Fred Harvey Company

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The Casa del Desierto ("House of the Desert") located in Barstow, California is seen here in 2006. The Spanish-Moroccan designed structure took two years to construct, and opened its doors on February 22, 1911. The building has been designated as a California Historical Landmark, #892.
Cajon summit and the Santa Fe Railroad, c. 1919. From a Fred Harvey Co. tourist brochure.

The Fred Harvey Company was the owner of the Harvey House chain of restaurants, hotels, and other hospitality industry businesses alongside railroads in the western United States. The company traces its origins to the 1875 opening of two railroad eating houses located at Wallace, Kansas and Hugo, Colorado on the Kansas Pacific Railway. These cafés were opened by Fred Harvey, then a freight agent for the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad. The café operation ended within a year, but Harvey had been convinced of the potential profits from providing a high quality food and service at railroad eating houses. His longtime employer, the Burlington Railroad, declined his offer of establishing a system-wide eating house operation at all railroad meal stops, but the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway (AT&SF) subsequently contracted with Harvey for several eating houses on an experimental basis.

In 1878, Harvey started the first of his eating house-hotel establishments along the AT&SF tracks in Florence, Kansas.[1][2] The rapid growth of the Harvey House chain soon followed.

Fred Harvey is credited with creating the first restaurant chain in the U.S. Harvey and his company also became leaders in promoting tourism in the American Southwest in the late 19th century. The company and its employees, including the famous waitresses who came to be known as "Harvey Girls", successfully brought new higher standards of both civility and dining to a region widely regarded in the era as "the Wild West". The popularity of the Harvey Girls grew even stronger in 1946, when Judy Garland starred in the film version of Samuel Hopkins Adams’ novel The Harvey Girls.[3]

Despite the decline of passenger train patronage in the U.S. in the 20th century with the advent of the automobile, the company survived and prospered, by marketing its services to the motoring public. After 1926, Harvey Cars were used in the provision of "Indian Detours" services offered from a number of Harvey hotel locations. The company continued to adjust to the trends. In the late 1950s it operated, for the first 15 years, the then-new landmark Illinois Tollway "Oases" which were built above the Interstate 294 highway in the Chicago suburbs by Standard Oil of Indiana (Amoco).[4]

The Fred Harvey legacy was continued in the family until the death of a grandson in 1965.[5] Portions of the Fred Harvey Company have continued to operate since 1968 as part of a larger hospitality industry conglomerate.[6]

History[edit]

The Hotel Castañeda, Las Vegas, New Mexico as seen in 2007. An early mission revival style Harvey House (1899) and sister hotel to the Alvarado in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
A Super Chief in Albuquerque, New Mexico, 1943. The Alvarado is visible on the left.

Before the inclusion of dining cars in passenger trains became common practice, a rail passenger's only option for meal service in transit was to patronize one of the roadhouses often located near the railroad's water stops. Fare typically consisted of nothing more than rancid meat, cold beans, and week-old coffee. Such poor conditions understandably discouraged many Americans from making the journey westward.

The subsequent growth and development of the Fred Harvey Company was closely related to that of AT&SF. Under the terms of an oral agreement, Harvey opened his first depot restaurant in Topeka, Kansas in January 1876. Railroad officials and passengers alike were impressed with Fred Harvey's strict standards for high quality food and first class service. As a result, AT&SF entered into subsequent contracts with Harvey wherein he was given unlimited funds to set up a series of what were dubbed "eating houses" along most of the route. At more prominent locations, these eating houses evolved into hotels, many of which survive today. By the late 1880s, there was a Fred Harvey dining facility located every 100 miles along the AT&SF.

AT&SF agreed to convey fresh meat and produce free-of-charge to any Harvey House via its own private line of refrigerator cars, the Santa Fe Refrigerator Despatch, and in them food was shipped from every corner of the U.S. The company maintained two dairy facilities (the larger of the two was situated in Las Vegas, New Mexico) to ensure a consistent and adequate supply of fresh milk. When dining cars began to appear on trains, AT&SF contracted with the Fred Harvey Company to operate the food service on the diners, and all AT&SF advertising proclaimed "Fred Harvey Meals all the Way".

Harvey's meals were served in sumptuous portions that provided a good value for the traveling public; for instance, pies were cut into fourths, rather than sixths, which was the industry standard at the time. The Harvey Company and AT&SF established a series of signals that allowed the dining room staff to make the necessary preparations to feed an entire train in just thirty minutes. Harvey Houses served their meals on fine China and Irish linens. Fred Harvey, a fastidious innkeeper, set high standards for efficiency and cleanliness in his establishments, personally inspecting them as often as possible. It was said that nothing escaped his notice, and he was even known to completely overturn a poorly-set table. Male customers were even required to wear a coat and tie in many of Harvey's dining rooms. Fulfilling their patriotic duty, the Harvey Houses served many a meal to GIs traveling on troop trains during World War II.

This mutually-beneficial relationship, characterized as one of the most successful and influential business partnerships in the early American West, endured until 1963.

Facilities[edit]

For the Southwest, Harvey hired architects Charles Whittlesey and Mary Colter to design influential landmark hotels in Santa Fe and Gallup, New Mexico, Winslow, Arizona, and at the South Rim and the bottom of the Grand Canyon in the 1910s and 1920s. The rugged, landscape-integrated design principles of their work influenced a generation of subsequent western U.S. architecture through the National Park Service and Civilian Conservation Corps structures built in the Depression. Harvey and his architects created an entire set of cultural images.

It has been suggested that the Harvey Houses originated the "blue-plate special", a daily low-priced complete meal served on a blue-patterned china plate; an 1892 Harvey menu mentions them, some thirty years before the term became widespread. In addition to the AT&SF, the Harvey Company operated dining facilities for the Gulf Coast & Santa Fe, Kansas Pacific, St. Louis-San Francisco, and the Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis railways.

AT&SF maintained and operated a fleet of three passenger ferry boats that connected the railroad with San Francisco by water. Ships traveled the eight miles between the San Francisco Ferry Terminal and the railroad's Point Richmond terminal across the Bay. The service was originally established as a continuation of the company's named passenger train runs such as the Angel and the Saint. The larger two ships, the San Pablo and the San Pedro, each featured a newsstand-lunch counter located on the main deck, and a dining room on the upper deck. Meals, sandwiches, sweet rolls, pastries, and coffee were served. AT&SF discontinued ferry service in 1933 due to the effects of the Great Depression.

Harvey Girls[edit]

A preserved "Harvey Girl" uniform
Judy Garland in a scene from The Harvey Girls.
El Garces Hotel and railroad depot in Needles, California around the turn of the 20th century. The facility, opened in 1887, was named after Padre Francisco Garcés, a noted Franciscan Spanish priest who made several journeys through the region in 1771 and 1774 en route between southern Arizona and the California Missions.
Harvey House sign in Beloit, Wisconsin near I-90, summer 2006. The sign has since been demolished.

In 1883, Harvey implemented a policy of employing a female white only serving staff. He sought out single, well-mannered, and educated American ladies, and placed ads in newspapers throughout the east coast and midwest for "white, young women, 18-30 years of age, of good character, attractive and intelligent". The girls were paid $17.50 a month (approximately $443 in today's terms)[7] to start, plus room, board, and gratuity, a generous income by the standards of the time.

The women were subjected to a strict 10:00 p.m. curfew, administered by a senior Harvey Girl who assumed the role and responsibilities of house mother. The official starched black and white uniform (which was designed to diminish the female physique) consisted of a skirt that hung no more than eight inches off the floor, "Elsie" collars, opaque black stockings, and black shoes. The hair was restrained in a net and tied with a regulation white ribbon. Makeup of any sort was absolutely prohibited, as was chewing gum while on duty. Harvey Girls (as they soon came to be known) were required to enter into a one-year employment contract, and forfeited half their base pay should they fail to complete the term of service. Marriage was the most common reason for a girl to terminate her employment.

In a mythology that has grown around the Harvey Houses, these female employees are said to have helped to "civilize the American Southwest". This legend found its highest expression in The Harvey Girls, a 1942 novel by Samuel Hopkins Adams, and, more notably, the 1946 MGM musical film of the same name which was inspired by it. The film stars Judy Garland and Angela Lansbury, and it was directed by George Sidney. It introduced the Harry Warren-Johnny Mercer song "On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe".

Dining car service[edit]

Harvey initially balked at the suggestion that in-transit dining facilities be added to all AT&SF trains operating west of Kansas City. Eventually, Harvey agreed to support the railroad in this endeavor, and the California Limited became the first AT&SF's name trains to feature Harvey Company meal service en route. Later trains, such as the vaunted Super Chief, included dining cars (staffed by Fred Harvey Company personnel) as part of the standard passenger car complement right from the outset.

Notable Harvey Hotels[edit]

Of the 84 Fred Harvey facilities, some of the more notable include:

Separation from AT&SF[edit]

Beginning in the 1930s, the Fred Harvey Company began expanding into other locations beyond the reach of AT&SF, and often away from rail passenger routes. Restaurants were opened in such locations as the Chicago Union Station (the largest facility operated by Harvey), San Diego Union Station, the San Francisco Bus Terminal, and the Albuquerque International Airport; the last of these was established at the Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal in 1939, and could accommodate nearly 300 diners.

From 1959 until 1975, the Fred Harvey organization operated a series of restaurants in the Illinois Tollway oasis, a set of highway rest stops built on bridges over the tollway. The original Fred Harvey company, as well as the company's close affiliation with AT&SF, lasted until 1968 when it was purchased by the Amfac Corporation of Hawaii. Amfac was renamed Xanterra Parks & Resorts in 2002.[8][9] In 2006, Xanterra purchased the Grand Canyon Railway and its properties.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Duke, Donald (1997). Santa Fe...The Railroad Gateway to the American West, Volume 2. Golden West Books, San Marino, CA. ISBN 0-87095-110-6. 
  • Foster, George H. and Peter C. Weiglin (1992). The Harvey House Cookbook: Memories of Dining along the Santa Fe Railroad. Longstreet Press, Atlanta, GA. ISBN 1-56352-357-4. 
  • Gustafson, Lee and Phil Serpico (1992). Santa Fe Coast Lines Depots: Los Angeles Division. Omni Publications, Palmdale, CA. ISBN 0-88418-003-4. 
  • Henderson, James David (1969). Meals by Fred Harvey. Texas Christian University Press, Fort Worth, TX. 
  • Poling-Kempes, Lesley (1989). The Harvey Girls, Women Who Opened the West. Paragon House, New York, NY. ISBN 1-55778-064-1. 
  • Porterfield, James D. (1993). Dining by Rail: The History and Recipes of America's Golden Age of Railroad Cuisine. St. Martin's Press, New York, NY. ISBN 0-312-18711-4. 
  • Thomas, D.H. (1978). The Southwestern Indian Detours. Hunter Publishing Co., Phoenix, AZ. ISBN 0-918126-11-8. 
  • Stephen Fried. Appetite for America: How Visionary Businessman Fred Harvey Built a Railroad Hospitality Empire That Civilized the Wild West (Bantam; 2010) 518 pages;

External links[edit]