The California Mission Revival style was introduced to New Mexico with Las Vegas’ 1899 La Castañeda Hotel, but three years later, the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway opened a much larger iteration in Albuquerque.
The idea for a new hotel, from three Fred Harvey Company employees — John and Minnie Huckel and Herman Schweizer — “paralleled the AT&SF’s plan to build Mission-style structures, inspired by the Arts and Crafts Movement, that would promote the ‘exotic’ American West and encourage passengers to travel via railroad to experience its landscape and cultures,” according to Jewel of the Railroad Era: Albuquerque’s Alvarado Hotel. Author Deborah C. Slaney, who is curator of history at the Albuquerque Museum, says the railroad soon began to incorporate the style into building plans for hotels and depots in Albuquerque, Raton, Santa Fe, and Socorro.
The Albuquerque hotel — named for Hernando de Alvarado, a Spanish artillery captain on the 1540-1542 Coronado expedition — opened in May 1902. It was designed by Charles Frederick Whittlesey, the AT&SF’s chief architect. Prominent Mission-style features included a red-tile roof over a stuccoed wood-framed building with curved pedimented gables, a variety of belfries, and a 200-foot arcade.
The lobby boasted Craftsman-style furniture and velvet-upholstered chairs. In 1922 it was given a lighter touch by Fred Harvey Company architect Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter. Also that year, the Alvarado became the company’s largest hotel with an addition on the north that brought the room count to 120.
In Jewel of the Railroad Era, Slaney describes the luxurious appointments that went hand in hand with the high-service standard of the black-and-white-attired staffers, the Harvey Girls: “Private baths were stocked with thick white terrycloth towels and miniature Cashmere Bouquet soaps, all marked with the Fred Harvey name. ... Each blanket, made of 100 percent wool and dyed a rich rose color, was tagged with a cloth Fred Harvey label.”
Colter was back at the Alvarado in 1939, redoing the lounge in an Old Mexico motif — complete with hanging lamps made from Mexican parrot cages. The next change — a 1954 modernization that renamed the lounge the Spotlight Room and replaced Colter’s homey décor with “slick” wall paneling, glass, and chrome — was not very well received by the public, according to a former Harvey Girl interviewed by Slaney.
Although the AT&SF continued to invest in upgrades to both buildings and grounds into the 1960s, the company decided to close the Alvarado in January 1970. Long since demolished, its exterior details are echoed in the design of the Alvarado Transportation Center (by Dekker/Perich/Sabatini Architects) that today serves passengers on Amtrak and New Mexico Rail Runner Express trains.