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Barstow residents remember the historical Harvey House
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The Harvey House will host a 100th birthday celebration from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m this Saturday at 685 North 1st Ave. A birthday ceremony will start at 2 p.m.
BARSTOW • Residents who have worked at, stayed at, and fought for the historical Harvey House are among those attending the building’s 100th birthday celebration Saturday.
For decades, the historical building was a rail station, hotel and restaurant before it closed in the 1971. Barstow purchased the property in 1990 and eventually restored it to its current state, and it now houses two museums and various offices.
Some families attending were raised in Barstow when the building was a bustling center for the city.
High schoolers would hang out, work at Harvey House
Harvey House was the hangout spot for Jim Morrissette, who was born and raised in Barstow.
“That was the place to go,” Morrissette, 79, said. “Just watch the trains come in.”
It was also a place to make some extra cash. As a young boy, Morrissette would go to the Harvey House and shine shoes for soldiers passing through during World War II. Many high-schoolers would get summer jobs washing train engines or delivering packages from the postal service that was in the Harvey House.
His mother, Helen, also worked for the Harvey House in addition to running the Jones Department Store with her mother, Lillian. They came to Barstow in 1919 from North Carolina and opened up the department store.
When the Harvey House was shut down, Barstow lost one of its major employers.
“It hurt Barstow,” Morrissette said. “People had homes here and all the sudden had to move.” What was once a central meeting spot suddenly became “like a ghost,” he said.
When the building reopened, Morrissette donated photos to the railroad museum from his mother’s generation.
Morrissette hopes that Saturday will be a chance for seeing any old friends and peers still in the area, calling it “a reunion of the Barstonian desert rats.”
Harvey House was resident’s first sight in Barstow
Mary Guardado was familiar with railroads. Her father, Clem, and her uncles all worked for Santa Fe Railroad when she lived in Arizona. Then her dad was transferred to Barstow in 1944 to fix railroad tracks and, of course, the family took the train to their new home.
Guardado remembers pulling into the Harvey House’s depot when she was six.
“It was the biggest depot I had ever seen,” she said. “My first impression was of how beautiful it was.”
Guardado continued to take the train at least once a month to Los Angeles or Arizona until she was a teenager. She spent her summers running up and down the depot with her sisters, ducking inside the Harvey House to buy a Coke, and getting to know some of the staff.
By the time the Harvey House was shut down, Guardado’s dad had left the railroad business to open Griego’s Market and eventually Rosita’s Restaurant. Occasionally Guardado rode a train somewhere and still had to go to the Harvey House to pick up her ticket. But without the full-service building, “it wasn’t the same as going down there, getting greeted, all the people.”
Now Guardado and her husband, Jerry — whose first view was also the Harvey House, when he took the train in from Texas — visit the historical building together. Although these visits bring back memories, Guardado said, it doesn’t quite reflect how beautiful it was when it was the transportation center of the city.
“Anywhere we went,” she said of her youth, “we had to go to the Harvey House.”
Couple stayed at Harvey House before moving to Barstow
The Harvey House brought Gene Dillard to Barstow with her husband, Frank, who passed away in 1997. Frank worked at the Harvey House from 1942 to 1943 doing odd jobs for the cooks, helping passengers, and assisting the Harvey Girls — the maids of the hotel.
Frank booked a week-long vacation for the couple at the Harvey Hotel in September 1953, a year after he and Gene married in San Francisco. Frank wanted to show Gene where he had worked, and Gene, now 83, had never been to the desert.
“At that time the desert meant the Sahara for me,” Gene said with a laugh. She still remembers the horseshoe-shaped counter at the hotel where they ate every meal and the fact they had to share a common restroom with the other hotel guests. The Dillards spent a lot of time on their balcony that overlooked the railroad, watching the passengers get on and off the trains.
“The people were really friendly,” Gene said. “But I never dreamed we’d be living here later.”
But after Frank had retired from the insurance business in 1971, he wanted to move somewhere more affordable then San Francisco. So he suggested Barstow, and they moved into a home on 3rd Street.
Gene continued to visit the Harvey House until it closed its doors the same year she moved to Barstow. She spoke at a City Council meeting in support of saving the building, which the city eventually did. City Council members gave her a painting of the Harvey House, which she still has hanging above her couch.
The Harvey House is Gene’s favorite part of Barstow, and she said it always has been since she visited it in 1953. She brought her son and daughter to the Harvey House in their youth to show them where their father worked.
“I told them, ‘It’s part of the history of our family.’”