Garces Harvey House Hotel & Depot in Needles
El Garces Fred Harvey Hotel Vintage
The El Garces Hotel today, April, 2008, Kathy Weiser.
This image available for
photographic prints and downloads
Early in the 1900s, when trains were the principal
means of personal transportation, depots gave travelers a first
impression of their local destinations and provided for the security
and comfort of the railroad’s clientele. Design and materials were
important to both surrounding communities and railroad companies.
After the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Depot at Needles, California
burned in 1906, the railroad spared no expense on its new facility.
Built to suggest a Greek temple and opened in 1908 to great adulation,
El Garces was a freight and passenger depot with hotel and restaurant
amenities. The depot was named "El Garces" in honor of Father Francisco Garces, a missionary who visited the
area in 1776 and was
the first known European to cross the Mojave Desert.
Designed by architect Francis S. Wilson,
the luxurious depot featured large Mexican Fan Palms native to the site which
surrounded the two-story building with its distinctive symmetrical
façade. Tuscan columns placed in pairs supported open-air
walkways. The interior ceilings were ornamental and intricate
egg-and-dart detailing edged the woodwork. Wilson’s use of the
Classical Revival style, particularly popular on the East Coast and
for civic and residential buildings, was unusual for a western depot
and lent an aura of sophistication to the small town.
One reason for the success of El Garces was its beauty.
Another was its management by the Fred Harvey Company. Known as “the
civilizer of the West,” Fred Harvey managed a large line of cafes and
hotels along the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad. Motorists
also availed themselves of Harvey establishments, including El Garces,
after the construction and marking of the National Old Trails Highway
during the 1910s. This highway often ran parallel to the railroad,
providing a continuous automobile route between St. Louis, Missouri
and Los Angeles, California. Later Route 66 would follow much of this
Whether traveling on the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad or
along the National Old Trails Highway or, later, Route 66, patrons
appreciated the quality of service that Harvey establishments
provided. A Harvey-run restaurant or hotel often had the nicest dining
facilities and friendliest service in town.
Considered one of the "Crown Jewels" of
the entire chain, the El Garces was remembered for the real linen and
silver, distinctive china and fresh flowers provided for its guests
daily. The lunchroom had two
horseshoe-shaped counters and could serve 140 people. According to the
Harvey Girls, who traveled the country to work for the company, El
Garces was a crown jewel in the enterprise. An assignment to the Grand
Canyon, to Las Vegas, or to El Garces was “like going to Europe.”
Community members also used the facilities for private dinners,
banquets, and special occasions.
Though motorists and railroad passengers alike made El
Garces a popular destination through the end of World War II, the
waning popularity of railroad passenger service in favor of automobile
travel took a toll on the many Harvey Houses across the American West.
Automobile travel was accessible to people with a wider range of
incomes, who often could afford to travel but not to dine or stay at a
place as opulent as El Garces.
The El Garces closed as a
in the fall of 1949, at which time the building was partitioned and used
as Santa Fe Railway offices.
In 1988, the Santa Fe Railroad moved their
offices out of the El Garces to another facility and the building was
closed. Sitting abandoned, the historic building was threatened with
destruction until the Friends of El Garces was formed in 1993. Through their efforts, the City of
Needles was petitioned to purchase the station, which occurred in
1999. The original plans called for the building to reopen as a Harvey House Hotel, including a
museum and shops.
The El Garces Hotel was added to the National Register of Historic
Places on May 17, 2002 and reconstruction of the historic El Garces
began in March, 2007. The original plan to open an upscale hotel and
restaurant were abandoned in 2009; however the restoration continued.
Today, the building serves as a local event and community center,
with space available for leasing to businesses or retail.
El Garces is located at 950 Front Street in Needles, California.
of America, updated April, 2017.
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