NEEDLES, CALIFORNIA – Amtrak and the City of Needles held a dedication and ribbon cutting ceremony for a new Amtrak waiting room inside the El Garces Intermodal Transportation Facility on Saturday, May 7, 2016.
The new space, which includes restrooms and comfortable seating, is open to Amtrak passengers from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. during the arrival and departure times of the Southwest Chief (Chicago-Albuquerque-Los Angeles). The doors are on a time lock system, allowing passengers to enter only during those designated hours.
“More than 8,650 Amtrak passengers traveled through Needles last year,” said Eric Smith, route director for the Amtrak Southwest Chief and Coast Starlight, during the ceremony. “The waiting room is just a step in a long journey that began back in 1995 to save the El Garces from demolition.”
Amtrak and the city were presented with a handmade quilt by the Needles Quiltmania Quilting Group that will be displayed in the station. It features various images of historic steam locomotives and railroad advertisements and tickets. In the center is a large block with the logo of the Atchinson, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway – commonly known as the “Santa Fe” – that expanded throughout the Southwest and California in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The historic El Garces, marked by shady verandahs, was constructed of durable concrete and opened in 1908. It operated as a hotel and restaurant within the famed Fred Harvey chain until 1949; subsequently, it served as office space for the Santa Fe until 1988 when it was shuttered. 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. In recognition of its rich history and design integrity, El Garces was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2002.
Needles bought the structure in 1999 and since then has worked to create a development plan and raise funds for rehabilitation. Work completed by the city in 2014 included installation of mechanical systems and utilities and the build-out of the waiting room, restrooms and a multi-purpose space available for gatherings. The Needles Area Transit office is located in the building, and the chamber of commerce also plans to move into the facility. The city hopes to attract additional commercial/retail tenants.
The overall rehabilitation has largely been financed with funds made available through the Federal Transit Administration, California’s State Highway Account and San Bernardino County’s Measure I half-cent sales tax devoted to transportation improvements.