La Posada Hotel in Winslow, Ariz., is a restored and
somewhat reimagined Harvey House that since 1997 has
been owned and operated by the husband-wife team of
Allan Affeldt and Tina Mion.
Ariz. — In a state where broken-down ballplayers are
routinely sequestered to heal, La Posada qualifies as a
Spanish hacienda-style hotel was built with exquisite
pedigree but opened at an inopportune time, in 1930 when
the Great Depression was taking deep root. Tucked within
elaborate gardens between Route 66 and multiple train
tracks, it struggled until closing in 1957. 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.
La Posada is a widely praised and eclectic tourist
destination in an unlikely locale, a tumbleweed town made
mildly famous by a 1970s rock song but one that, from
Interstate 40, looks no more distinguished than any of the
other bushy, barren burgs between Albuquerque and
it contains, though, is a relatively rare glimpse into our
country’s proud railroad past. La Posada is one of the
few remaining Harvey Houses, track-side restaurants and
hotels that for many decades after 1876 provided reliable
food and comfortable shelter for travelers who, at least
in those early years, were otherwise exposed to unsavory
(overcooked beans, sea biscuits and cold coffee, anyone?)
and unsafe (it was still the Wild West, after all)
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 have been monitoring,
infrequently and informally, for 20 years. Along the way I
learned much about a 19th-century Londoner who was a
visionary employer of young American women and,
collaterally, a Cupid for the ages.
the 1870s, 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, perhaps 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 station in Topeka, Kan., operated a classy,
to the entertaining and picture-packed "Fred Harvey
Houses of the Southwest" by Richard Melzer (Arcadia
Publishing, 2008), by the time Harvey died at age 65 in
1901, he had overseen the creation of 47 restaurants and
15 hotels as far west as San Bernardino. Under his sons’
stewardship, expansion continued.
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.
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 entire
rowdy staff in Raton, N.M., one day in 1883, led to a
companywide policy of hiring only female food servers.
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.
of these young women were single, and a lot of them had
marital motivations. And a lot of them, apparently, met
say the Harvey Girls married so quickly that marriage
proposals for the pretty ones took a day, while proposals
for less-attractive ones took three," Melzer writes.
young women’s story seduced Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, in
1946, to release "Harvey Girls," starring Judy
Garland, Ray Bolger, Angela Lansbury and Cyd Charisse. The
movie’s trailer, bless its quaint heart, trumpeted it as
a "gay and lusty musical romance." The song
"On the Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe" won
Mary Elizabeth Jane Coulter (1872-1957) was the rail
stations’ version of Julia Morgan, then La Posada was
her equivalent to Asilomar. The chief designer and
architect of Harvey House operations for 22 of the chain’s
properties, Coulter had the most control in developing La
Posada: The building design, interior touches, gardens and
$1 million construction were all under her purview.
the time Affeldt and Mion moved in 19 years ago (they
still reside there), only the outline of Coulter’s
original vision remained. What the new owners have created
is not so much a restoration as a re-imagining. The 900
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
20th century. Mion’s edgy artwork, though, showcased in
a second-floor gallery, reflects modernity.
of Mion’s paintings, by the way, have been purchased by
the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington,
including a portrait of a wide-eyed Jackie Kennedy that is
represented in La Posada. It depicts the first lady, in
her famous Nov. 22, 1963, outfit, holding a king-of-hearts
card being ripped apart by a bullet.
hotel contains many elements of whimsy. Each of the 54
guestrooms is named after celebrities who have stayed at
or visited La Posada. I was in the Roddy McDowall, No.
229. A particularly in-demand room, a hotel walking-tour
pamphlet proclaims, is the Howard Hughes, No. 225.
Little of Walpole, Mass., spent a night there during a
cross-country trip with daughter Jessica, who was moving
art gallery upstairs was wonderful and a must-see if you
go," Little said. "Since we were there in
January, the gardens were pretty dormant, but I can
imagine they must be gorgeous in the spring. The metal
sculptures and places to relax outside are abundant."
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 big and serene
decided to try a number of selections from the starters
and soups," he said. "Wonderful flavors and
tastes. In my younger days I would have continued to the
mains, but that will have to wait until our next
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 east and
south sides into sharp and pleasing focus, and listening
to the rumble of at least three big freight trains go by.
Amtrak stops there twice each day; how cool, I thought,
that hotel guests could alight right here, as they could
Yes. Mother? Maybe. Sister? Unlikely. No way were there
seven women on my mind when I was standing on a corner in
Winslow, Ariz., next 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’
1972 hit single who had died 13 days before my visit.
me, the Harvey House in Needles, Calif., 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 trip I again checked out El
building, incongruously large in a downtown dotted with
vacant lots and rather distressed businesses, looked
pretty spiffy when I arrived there on an early afternoon
in late January. Fresh paint accentuated the dozens of
columns that run from ground level up through the second
floor’s wrap-around balcony. Real windows had replaced
the proliferation of plywood that I recalled from previous
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 1905. Not as functional, perhaps, as
the Harvey House in Barstow, Calif., which has chamber of
commerce and tourism offices, plus a couple of museums.
But El Garces, on the outside, looks like a railroad relic
that has been rescued.
the building from the south side, I found the door to the
Amtrak waiting room locked; the two passenger trains that
serve Needles daily are scheduled to arrive between
midnight and 1 a.m. Around on the north 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 have it, Dr. Edward Paget, Needles’ mayor
since 2010, was there overseeing the project.
chance meeting turned out to be fortuitous for a couple of
reasons. One, he had keys to the building and was willing
to let me look 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
inside, our voices echoed off bare-concrete and
busted-tile walls. As we measured our footsteps carefully
to avoid big divots and even gaping holes in the floor, it
became clear that this Harvey House is not remotely ready
for prime time.
Paget relayed the basics before we entered. "This
building was built in 1906," 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
it’s currently being restored – or up to this point,
it’s being restored with federal transportation dollars.
… Buses, trains use the thing, and that’s why Amtrak
is in there."
Paget recalled how the structure looked in 1999, when with
more than 1,000 signatures, her group got the city to buy
the property for $130,000.
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."
decade, a developer tried to obtain $10 million in federal
funds to again make 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.
explaining that Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway is
part of the current renovation work, Janice Paget showed
me some questionable craftsmanship in a women’s
restroom. The new linoleum is cracked and curling.
have done it in such a tacky way," she said.
"Are you kidding me?"
this was the railroad that did this?" I asked.
Paget, still exasperated, responded, "No, the city!
Yeah, the city!"
pointed to her husband. "But he’s the mayor,
he laughed, she said: "That’s the sad thing. He
doesn’t get a vote on anything."
it’s a tie," he said, chuckling.
this one-time Harvey House "player" remains on
the long-term disability list.
Harvey House in Barstow contains, among other things, the
Western America Railroad Museum and the Route 66 Mother
Road Museum. 681 N. First Ave., Barstow; 760-256-8617;
Harvey House in Williams, Ariz., where trains depart daily
to the Grand Canyon’s south rim (www.thetrain.com), was
being renovated as a multipurpose building this winter. A
visitors center employee said a springtime opening was the
Posada Hotel: 303 E. Second St. (Route 66), Winslow,
Garces: 950 Front St., Needles
Houses: Learn more at www.harveyhouses.net