Taking its name from jagged mountain peaks that have long guided travelers, Needles is a historic gateway to southern California by both rail and road.
900 Front Street Needles, CA 92363
- Annual Station Revenue (2013)
- Annual Station Ridership (2013)
|Facility Ownership||BNSF Railway|
|Parking Lot Ownership||BNSF Railway|
|Platform Ownership||BNSF Railway|
|Track Ownership||BNSF Railway|
|Accessible Platform||Pay Phones||Wheelchair Lift|
- Southwest Chief
(202) 906-3918 (ph)
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Needles sits just west of the Colorado River in the Mojave Valley at the tri-state crossroads of California, Arizona and Nevada and was named for the sharp peaks found at the southern end of the Sacramento mountain range near town. The Amtrak stop consists of the platform just south of the historic El Garces Harvey House and adjacent to a small facility used by BNSF Railway crews.
Founded in 1883 as a division point of the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway (ATSF), Needles formed around the railroad and associated businesses such as El Garces, the local post of the famed Fred Harvey chain of hotels and restaurants. The “Harvey Houses,” as they were known, dotted the ATSF tracks across the West. In the days before dining cars became common, passengers had to detrain in order to eat a meal at a trackside restaurant. The food was generally of poor quality until Fred Harvey revolutionized the offerings starting in the 1870s.
By the turn of the twentieth century, the ATSF and Fred Harvey had begun to build a series of trackside hotels in the Southwest that were meant to attract tourists and help generate money for both companies. The buildings often adhered to fanciful designs that looked to the region’s American Indian and Spanish past. Drawing on these traditions, the railroad and Fred Harvey created resorts replete with a bit of exoticism that attracted tourists from across the United States and even abroad.
Opened in 1908, El Garces was a cohesive complex in which the station, hotel and dining facilities were under one roof. It contained 60 guestrooms, a 73 seat lunchroom and a 140 seat dining room. Architect Francis W. Wilson—who had also conceived the Fray Marcos Harvey House in Williams, Ariz.—designed the El Garces to be fully executed with concrete construction, a rather novel building method for the time.
Wilson shunned overt references to Mission or Spanish Revival architecture in favor of a subdued neoclassical design adapted to local conditions where sun and heat exposure were factors that had to be addressed. A long rectangular structure, El Garces is wrapped on all sides by deep, twenty-foot-wide verandahs supported by paired columns. The verandahs created a shady spot for guests to sit and admire the mountain and desert views with the hope of catching a breeze. The entrance was located in a court sandwiched between two projecting wings and an arcade facing the tracks.
By 1949 the restaurant and hotel had closed their doors, but the ATSF continued to use the building as office space and a dormitory for train crews. Most of the furnishings were sold and the interior was chopped up with partition walls at this time. In 1960, the east end of the building was demolished and today only two-thirds of the original structure remains. In 1988, the ATSF decided to move its offices to a former railroad hospital facility south of the depot, and El Garces then stood vacant.
Consideration was given to demolishing the building, but in 1993 the Friends of the El Garces, Inc. formed and petitioned the city to purchase and renovate the station. Needles bought the structure in 1999 and originally worked with the owners of La Posada in Winslow, Ariz.—another former Harvey House and current Amtrak station—to develop a reuse plan that included a hotel, restaurant, gift shop and intermodal transportation center.
The city obtained approximately $9 million in grants made available through the Federal Transit Administration's New Starts and Small Starts Program, with $2.4 million in matching funds pledged from California’s State Highway Account, the State and Local Transportation and State Transportation Improvement Programs and San Bernardino County’s Measure I half-cent sales tax devoted to transportation improvements. Needles city staff also provided in-kind assistance.
Because the federal grants can only be used for the transportation functions of the building, the city in 2012 decided to focus its energy on creating the intermodal center. Rehabilitation work, which should conclude in spring 2014, includes installation of mechanical systems and utilities and the build-out of a waiting room, restrooms and a multi-purpose space available for gatherings. The chamber of commerce and a California Welcome Center also plan to occupy parts of the building, and the city eventually hopes to attract commercial/retail tenants.
Originally, the land around Needles was occupied exclusively by the Mohave American Indians, who had lived there centuries before European expeditions arrived. The first western community on the land would develop in 1859 on Camp Colorado, later known as Fort Mojave, a sanctuary for western travelers built by the U.S. Army. The city itself was founded in 1883, following railroad construction over the Colorado River from Topock in the Arizona Territory. In its earliest days, Needles was where goods traveling from California would be iced to continue their transit east.
The city, incorporated as a California charter city in 1913, is intersected by three major highways: Interstate 40, U.S. Route 95 and the former U.S. Route 66. This community, although tiny, is known for several reasons. First, Needles experiences persistently extreme temperatures during the summer, often reaching 120°F, although it has been known to climb higher. Needles is one of several cities along the Amtrak Southwest Chief route that is mentioned in the "Route 66" song written by Bobby Troup and popularized first by singer Nat King Cole. Also, Needles' D Street School is where cartoonist Charles Schulz attended school. Schulz would later revisit Needles through his work in Peanuts, using it as the setting for the home of Snoopy's cousin, Spike.
Amtrak does not provide ticketing or baggage services at this facility, which is served by two daily trains.