Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Harvey House welcomes visitors

Casa Del Desierto, also known as the Barstow Harvey House.

By Trevor Summons
Inland Valley Daily Bulletin

BARSTOW, CALIFORNIA -- If you cross the iron trestle bridge slowly on First Avenue in Barstow, and count carefully, you will see the tracks of 14 railway lines.

I might have missed a couple, of course, but that’s the number I came up with.

A lot of rail traffic goes through here, but only two passenger trains stop each day, and that’s the Amtrak Southwest Chief on its way to and from Chicago. But there are no passenger services for them these days.

Back in 1959, just before it closed, the Harvey House was on hand to cater to passengers’ needs and even to allow them to spend the night. It was quite an operation.

The idea of a Harvey House chain was started by Fred Harvey back the early 1870s with a handshake and a partner who soon absconded with the proceeds to fight in the Civil War.

Fred Harvey must have been a determined young man. He had left his native England in 1853 at the age of 17 to look for work and opportunities in America. Beginning with a job as a pot scrubber and bus boy in New York, he eventually moved to New Orleans and found work with a railroad.

As he worked his way up the corporate ladder, he traveled a lot on the job. He found the food available was unappetizing and often served in dirty places.

In 1874, he opened his first two rail side cafes in Kansas and Colorado. By the time he died in 1901, he was known as “the civilizer of the West” with his chain of Harvey Houses. Fred Harvey is credited with beginning the first restaurant chain in America and at his death, he had built it up to 47 sites. At its peak, there were 84 Harvey Houses. His business was carried on by his sons and grandsons until the mid-1960s. Today there are only three under the ownership of private, local and state governments.

The Harvey House in Barstow opened in 1911, having taken two years to build. It eventually closed in 1971.

Today the building has a new function. The Barstow Chamber of Commerce is its principle tenant, and other r firms have offices there.

Regular tours are given to members of the public with an interest in its history; upstairs is the original Station Master’s Suite with much of the original furniture. Winston Churchill stopped here in 1929 to use the bath tub.

The downstairs has the two main dining rooms which are available for private use. Back in the busy times, there were dozens of Harvey Girls dashing about in black dresses with white aprons and caps. The uniform was made famous in the 1946 movie with Judy Garland as one of The Harvey Girls.

The Barstow building also houses the Western Railroad Museum and the Route 66 Mother Road Museum, so there is plenty to explore if you cross all those tracks to get there.