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California Flag - Golden State Legends IconCALIFORNIA LEGENDS

Needles - Gateway To California

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Colorado River at Needles, California

The Colorado River at Needles, California, December, 2004, Kathy Weiser

This image available for photographic prints HERE!


Long before the town of Needles was founded; this valley was home to the Mojave Indians for thousands of years, many of whom still live in the area today, called the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe. The area, rife with petroglyphs, pictographs, old trails and stone work, bears witness to the ancient Native Americans that lived here long before the white man entered the area.

When the railroad pushed westward at the Colorado River in 1883, the town was founded and called "The Needles, after the sharp peaks at the southerly end of the valley. In the beginning most people traveled to Needles by rail and a wooden depot was built to accommodate the steam engines and the many travelers.

When the original depot was destroyed by fire, it was replaced by the El Garces Harvey House and Train Depot which was completed in 1908. The building was named "El Garces" in honor of Father Francisco Garces, a missionary who visited the area in 1776.

The El Garces was part of the Fred Harvey chain of hotel restaurants that extended along the Santa Fe Railroad to provide meals and lodging. Considered the "Crown Jewel" of the entire Harvey chain, the El Garces is remembered for the real linen and silver, distinctive china and fresh flowers provided for its guests daily. Food was of the highest quality, serving lunch and dinner. The lunchroom had two horseshoe shaped counters that could accommodate many people. Community members also utilized the facilities for elegant private dinners, banquets and special occasions.


El Garces Harvey Hotel, Needles, California

El Garces Fred Harvey Hotel Vintage Postcard



The waitresses, who soon earned the moniker of Harvey Girls, were cultured young ladies, some from foreign lands. They received special training in neatness, courtesy and excellent service. Though they were required to sign a contract not to marry for one year, many eventually married railroad men once their contracts were satisfied. Harvey girls and management lived upstairs.




Legend has it that railroaders in the early 20th-century would clamber atop the rail cars during late afternoon stops at the El Garces, hoping they could spot some of the Harvey Girls relaxing in their nightgowns outside their dormitory.

As automobiles became more popular, travelers still stopped at the El Garces as they made their way down the Old Trails Highway, which was later renamed Route 66 when the highway connected Chicago, Illinois to Santa Monica, California.


When the Mother Road was completed, thousands dust bowl escapees and tourists journeyed to California, and Needles sprouted all types of services, motels, and cafes, many of which can still be seen today.


In 1929, the Needles Theatre was built by the Masonic Lodge at a cost of some $120,000. Housed on the main floor, was the theatre that that opened to much fan fare in March, 1930. The "modern" theatre entertained the public, with not only first run movies but also with traveling performances on its stage. For 63 years, it continued to operate until a fire in 1992. Since, then it has stood vacant but restoration efforts are underway to renovate the old theatre to its former glory.


El Garces Fred Harvey Hotel Lunchroom

El Garces Fred Harvey Hotel Lunchroom,

 courtesy University of Arizona



Continued Next Page


Needles Historic Theatre, Needles, California

Vintage postcard of the Needles Historic Theatre, Burton Frasher, 1941



Hhistoric Needles Theatre today

The Needles Historic Theatre today, Kathy Weiser, April, 2008.


Also See:

Needles, California 66 Gallery

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Welcome to Needles, California

Welcome to Needles, California, Kathy Weiser, April, 2008,

This image available for photographic prints

 and downloads HERE!

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