A Brief History of the Turquoise Room
In 1997 Allan Affeldt & Tina Mion acquired La Posada from the Santa Fe Railway. It had been closed for forty years. From 1930 to 1957 the Fred Harvey dining room at La Posada had been the finest in the region. La Posada was gutted in 1961 and turned into regional offices for the Santa Fe Railroad. Nothing was left of the once fabulous interiors designed by Mary Colter. Allan and Tina wanted to bring fine dining back to the grand hotel, but nobody thought it was possible.
Allan & Tina convinced their old friend John Sharpe to take on the project. John was one of the most famous restaurateurs in Southern California, with fancy restaurants all over Orange County. It took three years for them to design and renovate the old dining and kitchen spaces and they reopened in 2000. But what would they call the restaurant?
The Super Chief was the deluxe train between Los Angeles and Chicago. It was called ‘the train of the stars’ because of all the rich and famous guests. The Santa Fe Railway commissioned their first dome cars – six ‘Pleasure Domes’ – for Super Chief. All were built in 1950 by the Pullman Standard Company and were among the most expensive railcars ever built. They were each named Plaza something: Plaza Santa Fe, Plaza Lamy – and were numbered 500, 501 etc. Each one had an upper dome lounge over the center, a starlight lounge forward (the ceiling panels were perforated so when lit it looked like starry heavens), a step-down bar, and a private dining room called ‘The Turquoise Room’. The Pleasure Domes would be next to the dining car and used the same kitchen. The Turquoise Room was by reservation only and was advertised as the finest dining on wheels. The lavish interiors were designed by Mary Colter. Colter also designed the beautiful ‘Mimbreno Ware’ china pattern exclusively for the Turquoise Rooms. The china was Colter’s deco interpretation of classic Mimbres pottery. The Pleasure Domes were in Santa Fe operation 1950 -1971, then AMTRAK until 1980, and then sold to private owners. Allan named the new restaurant The Turquoise Room as an homage to Mary Colter and the Fred Harvey Company. At the time Allan did not know that any of the original Pleasure Domes survived.
In 2016 the Winslow Arts Trust found and acquired the #502 ‘Plaza Lamy’ Pleasure Dome and moved it to La Posada for restoration. You can see it just east of the depot museum. Since then we have acquired a number of original pieces of Pleasure Dome furniture, which will be on display when the beautiful railcar is once again open to the traveling public.
La Posada and the Turquoise Room quickly built a reputation as the finest historic hotel and restaurant on Route 66, and among the finest boutique hotels and restaurants in the Southwest. John Sharpe was twice nominated for a James Beard award as best chef in the Southwest for his unique interpretation of regional and railroad classics, from Hopi Piki Bread and Navajo Churro lamb to Fred Harvey Boilerman breakfasts. After working together for twenty years John retired in 2020 but all of the Turquoise Room team stayed, from management to the kitchen crew. The legacy of improbably fine dining in the high desert continues. Thanks for being our guest!