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Following the Fred Harvey Trail

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La Fonda Hotel fireplace, Santa Fe NM - historic Fred Harvey hotel - first hotel and restaurant chain.

Who is Fred Harvey? While today the name probably doesn’t ring a bell, almost 150 years ago the man and the company that bore his name changed the face of railroad travel and tourism in the United States. Starting in 1875, Fred Harvey opened his eating houses along Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad routes. Hotels, railroad dining cars and tours followed. Fred Harvey died in 1901 but his children and grandchild continued running the company under the name Fred Harvey. Not only did Fred Harvey open the first restaurants and hotel chains in America, he and his company opened the Southwest to tourism. With the coming of the Interstate Highway System rail travel declined and so did business. The company was sold to Amfac in 1966; Xanterra, their successor, still administers some of Harvey’s Grand Canyon properties.

Image above: Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter designed fireplace at La Fonda, Santa Fe NM - a former Fred Harvey hotel. (c) Billie Frank and Steve Collins, The Santa Fe Traveler, as are other photos not otherwise attributed.


Former Fray Marcos Hotel lobby Williams AZ Fred Harvey (c) Xanterra

Image: Former Fray Marcos Hotel lobby Williams AZ. (c) Xanterra

Some Harvey hotels have survived on their own, others have been resurrected and some of the old buildings standing along the tracks of the former Santa Fe railroad have been repurposed. We toured every Harvey hotel still standing between Las Vegas, NM and Barstow, California (except Phantom Ranch at the bottom of Grand Canyon). You can, too.
Fred Harvey purists and train enthusiasts can do the tour the old-fashioned way: visit these former Harvey properties by rail. The famous Southwest Chief runs one westbound and one eastbound train a day. If you do the trip via rail you’ll want to detrain, explore the hotel(s) and reboard the train the next day. You can even take the vintage Grand Canyon Railway from Williams, Arizona to Grand Canyon to visit the Harvey properties there.

Formal Fray Marcos Hotel room Williams AZ - luxury in its day. Xanterra

Image: Former Fray Marcos Hotel room Williams, AZ. (c) Xanterra

Road trippers and Route 66 fans will love the trip. You can start in Las Vegas, NM as we did or even follow the mother road from Chicago to LA visiting the Kansas Harvey properties. Take a detour on pre-1937 Route 36 through New Mexico with a side trip to visit the Las Vegas hotels. Much of the stretch from Missouri to LA can be done on the “mother road” avoiding the Interstates.

New Mexico

Start your tour in Las Vegas, NM an hour northeast of Santa Fe. You can visit two Harvey properties there plus the historic Plaza Hotel, opened in 1882.

Montezuma Castle

Fred Harvey's The Montezuma, Las Vegas NM.

This stately Queen Anne Victorian, set on a hill above hot springs six miles north of Las Vegas, had an interesting past. The original hotel on that site was the Hot Springs Hotel opened in 1870. Shortly after the first train arrived in Las Vegas in 1879, it was bought by the Santa Fe Railroad. They wanted to build a luxury health resort there.

The first Montezuma Castle, a wooden structure built in 1882 at the base of the hill, burned to the ground two years later. They located the second hotel, built of sandstone, in 1885, at the top of the hill. It was ravaged by fire four months after opening. Luckily, the first and second floors were salvageable. The current Montezuma Castle, opened in 1886, is still standing. Apparently three was the charm. The Montezuma attracted a well-heeled crowd. Guests who stayed there included Teddy Roosevelt, Ulysses S. Grant and Jesse James. For a variety of reasons, including a the Financial Panic of 1893 and poorly conceived marketing as a health resort (the rich didn’t want to stay with the sick), it didn’t become the success that the railroad and Harvey hoped it would be. After closing in 1903 it had a succession of owners, falling into serious disrepair. Philanthropist Armand Hammer bought the property in 1981 and gave it to United World College. Today it attracts students from around the world. Some of the building’s Victorian features remain.

Image above: Montezuma Castle, Las Vegas, NM. This and all unattributed photos copyrighted by Billie Frank and Steve Collins, The Santa Fe Traveler.

Castaneda Hotel

Fred Harvey's Fred Harvey's Castaneda Hotel, Las Vegas NM.

The trackside Castaneda Hotel opened in 1898. The main entrance to the U-shaped Mission-revival structure (as with other Harvey trackside hotels) didn’t face the street. Instead it was oriented to the tracks. The expansive courtyard with its central fountain and lush gardens greeted visitors arriving on trains. In 1899 the hotel hosted Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Rider Reunion. Besides Roosevelt, notable guests at the 40-room luxury hotel included Harry Truman and World Heavyweight Champion boxer Jack Johnson (the play and film The Great White Hope was about his life). After closing in 1949, the building eventually became a bar/restaurant and rooming house, it wasn’t kept up and fell into extreme disrepair. The Castaneda was rescued in 2014 by California entrepreneur and visionary, Allan Affeldt and his artist wife, Tina Mion. The couple also bought and now run Las Vegas’ historic Plaza Hotel. Renovations on the Castaneda will begin shortly. If they go as planned the refurbished hotel will open in 2019.

Tour Las Vegas

You can either tour Montezuma Castle on a student-led tour arranged through United World College or take a historic tour of the Las Vegas hotels with Southwest Detours. Kathy Hendrickson, the tour company’s operator, takes visitors to all three of Las Vegas’ historic hotels.

La Fonda

La Fonda hotel, Santa Fe, Terrace room 602.

La Fonda on the Plaza in downtown Santa Fe was sort of the odd man out in the Harvey collection. It wasn’t a trackside hotel, or like the hotels in Grand Canyon, a destination reached by train. The railroad never came through Santa Fe. Visitors to The City Different got off the train (as they still do) at Lamy about a half-hour southeast of the city and were shuttled to the hotel. The trackside El Ortiz Hotel in Lamy accommodated rail travelers. So, why Santa Fe? According to Stephen Fried, author of Appetite for America, probably the definitive book on the Harvey empire, the Harvey family had vacationed in Santa Fe and loved it. Fried also points out that Santa Fe had a lot to offer the many tourists taking the Santa Fe Railway west. Rather than build a hotel, they bought and renovated a relatively new hotel at the end of the Santa Fe Trail.

There had been some sort of lodging on this spot for over 400 years. The Harvey company hired local architect John Gaw Meem, the man often called the “Father of the Pueblo Revival,” to design the renovation. The company’s long-time designer, architect Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter, was paired with Meem to create an homage to the southwest. Indian Detours was created as the company’s tourism arm. A fleet of cars and buses with costumed women guides, called “Curriers” who were steeped in local history, took visitors out to local pueblos to immerse them in the rich culture.

Image above: Terrace room 602, La Fonda.

Tour La Fonda

La Fonda offers free docent tours focusing on the history of the hotel and its extensive art collection. Works of many New Mexico artists have graced the walls in their public spaces from the early days. When occupancy permits tours include a historic room and the hotel’s upstairs terrace. Tours, beginning in the lobby at 10:30am, are offered Wednesday through Sunday from May through October and on Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday November through April.

Harvey House Museum, Belen, NM

Harvey House Museum entrance Belen NM - Fred Harvey

The Belen Harvey House Museum is in the train depot site of a Harvey eating houseHarvey House Museum in the old depot in Belen, NM, 35 miles south of Albuquerque. The site of a former Harvey eating house from 1910 to 1939, it’s now a museum dedicated to Harvey memorabilia. The original California Mission Revival-style 1910 building designed by Chicago architect, Myron H. Church, housed a large lunchroom, a dining room, a newsstand, a kitchen and a bakery. The Harvey Girls who worked there lived on the second floor.

Today, visitors entering the former dining room will see a table set exactly the way it would have been in the Fred Harvey days, when everything had to be just so. There is also Harvey era china and other memorabilia. The rest of the museum’s downstairs offers a host of Harvey and Santa Fe railroad artifacts. Upstairs, visitors can view the rooms the Harvey Girls slept in. One room is set up as it was when the Harvey Girls lived there during the heyday of rail travel.

More about Fred Harvey establishments in New Mexico.

Image above: The Belen Harvey House Museum is in the train depot site of a Harvey eating house.

Arizona

The Painted Desert Inn

Former Fred Harvey Painted Desert Inn off Route 66 Arizona

The Painted Desert Inn opened in 1926 and was taken over by Fred Harvey property in 1940. The timing was bad. During WWII travel was curtailed; the inn closed in 1942. After the war, it was renovated. Colter, who oversaw the design, used Hopi artist Fred Kaboti’s paintings to enhance the southwest ambiance. He had done work for her at Grand Canyon’s Desert View Tower. The inn closed in 1963. Today the inn with its restored Harvey lunchroom is staffed by Park Rangers who will answer any questions you may have.

Image above: Painted Desert Inn lunchroom. (c) Billie Frank and Steve Collins, The Santa Fe Traveler, as are all other unattributed photos on this page.

La Posada

Hallway at restored former Fred Harvey

La Posada, the trackside hotel in Winslow, opened in 1930, was one of the jewels in the Harvey crown. Colter headed the project. She even created an elaborate backstory: a Spanish landowner sold his family’s hacienda to the railway after he lost his fortune in the 1929 Stock Market crash. It’s poignant and entirely believable but pure fantasy. The hotel attracted political figures, people in the news and celebrities from Hollywood’s heyday, including Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Howard Hughes, Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart, John Wayne, Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford, Clark Gable and Carol Lombard, James Cagney, Hopalong Cassidy, Gene Autry, Shirley Temple and Will Rogers.

La Posada closed in 1957, becoming offices for the Santa Fe Railroad until 1994. The building was destined for demolition. When the National Trust for Historic Preservation put the former hotel on its list of endangered buildings it caught the attention of Affeldt and Mion. He and his artist wife, Tion Mion bought the property in 1997, moved in and began room-by-room renovations.

The hotel renovation, completed in 2011, was a work in progress for years. Today, a stay at the historic hotel will take you back in time. Rooms in the refurbished hotel are named for famous guests who stayed there and furnished with antiques. When La Fonda did a major renovation in 2012, La Posada acquired much of their colorful hand-painted furniture that dated to the Harvey days. Even if you don’t stay at the hotel, stop in and take a look at the public rooms. You can also dine at the Turquoise Room. The restaurant, owned and run by Chef John Sharpe, a man who is strongly committed to maintaining the Harvey dining tradition, the foods of the area’s indigenous peoples as well as using sustainably produced foods.

Image above: One of La Posada's public areas

Tour La Posada

If you want to know more about La Posada’s history, book a tour with one of the Winslow Harvey Girls; the cost is $5 per person. For reservations, call Peggy Nelson at (928) 587-2287 or (928) 289-4160. 

Fray Marcos

View of former Fred Harvey Fray Marcos Hotel dining room Williams AZ (on Santa Fe Railroad)

Image: (c) Xanterra

Williams, Arizona was the home the Fray Marcos Hotel which was attached to the town’s depot. The hotel was named for 16th century Spanish missionary Marcos de Niza. The hotel, opened in 1908, closed in 1954. Today the depot is used as a ticket office and gift shop for the historic Grand Canyon Railway which runs a round-trip train to Grand Canyon daily.

Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon’s South Rim is home to two Fred Harvey hotels and four other iconic Fred Harvey buildings as well as Phantom Lodge, at the bottom of the canyon.

El Tovar

View of exterior of former Fred Harvey El Tovar hotel at Grand Canyon south rim edge Grand Canyon Village

 

El Tovar, the luxury hotel at Grand Canyon’s South Rim, opened in 1905, was a joint project. Fred Harvey’s son Ford worked with the Santa Fe Railway to build the elegant yet rustic stone and log hotel designed by Chicago architect Charles Whittlesey. It was sited close to the rim to take advantage of the incomparable canyon views. In its day, it was considered to be one of the fanciest hotels west of the Mississippi and was a popular destination for the rich and often the famous. Well-known guests included presidents, movie stars and musicians.
Even today, rooms are hard to come by. Reservations open the first of the month for the same month in the following year and they go fast, especially during peak times. If you can’t get a room at the hotel, eat a meal in El Tovar’s Dining Room. Entering the restaurant is like stepping back in time. Canyon views from The Canyon Room, the restaurant’s back dining room, are spectacular. El Tovar serves three meals a day. Reservations, which are highly recommended, are accepted for dinner only; you can make them six months in advance.

Image above: El Tovar.

Bright Angel Lodge

Outside of Bucky O'Neill's cabin at Bright Angel Lodge, Grand Canyon South Rim

Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter designed Bright Angel Lodge, built in 1935. In addition to the main building and cabins that Colter designed, it encompasses the two oldest structures in the park: former Rough Rider Bucky O’Neill’s’ cabin and the historic Red Horse Station, a former post office moved to the site. The highlight of the lodge’s public space is the “geologic” fireplace she designed for the lobby replicating the geologic sequence of the rocks found along Bright Angel Trail. In the lodge’s Bright Angel History Room you can learn about Harvey history as well as the canyon’s history and geology. Bright Angel is also home to the casual Bright Angel Restaurant, the more upscale Arizona Room and a soda fountain/coffee bar.

Image above: Bucky O'Neill's cabin at Bright Angel Lodge, Grand Canyon

Phantom Ranch

PhantomRanch exterior - Fred Harvey

Phantom Ranch, also designed by Colter and built in 1922, sits in Bright Angel Canyon 4,600 feet below the rim. She chose native stone and wood for the rustic, Craftsman-inspired buildings. The ranch is only accessible on foot, by mule or by boat or raft. Supplies come in daily via mule train and trash is carted out. The mule trip, which takes 8 hours, is very popular and must be booked at least 10 months in advance (you can reserve as far as 13 months in advance). If you’re planning to hike down into the canyon and want to stay at the lodge, Xanterrra suggests you reserve 13 months in advance. If you want to be more spontaneous, you can always camp. Make sure to secure a backcountry permit from the national park.

Other Fred Harvey buildings at Grand Canyon

Hopi House

Navajo rugs at Hopi House, Grand Canyon Village (South Rim)

Hopi House, opened in 1905, was one of Colter’s first assignments for Fred Harvey. The designer, a stickler for detail, modeled it on an 800-year-old Hopi pueblo building she discovered atop Hopi Mesa. The exterior is made from local Coconino sandstone, using hand-peeled logs for the ceiling beams (vigas). The ceilings were made from saplings and twigs. Traditional mud plaster covers the walls. Colter wanted perfection. If something wasn’t authentic she would have it ripped out and rebuilt. Hopi House was as a place for local Indians to sell their handcrafts, perform traditional dances and even live. It still offers Native American art and handcrafts. The second-floor gallery exhibits museum-quality objects.

Image above: Navajo rugs, Hopi House.

Lookout Studio

Former Fred Harvey Lookout Studio exterior, Grand Canyon South Rim AZ

Lookout Studio, on the canyon’s rim just west of El Tovar, is another Colter design. Opened in 1914, it was the Harvey Company’s attempt to catch visitors for a photo before they got to the renowned Kolb Brother’s Studio at the head of Bright Angel Trail. The multi-level building, fashioned of native stone, was designed to blend with the canyon walls. Both the rooflines and stone chimneys echo the shapes of the surrounding rock, blending the structure into the landscape. Windows overlooking the canyon capture the spectacular view. Today, it’s a souvenir shop.

Image above: Lookout Studio perches at the edge of the canyon.

Hermit’s Rest

Former Fred Harvey Hermit's Rest, Grand Canyon South Rim, AZ

Hermit’s Rest, yet another Colter creation, built in 1914, was meant to be a rest stop for visitors arriving at the Hermit Trail from El Tovar in horse-drawn carriages. As she had for La Posada, Colter created a fanciful backstory for the rustic stone building: it was home to a reclusive mountain man of European descent. She created a “lived-in,” interior with soot-covered stones in the   massive fireplace. To blend with the land, she set the building into a man-made mound. Today it is a gift shop. Visitors can drive to Hermit’s Rest from December 1st through the end of February. During the rest of the year it’s accessible only via shuttle bus. The bus system is free and efficient.

Image above: Hermits Rest is sent into a man-made mound to blend with the land.

Desert View Watchtower

Former Fred Harvey Desert View Watch Tower murals. Grand Canyon South Rim AZ.

Desert View Watchtower is perhaps the most amazing of Colter’s Grand Canyon creations. The circular 70-foot-tall stone tower was inspired by the Anasazi watchtowers at Chaco Canyon and other sites. Built at the eastern edge of the South Rim, it offers 180-degree views of the canyon with panoramic 360-degree views that include the San Francisco Peaks and the Vermilion Cliffs. Paintings by Hopi artist Fred Kaboti recreating petroglyphs and other symbols adorn the interior of the four-story tower. The building’s windows are sited to take advantage of the spectacular canyon views.

Image above: The walls in the Desert View Watchtower with Fred Kaboti paintings.

California

El Garces

Former Fred Harvey El Garces hotel, Needles CA now in part an Amtrak station.

El Garces in Needles, CA just over the border from Arizona is stylistically a drastic departure for Harvey Hotels. The 1908 structure, designed by Santa Barbara architect Francis S. Wilson, pays homage to the Neoclassical and Beaux-Arts style. While today it’s a blocky shell, it was said to be the company’s crown jewel when it was built. El Garces closed in 1949. The City of Needles bought the former hotel in 1999 and saved it from destruction.

In 2007, La Posada’s Allan Affeldt attempted to purchase El Garces from the city and bring it back to life. Because of red tape involving federal grant money that had been used to do work on the building the sale didn’t go through. While the exterior was restored, the interior is a concrete shell (except for an Amtrak ticket station) waiting to be developed. Tours of El Garces, $5 per person, are offered Monday through Friday (two-person minimum) by advance reservation only. Call Heidi at Farmers Insurance, (760) 326-2344.

Above image: El Garces seen from the tracks.

Casa del Desierto

Former Fred Harvey Casa del Desierto

Barstow’s Casa del Desierto (House of the Desert), as the name implied, sat in the middle of the Mojave Desert. Designed by Francis S. Wilson and opened in 1911, it combined the Neoclassical elements of El Garces with touches of Santa Fe-style and Moorish influences reflected in its arches and towers. In 1990, the City of Barstow acquired the old hotel restoring the exterior and reworking the interior. Today it’s home to a few government offices, the Barstow Area Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Center, the Western America Railroad Museum) and Route 66 "Mother Road" Museum.

Image above: La Casa del Dieserto seen from the tracks.

Union Station, end of the line

Amtrak waiting room, Los Angeles Union Station

Image: Entrance to Amtrak waiting room, Los Angeles Union Station, Don Nadeau, BidOnTravel.

LA’s Union Station, opened in 1939, was a blend of Spanish Colonial and Art Deco, befitting the location and the times. It was and still is the largest train station in the western U.S. Santa Fe Railway's Super Chief (now Amtrak's Southwest Chief) made the trip from Chicago to LA (and vice versa) once a day. In its heyday (late 1930s to the 1950s), its first-class service on the all-Pullman Car train was the height of glamour with luxurious sleeping compartments. The dining car, run by Fred Harvey, featured white linen and gourmet food.

Passengers in the days before air travel caught on, included Clark Gable and Carol Lombard, Gloria Swanson, Frank Sinatra, Rosalind Russell, Bing Crosby and Bette Davis. The refurbished station’s huge main waiting room boasts six massive Art Deco-inspired chandeliers, 40-feet high windows with the original Venetian blinds, the original terra cotta floors and beamed ceilings with hand-painted tiles. The refurbished ticket hall has many of the original architectural features as well. The station’s original restaurant was, of course, run by Fred Harvey and designed by Colter. It closed in 1967. It has been refurbished and they hope to get a restaurant into the space.

Other Fred Harvey landmarks

A number of Harvey properties east of New Mexico are still standing. Many are along the Southwest Chief’s route; you can visit them the old-fashioned way: by rail. Here’s a list of the Harvey empire’s surviving properties courtesy of Stephen Fried, author of Appetite for America:

  • Cleveland: Union Station

Along Santa Fe Railway route:

  • Chicago: Union Station
  • Kansas City: Union Station which was completely restored 

  • Florence, Kansas: The former Clifton Hotel now houses the Florence Harvey Museum
  • Wichita: Wichita's Occidental Management, owners of the former depot and Harvey House, has big plans. They completed renovations on Union Station Plaza in 2016. They want to turn the area into a trendy place to grab a bite to eat or a drink with shopping and eventually hotels, while retaining as much of the iconic details and heritage as possible.

  • Dodge City: El Vaquero, the former Harvey House, is now a dinner theater.

Texas Harvey Houses:

  • Slayton, Texas: Slayton Harvey House, now a luxury B & B
  • Brownwood, Texas’ former depot and Harvey House is now home to the Brownwood Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Center; there’s a room that is set up as a Harvey Girl dorm room.

Many thanks to Billie Frank and Steve Collins for this wonderful post. if you want them to plan a unique Santa Fe or Northern New Mexican itinerary for you or book a tour with them, check out The Santa Fe Traveler. You can also follow them on Twitter.

Comments

Frances Zeller
September 21, 2017

What a nice introduction to Harvey Houses and the Santa Fe! Beautiful pictures. We are proud to be included! Thank you!

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Ryan Biddulph
September 30, 2017

Hi Billie,

Restaurants and hotel chains? How cool is that?

Thanks so much for dropping the history lesson. How incredibly fascinating.

I never knew of Fred Harvey and all that he did for the nation, as well as the Southwest, bringing tourism to the area.

Although it is always a team effort to bring about such massive change it is often the vision, the clarity and courage of one human being to rouse the troops, all while most people aka skeptics look on, trying to prove why these awesome things cannot be done.

Thanks for the inspired share Billie.

Ryan

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Don Nadeau
October 7, 2017

Thank you so much Francis. I will let the author Billie Frank know.

Am a big fan of Santa Fe Railway history and will visit you next time in the Albuquerque area.

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Don Nadeau
October 7, 2017

Thank you so much for your comments Ryan.

The evolution of traveler dining in the U.S. is fascinating. An outstanding book that describes in depth this in terms of railroads is “Dining by rail: The History and the Recipes of America’s Golden Age of Railroad Cuisine. It of course includes Fred Harvey. It’s out of print but may be available at your library.

Thank you again. I will forward your message to Billie.

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Billie
October 7, 2017

Thanks for the lovely comments Ryan and Francis. I love spreading the word about Fred Harvey and the few things that are still left of this once-thriving empire.

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