06 July 2007

History Detective: The Last of the Great Railroad Hotels

It started with a painting.

For a few years now my dad has had this picture hanging in the house. It never occured to me to ask details about it as he has paintings and prints all over the place. All I knew about it was that it was a print of a 'railroad hotel' in our home town.
My dad started working at a very young age, to hear him tell it he was 14. He started working for the sandwhich shop in the Harvey House in our hometown called La Posada c1929. Harvey Houses were hotels and boarding houses all across America in the 30s 40s and 50s. The term and movie Harvey Girls were based on the women that use to work for Fred Harvey and were hostesses at the hotels.

My dad eventually managed the sandwhich shop at around 16/17 and soon turned it into one of the most profitable in the company. During WW2 most of the sandwhich shops at that time simply slapped on some Spam and mayo on some bread and sold it to the troop trains that would stop at the hotel. My dad expanded on that and started selling fruit, candy and all kinds of stuff the troops wanted to take with them to either the Pacific or German theatre [of war].

[He's told me stories of how he would even slip some liquor into the lunch bags for the troops coming back from the war. He had a deal with mp's. If a bag of chips appeared over the top of the lunch bag it meant a bottle of liquor was hidden underneath the sandwhich and the mps would not search the bag, of course the mp's got a cut of the action]

My dad eventually moved from managing the sandwhich shop to managing the newstand. In fact he was sent all over the southwest to different Harvey Houses [Grand Canyon, Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Utah, CA] to cover for managers who would leave or take time off. My dad has MANY stories to tell of his time at the La Posada, including meeting Bob Hope among others.

He became very close to the La Posada manager, Mr. Weber. He was referred to as 'Mr. Weber's son' and soon pretty much had the run of the hotel in Winslow, infact he even got his own room right next door to Mr. Weber and would often have lunch with the big wigs 'outta Chicago.' In fact he even had dinner with Mary Colter.

After asking my dad about the print and him telling me his stories of the time, I found out that Mary Colter was the architect for the La Posada Harvey House. This was a time when there were very FEW women in that industry, especially one working for such a prominant company. She was a contemporary of Frank Lloyd Wright.
For years and years I had driven pass the hotel and never went in. It closed in the 50's and the Santa Fe Railroad used it for offices. Eventually even they gave it up and it sat dormant for years. Finally the railroad offered it to the city of Winslow for $1 under the condition it would be restored. The city council declined. What a shame. It appeared the same fate would befall it as had happened to the Harvey House in Albuquerque in the 70s. Demolition.
Enter Allan Affeldt. A real estate developer out of California. He purchased the hotel and has since begun and amazing restoration plan. Finally on my most recent trip to Winslow, Az, I decided to go in and see what all the fuss was about.
My word. I honestly felt I had stepped back in time...and what a time. My pictures do NOT do it or Mary Colter work justice.

Next posting ...we'll go in side.

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