Western Trips

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Harvey House / Alvarado

The historic Alvarado Harvey House in Albuquerque New Mexico was a unique luxurious railroad hotel for several reasons. The Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad along with their partnership with Fred Harvey established many hotels and eateries along the AT & SF route and with great success.

Albuquerque NM

alvarado harvey house in albuquerque
Alvarado Harvey House, Library of Congress
Albuquerque New Mexico was more than just another stop along the AT & SF route. Of major economic importance to Albuquerque was that the railroad made the town a "division" point.  In fact, Albuquerque was designated a division site three months before tha rails arrived. Albuquerque would go on to serve as the point where the AT & SF Railroad met the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad.

The Atlantic and Pacific ran west of Albuquerque and was partly owned by the AT & SF. By 1902, the Atchison Topeka would completely absorb the Atlantic and Pacific. The railroad industry had a history of merging with and absorbing other lines. This was true all over the U.S.

What the railroad's arrival in Albuquerque did to transform this town was not only amazing but quite quick. The center of Albuquerque prior to the railroad was what is today a popular tourist destination called "Old Town Albuquerque". As it so happened, the railroad built it's tracks about two miles east of Old Town in what would become the "New Town" area of Albuquerque. The economic impact was considerable to say the least. There was a time that Santa Fe had a larger population than Albuquerque. The railroad's entrance into Albuquerque and then assigning it as a division point caused the population numbers to flip the other way and now Albuquerque is New Mexico's largest city. In the book All Aboard for Santa Fe, author Victoria E. Dye describes how at one time before the railroad, Albuquerque resembled Santa Fe in many ways. The main difference was that it was not the end of the Santa Fe Trail but a stopover point. Santa Fe remained the main trade and governmental center for the territory.

The Railroad Grew Albuquerque

albuquerque transportation center
Today's Albuquerque Transportation Center
Not only would a train depot be erected but also offices for the division staff, freight buildings as well as repair shops.

In addition to the division buildings, the railroad and Fred Harvey opened the Alvarado Hotel Harvey House adjacent and north of the train depot. This was not just another Harvey House but the largest one in the chain. An Indian curio building was also erected along with the hotel in 1902 and at the same time a new depot building.

The Alvarado Hotel was built with wood frame and stucco. In the book, The Trains Stop Here; New Mexico's Railway Legacy, by author Marci L. Riskin, the author describes the Alvarado Harvey House, the Indian curio shop to it's south and the train depot to the south of that as being essentially one complex in the Mission Revival architectural style. This complex was condisered the heart of downtown Albuquerque. Fred Harvey's daughter Minnie was put in charge of the Indian Department to promote Indian arts and crafts. The Indian Curio Building displayed Indian handcrafts. The interior design of the hotel was created by Mary Colter who was the chief designer for the AT & SF Railroad. Colter made quite a name for herself completing twenty-one projects for Fred Harvey.

Mary Colter

Some of her noted work included the beautiful La Posada Harvey House in Winslow Arizona, the Phantom Ranch Buildings you see today at the very bottom of the Grand Canyon, the Lookout Studio, Bright Angel Lodge and the Hopi House, also at the south rim of the Grand Canyon. Mary Colter's buildings at the Grand Canyon were listed as a National Historic Landmark in 1987.

albuquerque rail runner station
Unfortunately, the hotel closed in 1968 and was demolished in 1970. Railroads didn't like to have vacant property for a variety of reasons. Liability for an empty building was one reason and another was the value of the lot their buildings sat on. In the case of Albuquerque, the site where the Alvarado Hotel was built was turned into a modern transportation center.

Today, the New Mexico Rail Runner train that runs between Santa Fe to the north and Belen to the south discharges Albuquerque passengers in front of the site that was the Harvey House. The transportation center provides connecting city buses for all parts of Albuquerque. Today, it's very easy to take the New Mexico Rail Runner to Albuquerque and connect with a bus that will take you the few miles west to Old Town Albuquerque. The train station today sits at the same site as the original and is the Albuquerque stop for Amtrak's Southwest Chief which runs between Chicago and Los Angeles.

Three additional Western Trips articles you may enjoy are La Castaneda Harvey House in Las Vegas New Mexico  El Tovar Harvey House at the Grand Canyon and Some Great Stops Along the old TX and NM Route 66.

(Modern Albuquerque Transportation Center photos from author's private collection)