Former rail-side hotel gems in varied states of rebirth in W

Source:   —  April 03, 2016, at 9:20 AM

The Spanish hacienda-style hotel was built with exquisite pedigree but opened at an inopportune time, in one thousand nine hundred-thirtieth when the Grand Depression was taking deep root.

Former rail-side hotel gems in varied states of rebirth in W

In a state where broken-down ballplayers are routinely sequestered to heal, La Posada qualifies as a comeback kid.

The Spanish hacienda-style hotel was built with exquisite pedigree but opened at an inopportune time, in one thousand nine hundred-thirtieth when the Grand Depression was taking deep root. Tucked within elaborate gardens between Route sixty-six and multiple train tracks, it struggled until closing in one thousand nine hundred fifty-seventh. Gutted and converted to host railway offices, the remaining structure was being stalked by bulldozers when Allan Affeldt and his wife, Tina Mion, orchestrated its reawakening as a lodge in the 1990s.

Today, La Posada is a widely praised and eclectic tourist destination in an unlikely locale, a tumbleweed town made mildly well-known by a but one that, from Interstate forty, looks number more distinguished than any of the other bushy, barren burgs between Albuquerque and Flagstaff.

What it contains, though, is a relatively scarce glimpse into our country’s pleased railroad past. La Posada is one of the few remaining Harvey Houses, track-side restaurants and hotels that for many decades after one thousand eight hundred seventy-six provided dependable food and comfortable shelter for travelers who, at minimum in those early years, were otherwise exposed to unsavory (overcooked beans, sea biscuits and freezing coffee, anyone?) and unsafe (it was still the Wild West, after all) conditions.

Earlier this year I overnighted at La Posada and stopped by the El Garces Harvey House, a grand but long-neglected structure in Needles whose condition I've been monitoring, infrequently and informally, for twenty years. Along the way I learned much about a 19th-century Londoner who was a visionary employer of youthful American women and, collaterally, a Cupid for the ages.

Harvey Houses

In the one thousand eight hundred seventy, shifty characters who were spread along the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad lines took passengers for a ride by selling them meals, only to serve them with unsanitary utensils or, maybe worse, conspiring with train engineers to have the gotta-leave-now whistle blown before paid-for food arrived. Santa Fe addressed this public-relations nightmare by recruiting a high-standards man, Fred Harvey, an English immigrant who at the Sta in Topeka, Kan., operated a classy, above-board restaurant.

According to the entertaining and picture-packed “Fred Harvey Houses of the Southwest” by Richard Melzer (Arcadia Publishing, two thousand eight), by the time Harvey died at age sixty-five in one thousand nine hundred-first, he'd overseen the creation of forty-seven restaurants and fifteen hotels as distant W as San Bernardino. Below his sons’ stewardship, expansion continued.

“The building of a fine, new Harvey House was seen as a sure sign that a town had shed its frontier reputation and was well on its way to permanency, prosperity and respectability,” Melzer writes.

Initially, and in keeping with the way things were in those days, Harvey had only male waiters on his payroll. However, their often-bad behavior (tardiness, drunkenness, assorted other bad-nesses), culminated by Harvey firing his all rowdy staff in Raton, N. M., one day in one thousand eight hundred eighty-third, led to a companywide policy of hiring only female food servers.

Thousands of women, many from the Midwest, applied for the chance to live in faraway places, with free room and board, for $17.50 a month. Melzer reports that the so-called Harvey Girls, in addition to following formal table-setting etiquette (forks to the left, knives and spoons to the right, etc.), were tasked with complimenting children, never chatting with each other when customers were present, and never arguing with customers.

Most of these youthful women were single, and a lot of them had marital motivations. And a lot of them, apparently, met that goal.

“Some declare the Harvey Girls married so quickly that marriage proposals for the beautiful ones took a day, while proposals for less-attractive ones took three,” Melzer writes.

The youthful women’s legend seduced Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, in one thousand nine hundred forty-sixth, to release “Harvey Girls,” starring Judy Garland, Ray Bolger, Angela Lansbury and Cyd Charisse. The movie’s , bless its quaint heart, trumpeted it as a “gay and lusty musical romance.” The song “On the Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe” won an Oscar.

La Posada in Winslow

If Mary Elizabeth Jane Coulter (1872-1957) was the rail stations’ version of , then La Posada was her equivalent to Asilomar. The chief designer and architect of Harvey House operations for twenty-two of the chain’s properties, Coulter had the most control in developing La Posada: The building design, interior touches, gardens and $one million construction were all below her purview.

By the time Affeldt and Mion moved in nineteenth years ago (they still reside there), only the outline of Coulter’s original vision remained. What the new owners have created isn't so much a restoration as a re-imagining. The nine hundred pieces of ornate New Mexican furniture made originally for the La Fonda Harvey House in Santa Fe, N. M., by resident artist Ernest Martinez certainly hark back to the early twentieth century. Mion’s edgy artwork, though, showcased in a second-floor gallery, reflects modernity.

Three of Mion’s paintings, by the way, have been purchased by the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington, including a of a wide-eyed Jackie Kennedy that's represented in La Posada. It depicts the first lady, in her well-known Nov. twenty-two, one thousand nine hundred sixty-three, outfit, holding a king-of-hearts card being ripped apart by a bullet.

The hotel contains many elements of whimsy. Each of the fifty-four guestrooms is named after celebrities who have stayed at or visited La Posada. I was in the Roddy McDowall, No. two hundred twenty-nine. A particularly in-demand room, a hotel walking-tour pamphlet proclaims, is the Howard Hughes, No. two hundred twenty-five.

Ellen Tiny of Walpole, Mass., spent a night there during a cross-country ride with daughter Jessica, who was emotional to Aptos.

“The art gallery upstairs was wonderful and a must-see if you go,” Tiny said. “Since we were there in January, the gardens were beautiful dormant, but I can imagine they should be gorgeous in the spring. The metal sculptures and places to relax exterior are abundant.”

Barry H. Barnett and his wife, Melissa, who divide their year between residences in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, and Los Ranchos, N. M., liked the food in the large and untroubled Turquoise Room.

“We decided to attempt a no of selections from the starters and soups,” he said. “Wonderful flavors and tastes. In my younger days I'd have continued to the mains, but that'll have to wait until our next visit.”

The southern garden, which fronts the tracks, was my favorite area. Around dawn, I spent a half-hour there, observing how angled sunlight brought the building’s E and S sides into sharp and pleasing focus, and listening to the rumble of at minimum three large freight trains go by. twice each day; how cool, I thought, that hotel guests could alight right here, as they could long ago.

Wife? Yes. Mother? Maybe. Sister? Unlikely. Number way were there seven women on my mind when I was standing on a corner in Winslow, Ariz., following to a statue of “Take It Easy” co-writer Jackson Browne. On this sunny morning it was a fine sight to see, two blocks from La Posada, as surrounding Brown’s feet was a makeshift, rather digressive memorial to Glenn Frey, singer of the Eagles’ one thousand nine hundred seventy-two hit single who'd died thirteen days before my visit.

El Garces in Needles

To me, the Harvey House in Needles had always looked abandoned, at best, or a mere shell possibly minutes from collapse, at worst. Recently, I got wind of renovation work there, so on my La Posada ride I again checked out El Garces.

The building, incongruously large in a downtown dotted with unoccupied lots and rather distressed businesses, looked beautiful spiffy when I arrived there on an early afternoon in late January. Fresh paint accentuated the dozens of columns that running from ground level up through the second floor’s wrap-around balcony. Genuine windows had replaced the proliferation of plywood that I recalled from previous visits.

This, I thought, is another Harvey House success story. Not as accommodating, maybe, as La Posada or the grand El Tovar Hotel, which has welcomed visitors to Grand Canyon Village, Ariz., since one thousand nine hundred five. Not as functional, perhaps, as the Harvey House in Barstow, which has chamber of commerce and tourism offices, plus a couple of museums. But El Garces, on the outside, looks love a railroad relic that's been rescued.

Approaching the building from the S side, I found the door to the Amtrak waiting room locked; the two passenger trains that serve Needles daily are scheduled to come between midnight and 1 a. m. Around on the N side, I heard construction noise and saw that a fountain was being tiled in a courtyard that cuts into the El Garces building. As luck would've it, Dr. Edward Paget, Needles’ mayor since two thousand ten, was there overseeing the project.

The chance meeting turned out to be fortuitous for a couple of reasons. One, he'd keys to the building and was willing to let me see inside. And two, his wife, Janice, is a member of the preservation- and restoration-promoting Friends of El Garces. He persuaded Janice to drive over to lead a tour of the building’s overwhelmingly cavernous interior.

Once inside, our voices echoed off bare-concrete and busted-tile walls. As we measured our footsteps carefully to avert large divots and even gaping holes in the floor, it became clear that this Harvey House isn't remotely prepared for prime time.

Edward Paget relayed the basics before we entered. “This building was built in one thousand nine hundred-sixth,” he said. “It was built because the previous building on this site burned down. It was wood. So they decided we’re not going to let this burn down, so they built this out of concrete. Most of the construction work was done by the local Mojave Indians.

“And it’s currently being restored – or up to this point, it’s being restored with federal transportation dollars. … Buses, trains utilize the thing, and that’s why Amtrak is in there.”

Janice Paget recalled how the structure looked in one thousand nine hundred ninety-ninth, when with more than 1.000 signatures, her grouping got the city to purchase the property for $130.000.

“It was just empty. Vacant. Vagrants were here, it was just terrible,” she said. Then after the sale, “the city didn’t do anything with it for a long time.”

Latest decade, a developer tried to get million in federal funds to again create El Garces a hotel, but Uncle Sam declined to sponsor that private enterprise. The private developer, as it turns out, was none other than Allan Affeldt of La Posada Hotel.

After explaining that Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway is portion of the current renovation work, Janice Paget showed me some questionable craftsmanship in a women’s restroom. The new linoleum is cracked and curling.

“They have done it in such a tacky way,” she said. “Are you kidding me?”

“And this was the railroad that did this?” I asked.

Janice Paget, still exasperated, responded, “No, the city! Yeah, the city!”

I pointed to her husband. “But he’s the mayor, right?”

As he laughed, she said: “That’s the dreary thing. He doesn’t obtain a vote on anything.”

“Unless it’s a tie,” he said, chuckling.

Evidently, this onetime Harvey House “player” remains on the long-term disability list.

The Harvey House in Barstow contains, among other things, the Western America Railroad Museum and the Route sixty-six Mother Road Museum. six hundred eighty-one N. First Ave., Barstow; 760-256-8617; .

The Harvey House in Williams, Ariz., where trains leave daily to the Grand Canyon’s S rim (), was being renovated as a multipurpose building this winter. A visitors middle employee said a springtime opening was the goal.

three hundred three E. Second St. (Route sixty-six), Winslow, Ariz.;

nine hundred fifty Front St., Needles

Memorise more at www. harveyhouses. net

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