Isolated on a dusty road that bends around a rock ridge, Barstow's restored Harvey House Rail Depot sits with elegant dignity in the desert. Formally known as Casa del Desierto, it once had a restaurant, a circling lunch counter, a ballroom, and rooms providing lodging for travelers and employees. Locals still talk about the station's dining room requiring diners to dress formal.
To mark the 100th anniversary of the Harvey House opening for service later this month, the city will hold a small party and cut some cake for the station it still treasures.
The landmark was built by Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway, designed by Fred Harvey Company to be its premiere stop in the west. It was completed in 1910, and the infamous Harvey Girls--female floor staff--were in place on February 22, 1911.
The Spanish-Moorish building was designed by Mary E. J. Coulter, who is well-known by rail aficionados as the architect behind the Harvey House Restaurant for Union Station in Los Angeles (Harvey Houses used dot the nation along railroads). Barstow's gem was shuttered in 1971 and later was stripped of its delicate fixtures by artifact hunters. Rooms were trashed by squatters. When in the latter half of the 1980s, Santa Fe planned to demolish the station, the city stepped in to purchase the property and building in 1990. However, the day before a 1992 re-dedication, the 7.3 magnitude Landers quake struck causing structural damage and postponing an opening.
It was restored, retrofitted, and reopened in 1999. Now the ballroom is rented out for events and rooms were adapted for use as office space. It is also become the home to the Route 66 Mother Road Museum and the Western American Railroad Museum.
"The top floors of the building house what is known as the business portal and have nine business," says Jeri Justus, Executive Director of the Barstow Chamber Of Commerce, the first tenant of the restored Historic Harvey House.
Walk up to the entrance facing the former rail yard, you may find yourself invited in even if the museums are closed. Working the front desk is a proud ad hoc tour guide Beth Marks, whose grandmother once worked as a Harvey Girl at the depot. With the same efficiency that her "Nana" Watts must have had carrying plates to hungry travelers, Marks can whisk through details about terracotta tiles while offering a peek in a few of the restored rooms, some decorated with period furnishings (as close as a non-profit budget will allow).
What's not to love about a building that helped build the west before the nearby highway became Route 66?
And the former Route 66 will be the way to the station if you arrive from I-15. Exit at E Main, or what is known as Barstow Station, you turn left (north) and drive through town decorated with Route 66 signs, and a series of murals telling stories of the town's history. Turn left on North First Avenue, and when you cross the bridge the building will show its Mojave majesty. Anyone traveling through town may want to consider stopping by. Ties are no longer mandatory.
The 100th Birthday Celebration of the Historic Barstow Harvey House, located at 681 North First Ave in Barstow, California, will be August 20th, 2011 from 8:00am until 4:00pm. The celebration is in conjunction with Southern California Edison's 125th Anniversary.