Just off of Union Station’s South Patio, an elegant sign hangs from a gorgeous wall of brass-paneled windows, stating simply “restaurant.”
That restaurant—a Harvey House that, during World War II, became a popular waystation for soldiers shipping out of the railway station to their posts—shuttered more than five decades ago.
Today, stepping through the glass doors and into the airy Art Deco space, known as the Fred Harvey Room, feels like traveling back in time.
It’s a feeling that’s all the more pronounced now that its neglected mezzanine has been meticulously restored.
The Harvey House restaurant at Union Station opened in 1939.
It was designed by Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter, an architect who is often credited with helping to build up the reputation of the Southwest as a romantic tourist destination—not only though her designs for other Harvey House outposts but also through her extensive work in national parks.
One of the last restaurants operating in a chain once ubiquitous at railway stations, Union Station’s Harvey House closed in 1967, but continued to host the occasional private event or film shoot, including a music video for Fiona Apple’s 2009 song “Paper Bag.”
Up a curving, red tile staircase is the mezzanine. At some point, some of its entryways had been boarded up and it was used as offices. But after a seven-month restoration led by Morlin Asset Management and project contractors Skanska, those entryways are open now, once again allowing for a clear view between the restaurant floor and the handsome balcony.
Top: The staircase to the mezzanine. Bottom: Before and after the restoration. (Bottom left image courtesy of Skanska.)
Dyana Elam, a senior project manager with Morlin, says the original cork ceiling tiles were filthy from the cigarette smoke of workers. Too delicate to be cleaned with a cleaning solution, years of accumulated soot had to be carefully vacuumed off.
The light fixtures were recreated from the drawings of the original lighting fixtures. Looking at those drawings was overwhelmingly joyful, Elam says, “like visiting a newborn baby in the hospital.”A clock, stolen 30 years ago from its spot on the metal railing, was recreated from original blueprints, she says.
Top: Wrought iron chandeliers dot the ceiling of the Fred Harvey Room. Bottom left: An undated photo of the restaurant, courtesy of Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection. Bottom right: Looking out from the bar onto the former restaurant.
The three-story-tall ceiling of the Fred Harvey Room is painted with a dazzling geometric design. The floor tiles together create a pattern resembling a Navajo rug. At some point, lucky diners will be able to enjoy the space again. It is destined to become a gastropub operated by Cedd Moses, of Cole’s and Seven Grand fame, though an opening date has not been set.
As for the mezzanine, it will be used separately from the restaurant. Kenneth Pratt, Metro’s director of property management for Union Station, says it will be used exclusively by Metro, for the agency’s functions, meetings, and possibly renting it out to outside groups for similar events.