Former Harvey Girl Beverly Ireland of Santa Fe tells me no one was more surprised than she and her twin sister, Bernette Jarvis, when they started getting famous for a job they held right after high school. “It’s a little mind-boggling!” Beverly confesses. The sisters came to Santa Fe in 1955 and waited tables at the Fred Harvey owned La Fonda hotel, until they married. “We knew nothing about Fred Harvey or anything,” Beverly laughs. “We were country girls!”
It wasn’t until a half century later, with the opening of the New Mexico History Museum’s permanent new exhibit
on Fred Harvey, “Setting the Standard,” that the sisters realized they were living legends. Much of it has to do with the photograph they dug up for the curator of the exhibit. In it, the wholesome girls in their crisp Harvey Girl uniforms are smiling broadly, having recently fled their chilly Minnesota home—their grandma convinced they were headed to a third world country—to stay with a cousin in Santa Fe. With no experience, they got hired on at La Fonda for the start of the busy legislative session.
La Fonda in the 1950s was quite the place to be, Beverly recalls. Businessmen and ladies had their regular roundtables; the Harvey Girls would strain and ogle to see movie stars like John Wayne and director John Ford when they came in to dine. “I remember (resident painter-playwright) Horace Akin, of course—he ate there every day. And there was (the famously odd town character) B.B. Dunne at the bar.”
“We were never allowed to patronize the hotel after hours—they were very strict about that,” Beverly recounts. In true Harvey Girl tradition, the sisters married Westerners and settled here—60 years ago, in fact. Still, says Beverly, La Fonda is basically unchanged, though the dining rooms have moved. Recently she took a history writer downstairs to see where they used to change into their uniforms, and it sent her right back to that long-ago era.
One of Beverly’s favorite anecdotes I just love, because it showcases her fun, pioneering spirit. She says it was a nurse at the hospital where she has volunteered for many years—a “Fred head”—who finally convinced her to attend the History Museum benefit opening. When she was offered a big Harvey Girl discount, she immediately bought two tickets to the glamorous affair without even consulting her sister, because she could just bring John the nurse as her date. “I told him, You got us out of the woodwork,” she says, tickled that it was a gay nurse who ushered them into the limelight. At the premiere, everyone received a set of Fred Harvey cards as a party favor, and there was the photo that rapidly transformed them into the “La Fonda Twins”—the calling card for their most famous occupation.
Yours in Fred,