Building Description El Garces Hotel - Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad Depot, Needles California
Originally constructed as a passenger and freight depot with hotel and restaurant amenities, El Garces is located at 950 Front Street in the City of Needles, California. El Garces is on the original site adjacent to the Burlington Northern Santa Fe tracks and U.S. Route 66. The site includes the historic railroad tracks, numerous transmission power poles, circa 1908, and a row of nine Mexican fan palms (Washingtonia robusta) original to the site. Original architectural plans drawn by Francis Wilson, and provided by the City of Needles, show the historic areas and uses of the building. This two-story Classical Revival style building is constructed of cast-in-place concrete building materials that form both the distinctive symmetrical facade, as well as the first and second floor loggias, and the supporting colonnade of modified Tuscan and Ionic columns, placed in pairs. Wilson clearly distinguishes between a portico and a loggia in the original plans: the covered main entrance is labeled a portico and the covered arcades around the perimeter of the building are referred to as loggias. The distinctive architectural style is further carried throughout the interior areas, as seen in the use of ornamental ceilings, and details such as intricate egg and dart and rope-work. The current building measures 365' long and 98'6" wide. A 1961 renovation demolished 146' of the original east wing.
Situated in an northwest-southeast direction that parallels the Burlington Northern Santa Fe tracks on the north, the Classical Revival two-story, cast-in-place concrete building maintains a horizontal orientation with first and second floor loggias supported by a colonnade of pairs of pre-cast modified Tuscan columns on the first floor, and pairs of modified Ionic columns on the second surrounding all sides of the building. The long track side elevation is comprised of distinctly designed receding and projecting bays as on the exterior, the full entablature extends around primary spaces including the Dining Room and Lobby area. The interior of the building includes existing ornamental ceilings complete with plaster formed coves, details of egg and dart, rope-work, and dental-work. The plaster formed styled capitals and pilasters continue the traditional design details of the Classic Revival style from the exterior to the interior. The scale of the Dining Room with original accommodations for 140 diners, Lunch Room for approximately 40 persons, as well as a Lobby with a small soda fountain, convey the stature of El Garces. The grand interiors of the El Garces, particularly the public spaces, are also typical of the Classical Revival style and are marked by simple wall surfaces with attention concentrated upon structural members and functional necessities, such as doorways, windows, and the centre-pieces of ceilings. The interiors are bold and dignified, composed of straight, strong lines with heavy detail. The walls are plain plastered surfaces.
The original site included a roundhouse with multiple bays, an oil tank, multiple machine shop buildings, on the opposite side of the tracks. Of these, only a few smaller buildings and the oil tank remain. Transmission power poles, circa 1908-1910, to the north and south side containing the original glass insulators are extant. El Garces is currently unoccupied, and the door and window openings are covered with plywood for security. A stabilization program, with the help of State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) funds, was completed in July 2001. The work has also received Transportation Enhancement Activities for the 21st Century (TEA-21) funds.
The original symmetrical building with centered entry core measured 518' 2" long and 98' 6" wide. A 1961 renovation demolished a portion of the east end of El Garces leaving a rectangular plan that measures 365' and 98' 6" wide. The prominent north facade with the grand entry portico, faces the tracks and is accentuated by a line of nine Mexican fan palms (Washingtonia robusta). Historic research and photographic documentation determine the palms to be part of the original construction and landscape plan of El Garces. The brick pavers located on the north and south sides of the site are original to the 1908 construction, and are approximately 90% extant. The Santa Fe Park, and a portion of U.S. Route 66, both immediately adjacent to El Garces, continue to convey the overall stature of El Garces as a major transportation and commerce center for Needles and the region. The Santa Fe Park is well-maintained by the City of Needles as the park is the location of regular community events and activities.
A broad, flat, continuous brow detail supported by a bracket above each pair of columns, wraps around the perimeter of the building at the roof line extending 5'2" from the exterior colonnade. This adds both a decorative element as well as offering protection to the building from the direct rays of the sun. The north facade that parallels the train tracks, opens to the passenger platform area and provides access to the hotel, Dining Room, and Lunch Room. The main entry to this portion of the building is through a courtyard surrounded by an upper-story portico with pairs of modified Tuscan concrete columns on the first floor supporting an elevated walkway fronting the former fountain pool area. Above the main entry portico the name "El Garces" is cast integral with the concrete. The traditional Santa Fe logo is cast on either side of the El Garces.
The loggias on both the lower and upper levels of the north facade are open and maintain their original configuration and high level of architectural integrity. The lower loggia walkway on the south facade contains approximately 80% of the original brick pavers. Originally this courtyard held a low pool and fountain, with the entire surface covered in brick pavers. In one of the earliest renovations, the fountain was replaced with a newsstand in 1912, and a cast-in-place concrete slab was installed in 1947. Despite the early removal of the fountain, the historic foundations are extant.
In 1961, the Santa Fe demolished approximately 146' of the east wing and the Santa Fe moved into a portion of the former Harvey House areas for use as offices, and crew quarters necessary for overnight layovers. A 1961 concrete masonry wall was built to close-off the interior rooms on the second floor, and terminate the building at the breezeway. The east facade, constructed of modern concrete masonry units to cover the portions of the original Harvey House Lunch Room, faces an asphalt parking lot. Portions of the east facade not impacted by the concrete masonry units are intact and retain a high degree of architectural integrity including the cast-iron railings, concrete columns, doors and windows. The east wing originally housed the Santa Fe offices, ticket and baggage area, and the Wells Fargo Office on the first floor and hotel rooms on the second floor. While the loss of this portion of the building is unfortunate, the large remaining portion of El Garces assures that the majority of the architectural elements are either intact, or identical replications are extant in other areas, as well as the complete retention of the significant Harvey House facilities. Much of these spaces involved later reversible remodels such as acoustical panel suspended ceilings to accommodate the office spaces. The railroad moved their offices to the Midwest, abandoning the site in 1988.
Currently, El Garces is empty and unoccupied. Remnants of the Santa Fe offices such as, stud framed partitions, suspended ceilings, interior doors and windows, and electrical devices litter the east half of the interior spaces. Site exploration revealed that with the removal of the non-historic 1960s elements, the original ceramic tile floors and ornamental ceilings are extant. These elements reveal the simplicity of the original design and spaces.
El Garces incorporates several passive shading and ventilation principles into the design, such as an open attic plenum to allow the wind to flow freely through the 4' space above the hotel room ceilings. Additionally, an evaporative air conditioning system was added due to the hot, dry climate of the desert region. Other design elements such as the open corridors or hallways allowed air to flow through the building, as well as the broad loggia to shade the exterior walls, aided in a temperature reduction within the building. The heavy mass of the concrete material provided a "heat sink" element, that allows radiation of the heat at night, while keeping the building cool during the day. A 1937 update to the cooling system included the addition of "a process of running drip water from a refrigerator car brought from the ice plant (located a mile to the east) and introduce it into the hotel's circulating system." According to Donald Duke, a known historian on the Santa Fe Railroad. this was the first Harvey House to be air-conditioned. The use of the water evaporation process, commonly known as a swamp cooler, enabled the main public spaces, the Dining Room and Lunch Room, to be cooled during the hottest part of the day. This system effectively reduced the temperature approximately 15-20 degrees, significant in that the daytime temperature averaged 110-120 degrees F, and 80-90 degrees F at night during the summer months. Historic physical evidence of the swamp cooler system is seen in the girder trusses with wood supports between and ducts evident through some hotel rooms to the lunch and dining rooms below. However, the lack of historic ventilation ducts show the majority of the first floor and none of the hotel rooms had air conditioning until the 1930s. After the Harvey House and hotel establishment left in 1949, the Santa Fe Railroad replaced the system with a more modern air conditioning system in the 1950s. Additions and modifications to the air conditioning system have been made over the years until 1988 as revealed by the ductwork located in the dropped hallway ceilings, vents through transoms, and exterior equipment, ducts and piping.
The 2,219 square foot central lobby of El Garces became the center of public activity and retains a high level of architectural integrity with the majority of the original historic fabric extant. The original 1908 painted concrete floor in the Lobby was overlaid with mosaic tile work in 1922, which is still extant. The 1/2"x1" mosaic tiles are arranged in 11" square black and white checkerboard floor pattern. The original 1908 tall double hung windows with divided lites and wood trim are intact. The windows are currently boarded up with plywood sheeting applied to the outside of the building for security purposes. Still extant are the original ornamental ceilings complete with plaster formed coves, egg and dart, rope-work, and dental-work combined together for a complex ceiling coffering. Plaster formed stylized Corinthian capitals adorn the pilasters on the primary structural grid. The footprint of the original 1908 reception desk is distinctly marked in the ceramic tile floor by a concrete filler. The historic writing area has been converted to women's restrooms, however, the mosaic floor, plaster detailing including the ceilings, beams, and capitals are extant. At the east end of the Lobby, the 290 square foot historic soda fountain retains approximately 90% of the white marble wainscot and tapered columns along with the white mosaic tile flooring with a tile patterned border. The Lobby also retains an open stairway leading to the hotel rooms on the second floor, although all of the wrought iron bannisters have been removed.
The east portion of the building contains the historic Harvey House Lunch Room. The Lunch Room, approximately 2,758 square feet plus a kitchen and storage of about 2,000 square feet in size, has undergone at least three remodels in 1912, 1922, and 1927. In 1922, Arts and Crafts style grey tiles were added to adorn the walls up to about seven feet. Distinctive panels with highly colorful and decorative ceramic tile occur at several key locations. Two of the decorative ceramic tile panels with hollow clay tile backing were removed from the wall and are stored in wooden crates on site. Four of the original eight historic plastered corbels are extant and are in good condition. The corbels were originally designed as light sconces but were later used to support electrical fans. All of the historic 1922 mosaic floor with decorative border is extant in the Lunch Room, although mostly covered with a circa 1950s vinyl asbestos tile. In 1922, an additional horseshoe shaped lunch counter was included in the Lunch Room in order to better accommodate the increased number of customers. The historic lunch counters, cabinets, and light fixtures were removed by the Santa Fe Railroad after their 1950s-1960s conversion of this space into offices. Several solid and glazed dividing walls still bisect the original Harvey House Lunch Room space. The former kitchen was also cleared of all its equipment and converted to offices for the Santa Fe Railroad after the Fred Harvey Company left in 1949. Portions of the historic kitchen flooring and wall materials are extant under the newer finishes applied for the office environment. Several restrooms and changing rooms were added sporadically over time from 1950 to the 1980s to service the office personnel.
The west end of the Lobby contains the grand entry to the historic Harvey House formal Dining Room. The double doors are missing but the glazed transom and frame remains. The Dining Room is 2,630 square feet in size and has been divided several times with removable wood stud framing and drywall, circa 1950s-1960s, for use by the Santa Fe Railroad for offices. The Dining Room still retains the checkerboard ceramic tile floor and the coffered ceiling similar to the Lobby. The wall finishes and ceiling have maintained the overall feeling of the space conducive to the original design plan. The wood trim bordered panels and plaster formed pilasters with modified Ionic capitals remain and are in fair condition. The southwest corner of the Dining Room was infilled, circa 1950s, with walls to support air conditioning equipment. The ceramic tile floor is in excellent condition and is open to view, except under some small equipment pads. All surfaces have received multiple layers of wall covering and paint throughout the years.
The 3,300 square foot Kitchen is located directly to the west of the Dining Room. A 1995 fire charred a small portion of the former kitchen area and damaged a steel support column. The Kitchen and serving areas were converted in the 1950s to accommodate Santa Fe Railroad's baggage handling facilities. The original six inch square quarry tile floor of the Kitchen remains and is in good condition. The large metal vent approximately four feet square still remains revealing the location of the stove. The south half of the Kitchen area was elevated about two feet with a concrete floor to enable the roll-up doors to function as a loading dock in the 1950s to Front Street. A concrete ramp, constructed circa 1950s, overlays the floor which enabled baggage handling from the elevated area. Historic ceramic tile wainscot of the Harvey House kitchen remains near the stove location. Extant food coolers are located west of the kitchen. The coolers' cork filled walls and doors remain intact with their original hardware. A bakery was located north of the coolers. A large laundry, the largest room at the west end of the building, is adjacent to the bakery and food storage cooler rooms that originally serviced all of the Harvey Houses in Southern California. The fire doors, hardware and finishes, circa 1922, are original and intact.
The remaining 120' of the west wing (7,500 square feet), originally used as a laundry room for the Fred Harvey Company, is divided by wood framed infill walls. The now enclosed historic "interior service driveway" is located approximately 60 feet from the west end of El Garces and contains the original exterior windows and doors, which are in good condition.
The second floor historically provided 64 guest rooms for hotel visitors and employees of the El Garces Hotel. The hotel rooms and hallways maintain their original configuration. The majority of the original doors, and windows are extant within the second floor space. All of the original restrooms and baths are extant and located at the landings of both original staircases. These restrooms were for shared use between all the rooms. The restrooms still contain original toilets, bathtubs, partitions, and toilet accessories such as soap dishes, towel racks, cabinets, and mirrors. A lavatory sink, originally provided in each hotel room, remain in approximately 80% of the rooms. Each room contains a double inward opening french door with a double outward opening screen door to the loggia for ventilation. Of these, approximately 70% of the french doors are extant. Fortunately, several sets of the missing french doors and panel doors are stored throughout the second floor corridors and rooms. Approximately 75% of the interior hallway access four panel doors are also extant. It is estimated that approximately 85%-90% of the doors are existing, either in their original location, or stored on-site.