Entrepreneur Fred Harvey is much better-known than architect Louis Curtiss. After Harvey’s death in 1901, Curtiss designed some of his “Harvey House” hotels and restaurants for the Fred Harvey Company. Said to be the first restaurant chain in the nation, they were dotted along numerous railroads serving the American Southwest beginning in the late nineteenth century. The Harvey Houses (eighty-four of them at their height of popularity) are noted for the “Harvey Girls” – young, single, women who Mr. Harvey hired to work in his restaurants. A surprising (or not) number of them went on to marry men they met through their employment. These hotels and restaurants were often credited with helping to bring civility to the southwestern part of the country.
The Sequoyah Hotel was one of several fabled Harvey Houses which were designed by Curtiss. Located in Syracuse, Kansas, along the Santa Fe Railway, it was opened in 1908 and demolished in 1972 (well, 99% of it… details below). The back of the postcard depicted below reads, in part, “The hotel is built of reinforced concrete in mission style of architecture which has been modified somewhat to meet modern conditions.”
Um, no. In his riveting and thoroughly documented exposé of Curtiss usurper Mary Colter entitled “False Architect: The Mary Colter Hoax“, author Fred Shaw more accurately describes the structure in this way: “Curtiss’s Sequoyah was an uncommon hybrid of the Vienna Secession melded with elements of Mission architecture.”
Several years ago I ran across a light fixture in an antique mall. Its tag read: “Sequoyah Harvey House Dining Room Light. Old Harvey House Syracuse”. It must have been sitting there a long while as the tag was worn and the price was discounted 50%. I had to have it. I still haven’t found a use for it, but I will. Now, here is where the uncertainty comes in… I started looking at photos online to see if I could find a match to this fixture. The only image I could find which was specifically identified as the dining room of the Sequoyah had similar, but not exact, fixtures. However, an image of another Curtiss-designed Harvey House – the Bisonte in Hutchinson, Kansas – did show identical fixtures in the dining room. The Bisonte was demolished in 1964 and replaced with a Ramada Inn. The Harvey House in Wellington, Kansas, (which was older but might have been updated by Curtiss) also used these fixtures; the draped chain can clearly be seen on the globe in the foreground. The Wellington Harvey House was demolished in 1965.
So, did my fixture come from another depot or did it come out of a room other than the dining room in the Sequoyah? Or – is the lithographic postcard depicting the dining room of the Sequoyah so retouched that the fixtures depicted are not true to life? Currently, I’m inclined to think this; the image is simply not an actual photograph though it is based on one. Hopefully a clear, actual, photograph of the Sequoyah’s dining room will emerge and answer the question. It would be very cool if Curtiss designed the fixture, but I would assume that the fixture was merely specified by him. Any insight into this issue would be greatly appreciated!