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Pioneer Entrepreneur Fred Harvey

As the Southwest’s big booster, Fred Harvey left a major mark on the landscape, especially at the Grand Canyon. Two new exhibitions in Phoenix attest to his genius.

“He kept the west in food and wives,” Will Rogers said. Fred Harvey did that and more. Other pioneer entrepreneurs mined the West’s gold. Harvey mined its romance. In its heyday – the 1870s to the 1930s – the Fred Harvey Company was the American Southwest, transforming desert frontier into tourist paradise. If even today we cannot imagine the Southwest without desert haciendas, Navajo rugs, or Judy Garland warbling “On the Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe,” well, in large part we have Fred Harvey to thank.

This spring brings a Harvey boom. In Phoenix, two museum exhibitions highlight the company’s influence on Southwestern tourism and Native American art. And from Winslow, Arizona, to the Grand Canyon, to Barstow, California, examples of Harvey’s architectural legacy are being restored.

In the 1870s, as railroad tracks were laid across the continent, Harvey had his inspiration: to provide Eastern-quality hospitality to the still-wild West.

“Remember,” says Diana Pardue, a curator at Phoenix’s Heard Museum, “when Harvey first started out, the Indian wars hadn’t been over that long. Harvey offered reassurance. Travelers could have an adventure, but they didn’t have to suffer inconvenience or discomfort.”

Harvey aligned himself with the Santa Fe Railroad. Trains in this era lacked refrigeration systems and dining cars, so Harvey built a restaurant every 200 miles along the Santa Fe’s tracks. He opened his first Harvey House in 1876. By Harvey’s death in 1901, his empire included 15 hotels and 47 restaurants – and the company was still expanding.

Harvey standards were lofty, as you learn when you visit Fred Harvey and the Harvey Girls at the Arizona Hall of Fame Museum in Phoenix. When customers stepped from the train into the restaurant, they found tables set with Irish linen, and food comparable to that served in the best Eastern hotels.

Harvey’s waitresses became famous, too, as any viewer of the 1946 Judy Garland musical, The Harvey Girls, will recall. These pert young women, clad in severe black and white, served as many as six trainloads of diners a day. Their reward? Seventeen dollars and fifty cents a week – and perhaps, as Will Rogers quipped, a husband. At least in legend, many of these women stayed West as ranchers’ brides.

The Harvey hotels were likewise ambitious – trackside palaces in the wilderness, noted for pueblo- or mission-influenced architecture. Sadly, many of Harvey’s hotels are gone now. New Mexico alone has lost El Navajo in Gallup, El Ortiz in Lamy, and the flagship of the chain, the Alvarado in Albuquerque.

But some remain, notably Santa Fe’s La Fonda Hotel. After the Harvey Company took it over in 1926, architects John Gaw Meem and Mary Colter refined La Fonda’s Spanish pueblo-style lines and filled its rooms with Pueblo pottery, Navajo blankets, hand-painted furniture, and Native American paintings. The Harvey Company sold La Fonda in 1968, but it still retains all of its considerable charms today.

Other Harvey hotels have found new uses. The Fray Marcos in Williams, Arizona, houses the Grand Canyon Railway Museum. The Casa del Desierto in Barstow, California, has been restored as a transportation center. Las Vegas, New Mexico, has two Harvey hotels: The Montezuma, now part of Armand Hammer United World College, and The Castaneda, where you can still buy a shot and rent a pool cue in the hotel lounge. Meanwhile, residents of Winslow, Arizona, are working with prospective buyers to restore the last-built Harvey hotel, La Posada. Says La Posada Foundation president Janice Griffith, “When La Posada was in its heyday, Winslow had the world coming to our door. We’re not going to let it go down.”

The most appealing concentration of Harvey buildings lies on the Grand Canyon’s South Rim. Save for El Tovar Hotel, the structures are all the work of Harvey architect Mary Colter: it’s not much of an exaggeration to say that while the Colorado River did the most to shape the canyon, Colter comes in a close second. She patterned her 1905 Hopi House (newly restored, to the tune of $1 million) after Hopi dwellings in Oraibi, Arizona; she chartered a plane to scout prehistoric towers at Mesa Verde to research her own Watchtower at Desert View. Her other canyon buildings – Hermit’s Rest, Lookout Studio, Phantom Ranch, and Bright Angel Lodge – all employed Southwestern elements to charm the socks off the visiting public.

Visitors who stepped into the Hopi House or the Alvarado Hotel immediately encountered another side of Fred Harvey’s world: at the Grand Canyon, Hopi men would be crafting jewelry; at the Alvarado, Navajo women would be weaving blankets. No one did more than Harvey to introduce the superb art of the Southwest’s Native Americans to the rest of the nation. That story is the focus of the Heard Museum’s exhibit Inventing the Southwest: The Fred Harvey Company and Native American Art.

Native American art was a vital part of the traveler’s experience, says Diana Pardue. Nervous on their first trip West, Eastern tourists would step tentatively off the train, “and here were these motherly Indian women with children, weaving. It was very comforting.” Tourists were primed to appreciate the art. The eastern United States was urbanizing, the West was filling with Anglo settlers. “By the turn of the century,” says Pardue, “many people thought that Native American societies were doomed. The old, the handmade, the native had sudden value.”

The Harvey Company’s Indian Department made use of this enthusiasm to lure visitors to Harvey hotels. Dispatching ethnographers and traders across the Southwest, the department created a museum-caliber art collection at the Alvarado Hotel. Knowing that tourists bought more when they could see the crafts being made, the company brought in Native American potters and weavers to give demonstrations. (Concerned about slow sales at Hopi House, one Harvey executive thundered, “Get some Indians to the canyon at once!”)

The sudden popularity of Southwestern art had unintended effects. Traditional craftspeople had to consider the tastes of customers in Pittsburgh and Los Angeles. One Harvey executive warned a trader to have weavers vary their colors: “We have to get up something new all the time to keep the public interested so they will buy.” The meeting of traditional arts and 20th-century tourism was, as one Santa Clara Pueblo recalled, “a strange, strange encounter.” And yet there’s also truth in a 1920s Harvey executive’s words: “Fred Harvey has done more for all the Indian tribes in the Southwest than all … the humanitarian committees, because we have created a market for their goods.”

That market dwindled with the onset of the Great Depression in 1929. By then, Southwestern tourism had changed. Highways were replacing the railroad, motor courts the Harvey hotels. The Fred Harvey Company sold off its properties in 1978, but hotels bearing the Harvey name are still operating at the Grand Canyon and other sites. The Southwest is a different place than it was when Harvey Girls greeted travelers stepping off the Santa Fe. Still, walk into La Fonda, or climb up the Watchtower, and you step back into that other world, where local color and a good cup of coffee could be as potent a westward lure as silver or gold.



Fred Harvey and the Harvey Girls runs through July at the Arizona Hall of Fame Museum at the Carnegie Library, 1101 W. Washington St.; (602) 542-4675. Open weekdays.

Inventing the Southwest: The Fred Harvey Company and Native American Art runs through April 1997 at the Heard Museum, 22 E. Monte Vista Rd.; 252-8840. Open daily.


Harvey inns at the Grand Canyon are El Tovar Hotel (rates from $115), Bright Angel Lodge (from $55), and Phantom Ranch (from $21); for reservations at any, call (303) 297-2757.

Across from El Tovar is Hopi House, which still has the canyon’s best selection of Hopi and Navajo jewelry and pottery. Near Bright Angel Lodge is Lookout Studio, noted for its fine selection of books about the canyon. Hermit’s Rest lies at the west end of West Rim Drive; the Watchtower lies at the east end of East Rim Drive.

In Williams, check out the Fray Marcos Hotel, 233 N. Grand Canyon Blvd. (800/843-8724), now home to the Grand Canyon Railway Museum. It’s open from 7:30 to 10 A.M. daily. Admission is free.

La Posada Hotel, 300 E. Second St., Winslow, is next door to the Amtrak Depot. The building is owned by the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railroad, and is viewable only from the outside.


La Fonda Hotel, 100 E. San Francisco St., Santa Fe; (505) 982-5511. Rates from $119.

The Castaneda Hotel, 524 Railroad Ave., Las Vegas, New Mexico; 454-0207. There are no accommodations, but the hotel bar and billiard room opens at 3. Off State Highway 65 in nearby Montezuma is The Montezuma Hotel, whose exterior can be viewed on tours that begin at 2:30 P.M. on Fridays, September through May; for reservations, call 454-4221.

Casa del Desierto, 685 N. First St., Barstow, California. Now used as a bus and rail center. Open from 9 A.M. to 11 P.M. daily

Kathy Rasmussen
If you love history about trains and just the local area for current activities where movies are shot this is the place. Donations if you feel like maintaining history.
Kathy Rasmussen
S Holden
At the museum on business. Great history there, nostalgia, and wonderment. Looking forward to the continued growth of the museum. Support your local museums!
S Holden
Vanessa Au
The Wheels Museum is volunteer run and was such a treat! We visited a bunch museums and this sort of unofficial museum was, hands down, our favorite. The door was locked when we arrived (I think by accident) but they hurried to let us in when I called and welcomed us warmly. They let my 6yo run the little train we all rode on. Another volunteer gave him a little matchbox car to keep. There were tons of all sorts of antiques on wheels, and some not on wheels. I was amazed by the collection and the enthusiasm and knowledge of the volunteers. Don’t forget to stuff cash in their donation box. They truly deserve it.
Vanessa Au
Armando Diaz
A great experience for the whole family! A spectacular place of pure nostalgia. Everything wheels and some things that fly . Soon you will see my artwork in this museum. Make the time to see it you won't regret.
Armando Diaz
Tara C.
Love the museum and the very friendly volunteers that run the place.
Tara C.
Bruce Guest
Fun place to stroll about !
Bruce Guest
Andy Vigil
It was exactly what I expected to see. The old photos and books gives you a picture back in time. The model railroad were very nice. We were the only ones in there and they turned the models on for us.
Andy Vigil
Julia Knight
Julia Knight


Jazz Music Events
Featuring some of the top Jazz live music acts in the Southwest, the "Jazz on WHEELS" series begins in October and runs through the end of December. The WHEELS Museum has partnered with local events production company Mariposa Music,, to utilize the power of music to benefit the museum. The Jazz on WHEELS performance will begin at 2pm on selected Sundays. Visit mariposamusicrocks.com for more information.