Growing up in Las Vegas, New Mexico, Everet Apodaca knew better than to hang around Railroad Avenue. Nothing good happened over there; it consisted of some rundown buildings, a bar, a few people with nowhere else to go, and the occasional freight train rumbling through. The whole town was dusty and economically depressed, and Railroad Avenue epitomized its decay. As he got a little older, though, Apodaca began to realize that Las Vegas once had much more to it. His curiosity about the area grew.
It didn’t take much digging to learn that Las Vegas had in fact been a booming, prosperous town. As a teen, Apodaca and his friends would drive up to the old Montezuma Castle and peer through the windows of the abandoned building, which was far grander than the usual buildings in the region. Boarded-up buildings on Railroad Avenue—the old Castaneda hotel, for example—had been at the heart of the early 20th-century prosperity, which was inextricably linked to the Santa Fe Railway (SFR) and Fred Harvey.
The SFR’s partnership with the Fred Harvey Company made travel by rail much more comfortable and accessible by providing above-average amenities—meals that went far beyond the basics, guided tours of sights along the way, shopping for Native American and other locally made souvenirs, and safe places to stay the night—that changed travel from an ordeal into a unique, pleasurable adventure. The Castaneda Hotel and the Montezuma Castle were both Harvey properties. Montezuma Castle, the first luxury hotel Harvey built; was the first building in New Mexico to have electric lights and an elevator.
Word got out that Everet was interested in the town’s past. When people came across an old newspaper article, an SFR matchbook, or a swizzle stick from the Castaneda, they would give it to him. A collector was born.
Now in his early 40s, Apodaca is recognized as an expert in the field of Fred Harvey history. He has amassed a large collection of Fred Harvey Company china, flatware, room keys and registration cards, lobby signs, and even a light fixture or two. He has found pieces at estate sales, from antiques dealers, and online. A few favorites hit the trifecta for Apodaca—they make reference to SFR, Fred Harvey, and Las Vegas. When asked how many pieces he owns, an answer was not forthcoming: like many serious collectors, he quit counting quite some time ago.
Apodaca does sell some pieces (generally only those of which he has duplicates). He has showcases at Santa Fe Antiques and Flea Market in Santa Fe, and at Rough Rider Antiques in Las Vegas, on Railroad Avenue across from the old hotel. “The antique-store owners hate telling me something has sold,” he says, as they know he loathes parting with treasured pieces, even if the proceeds allow him to purchase something new.
Over the last few years, interest in Fred Harvey has spiked. Several books have recently been published about the hotels and the Harvey Girls who staffed them, and the New Mexico History Museum has an exhibit about the Fred Harvey Company. Mimbreno china, designed by Mary Colter for the Chicago-to-Los Angeles Super Chief train, has become highly sought after. Apodaca has some insight into the resurgence. He points out that there has always been a fascination with railroad history and the Southwest has long figured in the public’s imagination. People literally cried when Albuquerque’s Alvarado Hotel, one of Harvey’s nicest was torn down in 1970. Apodaca speculates that the loss of the Alvarado may have led to the more recent purchase and rehabilitation of the La Posada in Winslow, Arizona, and Las Vegas’s own Castaneda, as it became clear that the Fred Harvey Company’s legacy was worthy of preservation.
When old family possessions are cleaned out sometimes people will stumble upon a piece of china, a silver-plate spoon, or another souvenir of a long-ago, memorably grand trip across the Western United States. Somewhere on it will be the Fred Harvey Company’s logo.
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