In 1882, Fred Harvey, the owner of the now-defunct chain of Harvey Houses, dedicated a restaurant at the Montezuma Castle before a crowd of 400 people.
The restaurant has long since closed, the building now being occupied by the United World College.
But the Harvey Houses aren’t forgotten in Las Vegas. On Friday, a local group, the Citizens Committee for Historic Preservation, learned about the impact of the restaurant chain on Las Vegas. To make the lesson come to life, six UWC students dressed as Harvey Girls, complete with black-and-white uniforms and bow ties. They served dinner and dessert to the more than 150 people attending the committee’s annual banquet.
Las Vegas had two Harvey Houses — at Montezuma and the Castañeda.
The Western chain began with waiters but decided waitresses were better for business. Newspaper ads sought women from 18 to 30 of good moral character who were both attractive and intelligent — not the type of want ad allowed these days.
Many of the Harvey girls came from quiet farming towns in the Midwest and looked to the West for adventure, said Richard Melzer, president of the Historical Society of New Mexico, who was the banquet’s keynote speaker.
More than three-quarters of the waitresses were single, so many wanted husbands, he said.
“It seemed like he (Fred Harvey) was running a bridal service,” Melzer said. “Nearly all of the Harvey Girls came from somewhere else. Very few came from New Mexico.”
Melzer showed a photo of a group of Harvey Girls on a projection screen to the audience. The UWC students decided to stand in the same formation, resembling the girls from a century earlier, drawing laughter from the crowd.
Earlier in the night, Nancy Colalillo, a member of the committee, described local efforts over the last year to restore old buildings. She said it was nice that the rubble from the collapsed Center Block building had been cleared, which took nearly two years to happen.
“Now we have a big gaping hole,” she said.
Colalillo, who owns Tome on the Range bookstore on Bridge Street, said Las Vegas still has plenty of vacant buildings in its downtown areas, but the city doesn’t have enough code enforcement officers to enforce the city’s vacant buildings ordinance, which took effect three years ago.
She said the city inspects occupied buildings for things such as fire code violations, but no one checks the vacant ones.
“If one building on Bridge Street goes down, half of the street will,” she said.
Noting the bankers in the crowd, she pleaded them to “loan money for godsakes” for building preservation projects.
“This is private money that is preserving our architectural heritage,” she said.
A number of awards were given during the banquet for the Citizens Committee for Historic Preservation:
• Plaza Vieja Partners: In 1983, a group of residents and property owners joined forces to create a venture called Plaza Vieja Partners. They were credited with promoting the rehabilitation of buildings and doing so without displacing local owners and businesses. They also planned for adequate parking, supporters say. “Today, instead of 80 percent vacant, Old Town is over 80 percent occupied,” said Ernie Quintana, the committee’s chairman. “The partnership renovated over 60,000 square feet of property for about $45 per square foot.” The members of the group were Manuel, Emma and Elmo Baca; Manuel Jimenez; Fenicia Trudell Ordoñez; Sammy and Lily Martinez; Antonio A. Sanchez; John Burns; Jose C de Baca; Michael Coca; John Harrison; John Hill; and the developer, Wid Slick.
• Residential Renovation Award to Virginia West for 927 Third St.: The project was a rehabilitation of a Victorian home. The home was empty and in disrepair before West bought it several years ago. She first renovated a cottage in back, then lived in it while the main house renovation was completed. Included in the restoration was a new bathroom and kitchen. The original wood floors were uncovered, repaired and sanded. The walls were repaired, replastered and painted. The front porch was rebuilt.
• Residential Renovation Award to Greg and Victoria Apodaca for 1811 New Mexico Ave.: This home is just across from the county courthouse. The home is considered Victorian adobe, with 10- to 12-foot-high ceilings. Greg Apodaca has singlehandedly repainted the exterior and the interior. He has restored the exposing original stone lintels.
• Residential Renovation Award to Marti and Tom Nash for 1023 Seventh St.: They purchased the house in September 2007, knowing that it needed repairs and renovations. The home is considered a classical revival cottage, built in 1898. Renovations included stripping and replacing the entire roof, replacing badly damaged ceilings in four rooms, sanding and refinishing 2,000 square feet of fir floors.They removed the 1970s drop ceilings in three of the rooms. They replaced some of the electrical system and rebuilt the lower bathroom. They fully updated the kitchen. The Nashes rebuilt the original garage and extended it to a second story for an art studio.
• Residential Renovation Award to Patrick Alarid and Jeanne-Marie Crockett for 920 Sixth St.: The old stone home was formerly a livery stable for the Mueller home. They have rehabilitated the building for residential use. The foundation was stabilized and wood trim restored. The interior was completely renovated into a two-bedroom, two-bathroom home. A side door was cut through the north side, now leading to an enclosed courtyard garden.