History of Casa del Desierto, Harvey House, Barstow, California
The Casa del Desierto in Barstow, California, is a significant landmark with a rich history, symbolizing the Harvey Houses’ bygone era. In partnership with the Santa Fe Railway, Fred Harvey established a chain of Harvey Houses along the railroad in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These establishments provided high-quality food and lodging to travelers, revolutionizing railway dining and accommodation in the United States.
The Casa del Desierto, meaning “House of the Desert,” was built in 1911 and is one of the finest examples of the Harvey House establishments. Designed in the Spanish Colonial Revival style, it reflects the architectural elegance and grandeur intended to attract and serve passengers of the Santa Fe Railway. This particular Harvey House played a crucial role in the development of the American Southwest by providing a luxurious stopover for travelers traversing the vast and arid Mojave Desert.
Throughout its operational years, the Casa del Desierto served as a restaurant and hotel and housed the Barstow railroad depot, a Harvey Company retail store, and a telegraph office. It was a vital part of the community and a hub of activity, embodying the spirit of hospitality and the cultural exchange between the East and West.
However, with the decline of railway travel and the rise of automobile transportation, the demand for Harvey House services diminished. The Casa del Desierto closed its doors in the late 20th century and fell into disrepair. Recognizing its historical and architectural significance, efforts were made to preserve and restore the building.
Today, the Casa del Desierto has been repurposed and houses the Barstow Area Chamber of Commerce, the Western America Railroad Museum, and the Route 66 “Mother Road” Museum. It stands as a testament to the vision of Fred Harvey and the importance of the Harvey Houses in American history. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, ensuring its preservation for future generations to appreciate the legacy of the Harvey Houses and their impact on travel and culture in the American Southwest.