: When we say they took photographs of the canyon, you mentioned how difficult it was to get the photographs developed. Just getting the photographs themselves looks like an absolute adventure.

Helen Ranney: Ask any photographer you see on the Arizona highway, it's not easy to shoot the Grand Canyon. But they had access living right there at the head of the bright angel trail.

Ted Simons: We're looking at folks -- Goodness gracious. Step back, please, with the kid. That's a family obviously, but the photographers themselves would have to -- Look at these people!

Helen Ranney: We call this one Kolb on a rope.

Ted Simons: Indeed! It is! That's just amazing.

Helen Ranney: It is absolutely amazing. They were pure adventurers at heart, and they -- Because of them there's a lot of early photographs of Grand Canyon. And helped encouraging visitors to come.

Ted Simons: And there are photographs even now would be difficult to get would I imagine.

Helen Ranney: Can you see anybody taking a big camera like that?

Ted Simons: Nope, nope,.

Helen Ranney: Not even with their iPhone.

Ted Simons: We have a photo as well I believe Barry goldwater -- Did he know the familiarly and was he a visitor? There he is right there, that's a young Barry goldwater. Talk to us about that.

Helen Ranney: Barry goldwater was an advocate for Grand Canyon his entire career. He was a river runner and a photographer himself. So the Kolbs saw a lot of dignitaries that came to visit. Theodore Roosevelt was one.

Ted Simons: Isn't that interesting. So they were in business for -- How long were they in business?

Helen Ranney: Emery is the one who lived the longest, he died in 1976. And that's when the business ended. But he showed that film that they created when they went down the river in 1901 for over 60 years.

Ted Simons: So -- So talk about that. I think we have shots of them getting into the river and going down. What was that all about? Is this documenting the Colorado river?

Helen Ranney: In those days trying to find a way to make a living, and they saved up enough money to buy a movie camera for $ and they went down the river. They didn't know if the first thing about rowing any boat. And the Colorado before the Glen canyon dam was a wild river.

Ted Simons: It sure was. This, again, this is adventurism times two. These people -- There's no cell phone service, there's no way to get -- You're stuck, you're stuck.

Helen Ranney: You're stuck, you're stuck.

Ted Simons: And so they documented that and that became pretty popular over the years.

Helen Ranney: Actually they took to it Washington, DC, and the national geographic society saw the film and actually featured the Kolbs in I think August of 1914, almost the entire issue of the national geographic magazine featured that expedition.

Ted Simons: Let's talk about the studio. The family leaves mid 70's --

Helen Ranney: He died in 1976.

Ted Simons: What happened next?

Helen Ranney: Here's the part where Grand Canyon association came N the house sat empty. It was boarded up, the park service owned it, but nobody knew what to do with it. It was just a different time in the national park service history. And so in the mid 90's Grand Canyon association and we're the nonprofit partner for the park, came to the park service and said, we would like to restore this house with no tax dollars, with private money. So a million dollars later, we restored the house in the 1990s and opened it up for the public. Now what we need to do is -- You know with historic homes, it sits at the head of the bright angel trail, it needs some help and we need some serious restoration to be done.

Ted Simons: Stabilization, these sorts of things?

Helen Ranney: Yes. Stabilization, painting, preserving the historic integrity of the house. The forces of nature that created Grand Canyon are pushing up against that house every single day, and we have extreme weather conditions and also visitor impact. So it's a very -- It's a critical need, but the house is OK. It's not a ruin. We just want to keep it for another 109 years and beyond.

Ted Simons: Do you have folks who are ready to do that kind of renovation? Judging from the look of that particular shot that we saw, I don't know how anxious I would be to be on that patio doing renovation work.

Helen Ranney: I'd say OSHA would have screamed if they had seen how the Kolbs built the house. Yes, we already have worked with an historic architect with the park and we have contractors ready to go. We're hoping to start this fall. I will tell you it is a little over $400,000, we're looking to raise. We already have $190,000, so we're well on our way. And we're hoping that the community of Arizona will help us finish that goal.

Ted Simons: As far as fund-raising efforts, where are you focused? What are you doing?

Helen Ranney: We have a really great group of members that help us, and donors, and part reason I'm here is to ask a lot of people from the Phoenix area come to the Grand Canyon, we see them doing rim-to-rim hikes or just coming to bring their family. So we're hoping people will go online on our website and donate, call us, and tell us they want to get involved.

Ted Simons: Sounds like American Express made a nice donation?

Helen Ranney: American Express made a wonderful donation, also some individuals did too. So it shows that public-private partnership.

Ted Simons: Tell us about the Grand Canyon association. Who are you guys?

Helen Ranney: Who are we? Well, we started in 1932, and we are the nonprofit partner for Grand Canyon national park. And we consist of members and donors, and the -- What we do is support programs and projects for the park such as scientific research, trail restoration, educational programs, and historic preservation.

Ted Simons: Have you seen those goals and that mission, have they changed over the years, because everything else seems to have changed. What about that?

Helen Ranney: That's a good question. We originally started to help a publication, the park was creating all of this new research, and they needed to publish and tell the world about what they did. So that's where we started. And we operate parks doors, so we actually have visitors centers with information that we sell and the money goes back to the park. So we have evolved, but we are heavily into the fund-raising for a lot of projects for the park and Kolb studio is one of them.

Ted Simons: So if people want to get involved in the Kolb studio or just the Grand Canyon association in general, how do they get in touch?

Helen Ranney: Go to Grand Canyon.org. The easiest website that anybody can remember, grandcanyon.org, make a donation, call us, we'd love to hear from you and we're just looking for more help.

Ted Simons: Good luck with that effort. And boy, the photos were fascinating. It's sounds like a neat thing. Thanks for joining us.

Helen Ranney: Thanks for letting us be here.

Helen Ranney:Assitant Director of Philanthrophy, Grand Canyon Association;

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