Hotel Online  Special Report

Fred Harvey's Foresight Apparent In One of the Best
Known Structures in the National Park System
- the 100 Year Old El Tovar Hotel


GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK, March 24, 2005 - As the El Tovar hotel and the Hopi House gift shop and gallery observe their centennials in 2005, Fred Harvey's foresight is becoming apparent again even though he died before actually seeing the completion of two of the best-known structures in the national park system. 

Opening January 1, 1905 the Hopi House was designed by a young architect named Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter. Colter had already established a reputation as a gifted architect and had designed several of the Fred Harvey Company's gift shops adjacent to its hotels at railroad stops along the route of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway to organize the sale of items created by native craftspeople.

Just two weeks after the opening of the Hopi House, the El Tovar hotel opened with 95 rooms, electricity and a wide variety of other features that were considered luxurious at the time. El Tovar was designed by architect Charles Whittlesey and built at a cost of $250,000. 

The consecutive openings of these Grand Canyon architectural jewels - lauded 100 years later for their distinctive features and the creative vision of their designers - was remarkable because they reflected the revolutionary entrepreneurial commitment, precision and perfectionism of a man who would become known as the "Civilizer of the West": Fred Harvey.

At the turn of the 20th century, a visit to the Grand Canyon was not a simple journey. A stagecoach ride from Flagstaff was a 20-hour teeth-rattling affair, and upon arrival at the Grand Canyon, accommodations were rustic, at best. El Tovar and the 80-mile railroad spur from Williams, Ariz. to Grand Canyon Village on the South Rim laid in 1901 by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway 

Photo Credit: Grand Canyon National Park
Museum Collection

The exterior of the historic El Tovar Hotel. The hotel opened in 1905 with a design that was fashioned after European hunting lodges. The hotel has 78 rooms and suites, a gift shop, dining room, and cocktail lounge.
were instrumental not only in making the Grand Canyon one of the world's foremost tourist destinations but making travel easy, comfortable and respectable enough for anyone, not just the hardy and adventurous.

Fred Harvey had left his native London at the age of 15 to seek his fortune in America. At the time, the country's railroads would take you West, but you couldn't get a square meal or decent lodging west of St.  Louis. So, if you were a young man in the 1870s, restless with ambition and a desire to conquer new frontiers, you had best have a strong stomach. Also, you would have to leave any ideas of a family behind, as there were, the records say, "no ladies west of Dodge City," and "no women west of Albuquerque."

Fred Harvey was a western railroad man in those days. He knew what travelers into the West had to put up with, for he traveled several roads, including the Hannibal & St. Joseph, popularly known as the "Horrible & Slow Jolting."  He clerked on the first mail train and was a traveling freight agent for the Burlington. His fastidious English tastes revolted at the unpalatable dry biscuits, the greasy ham-leather and the weak old coffee.  The dirty, fly-ridden quarters and the all-too-prevalent custom of fleecing travelers "who wouldn't be back anyway," made Harvey angry enough to change things. He was determined to bring good food, civilized service, and attractive, honestly run eating houses and hotels to travelers in the West. If he could get the cooperation of the railroads, he knew he would succeed.

"I know what to do; I've had experience in the best restaurants in New York and New Orleans and ran my own in St. Louis," he said. But the railroads had no time for a visionary young man with ideas about food service. One facetiously suggested, "take your ideas to the Santa Fe; they'll try anything." Harvey followed that suggestion and found the remark, intended as humor, to be a prophecy.

In 1876, Fred Harvey opened his first railway restaurant in Topeka, Kan., on the second floor of the little red Santa Fe depot. From that modest beginning, the Harvey organization grew into a far-flung resort, restaurant, hotel and retail organization, with operations extending from Cleveland to the West Coast.

Good food, good cooking, spotless dining rooms, and courteous service, introduced by Fred Harvey in his first Harvey House, brought a booming business that pleased Santa Fe passengers and amazed Topeka residents.

Later in the same year (1876), when Harvey opened his first hotel at Florence, Kan., on the Santa Fe, the joint venture was welcomed with wild acclaim.  The chef, who was hired from Chicago's Palmer House, received the fabulous salary of $5,000 a year. Linens were imported from Belfast, Ireland; silver from Sheffield, England; china from France. The furniture was hand-carved antiques. Society balls were held at the hotel; the menus were a gourmet's delight.

Harvey's hotel was a civilizing influence in other ways, too. The following notice appeared in a June 1879 Florence newspaper: "Every Tuesday and Friday the ladies of Florence can have the use of the bathrooms in the Fred Harvey hotel. This will be a luxury which will be duly appreciated. All other days the bathrooms will be open to gentlemen."

During the 1880s and 1890s, Fred Harvey's unique restaurants and hotels - Harvey Houses - opened, one after another, every 100 miles along the Santa Fe through Kansas, Colorado, Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona and California. This was necessary, it was said, "To keep western traffic from settling in any one place where Fred Harvey served his incomparable meals."

Rivaling the good food and modern accoutrements that Fred Harvey brought to the West were his "Harvey Girls," - pretty, well-trained waitresses.  The girls were recruited from good homes in the East and had a major part in taming the West. To the frontier outposts of the West, where stampeding buffalo herds were as common as attacking Indians, train robberies, and horse thieving, the Harvey Girls brought culture, refinement and romance.

These ads ran in eastern papers: "Wanted: Young women, 18 to 30 years of age, of good character, attractive and intelligent, as waitresses in Harvey Eating Houses in the West. Good wages, with room and meals furnished."  The same pioneering spirit that sent restless young men into the West drew the Harvey Girls. Many were school teachers, lured by the excitement of the unknown and a chance for romance.

Young, pretty and well-turned out in their crisp white aprons and bows over well-fitted black shirtwaists, the girls were a sight to the eyes of lonesome western males. They were housed in dormitories presided over by sensible mature housemothers. They were looked after as carefully as boarding school students in "female seminaries" in the East.

Gentlemen callers were permitted at certain hours in the well-chaperoned parlor; that is, if they left their six-shooters at the door. But it wasn't long before the cowboys and cattlemen who tried to ride their broncos right into Harvey Houses were persuaded to change their manners and took more kindly to the alpaca coats Fred Harvey kept on hand and demanded his coatless gentlemen diners wear.

Before long, the cowboys were seen accompanying the Harvey Girls to church on Sundays. When that happened, everyone took it for granted that marriage was the next step and that the roaming, devil-may-care Westerner was about to become respectable.  Of Fred Harvey, Will Rogers once said: "He kept the West in food and wives." The press dubbed him "Civilizer of the West," and one article from the 1880s said he "made the desert blossom with beefsteak and pretty girls."

Some believe at least 20,000 Harvey Girls became the brides of ranchers, railroad men and cowboys, founding many of the first families of the West. And many of the male offspring of those families were named "Fred" or "Harvey" in deference to the man who had the vision to civilize the region.

Harvey meals included as many as seven entrees -- with seconds -- for 75 cents. Prices were apologetically raised to one dollar in 1920 and remained at about a dollar until 1927. Menus at Harvey Houses were coordinated to avoid duplication on a trip. If you had prime rib at Needles, you had chicken at Barstow.

In the racketeering days before Harvey Houses were established, diners paid in advance, then, when they had barely started to eat, the train crew shouted its "all aboard" and passengers had to rush out without their meal or be left behind. In this way the same food provided many meals and the train crew got a cut of ten cents per passenger. In contrast, Harvey Houses followed a foolproof system to assure the comfort and satisfaction of travelers. Trainmen canvassed the passengers, noting the number who wished dining room and lunch counter service and telegraphed this information ahead. A mile out of town, the engineer blew a signal announcing the approach of the train. By the time the train arrived, the white coated porters banging on a big brass gong had started the first course to each place, and the entrees were sizzling in the kitchen. 

The waitresses, taking orders for coffee, tea or milk, arranged cups according to a code and the "drink girl" immediately followed serving accordingly. Then came the grand entrance of the manager himself, bearing aloft great platters of steak, chops or seafood that he served with a flourish. Passengers were assured ample notice would be given before the trains departed and were encouraged to take their time and enjoy their meals. Plenty of coffee was served. Desserts came in time, and five minutes before train time a signal was given for those lingering over a last bite. Then came the "all aboard." Time allotted for meals was 30 minutes. When the Santa Fe put on dining cars, Fred Harvey served the meals on wheels.

Fred Harvey died in 1901 but sons operated the business until the 1930s.  Amfac Parks & Resorts (renamed Xanterra Parks & ResortsR in 2002) purchased the company in 1968. The company still honors the Harvey name through its retail division, Fred Harvey Trading Company.

Considered the "architectural crown jewel" of Grand Canyon National Park, El Tovar is undergoing a $4.6 million renovation. It will reopen for a centennial celebration on April 13, 2005. 

The Hopi House continues to be a popular attraction where high-quality, authentic Native American art is sold. The gallery features traditional and contemporary Southwest Native American arts and crafts, many of which are of interest to collectors of Native American art.

Xanterra Parks & Resorts (consisting of Xanterra Parks & Resorts, Inc. and Xanterra South Rim, L.L.C.) operates lodges, restaurants and other concessions at national parks and state parks and resorts.  Xanterra South Rim, L.L. C. operates concessions at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.

Mesereau Public Relations
(1) 720-842-5271
Also See: The Grand Canyon's El Tovar, One of the Original Great Lodges of the National Park System Turns 100; Key Influence in Opening the Southwest to Tourism / December 2004
Xanterra Parks & Resorts Completes Renovations to Four of its Seven Hotels in Grand Canyon National Park / May 2004

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