Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Union Station Harvey House

In 1875, a businessman named Fred Harvey (1835-1901) opened two restaurants in Kansas and Oklahoma along the Kansas Pacific Railway. At that time, the railways did not serve food on trains and Harvey's restaurants quickly became popular with travelers. Within a few years, Harvey contracted with the Santa Fe Railway to build and operate restaurants at dozens of stops throughout the Southwest. The Harvey House chain operated until the 1960s and at its height included 84 restaurants stretching from Kansas to California.

The last of the Harvey Houses was built in 1939 in Los Angeles by architect Mary Colter (1869-1958) next to L.A.'s Union Station. Colter, who built a number of the Fred Harvey restaurants, drew inspiration from Navajo themes and her restaurants and hotels continue to be influential in Southwestern architecture. The glossy red and brown tiled floor of the Los Angeles Harvey House resembles a Navajo rug:

The restaurant has many beautiful architectural details such as the floral-patterned studding on the leather siding of this raised dining area:

A detail of the concrete parrot tiles that line the walls of the restaurant:

After having bad experiences with male employees in the Southwest, Harvey decided to hire only educated, single women between the ages of 18 and 30 from the East Coast and Mid-West to work at his restaurants. Harvey hired the young women on one-year contracts, paid them quite well, and required that they live in boarding houses adjacent to the restaurants run by house-mothers who enforced strict rules of conduct. In popular lore, the respectable "Harvey Girls" civilized and populated the Southwest by marrying local men after their year-long contracts with Fred Harvey expired. There is even a musical entitled "Harvey Girls" produced by MGM Studios in 1946 starring Judy Garland as a young woman from the East Coast who became a Harvey Girl.

The Los Angeles Harvey House stopped operating as a restaurant in 1967 and the space is now rented out for special events and movie shoots. The central dining room at the Harvey House is dominated by a large U-shaped lunch counter that used to be surrounded by built-in seating and is now used at a bar during events:

The view from behind the bar:

There are raised dining areas on both sides of the central room with built-in leather seating:

The L.A. Harvey House is generally not open to the public, but the L.A. Conservancy walking tour of Union Station includes entrance into the Harvey House. More information about the Conservancy's walking tours including their Union Station tour is available on the L.A. Conservancy website. I highly recommend that people who are interested in historic buildings in Los Angeles join the Conservancy and go on Conservancy walking tours. For more pictures and information about Union Station, check out my Union Station blog post.

The Harvey House is located adjacent to Union Station in downtown Los Angeles:

View Harvey House in a larger map


  1. very nice, i haven't been there in years.

  2. They actually are looking for a tenant for the old Harvey restaurant. It's a really beautiful space. It deserves to be a public space again.

  3. The Music Centre downtown had a Fred Harvey restaurant until well into the late 1970s. I remember a waitress there named Vera. She worked the lunch counter. Working at the Music Centre, she met every famous and not so famous musician, singer, actor, actress, politician and movie star there was. Vera only love however, was the Dodgers. Tommy Lasorda was her hero, the king of kings. There was not a Dodger fact she did not know and not a game she could not recall. She had been a waitress all her working life and by the time I met her, she was well into her 60s. When the restaurant changed hands, Vera was let go. The new company considered her age challenged (too old). I will never forget that Harvey Girl.