The inn at the end of the Old Santa Fe Trail still serves as a beacon of activity in the Downtown Plaza, just like it did a century ago.
It is a place where people met and fell in love, got married, drank, danced and died.
Maybe some were born there. A few others found themselves embroiled in a situation that led to a divorce.
Just about anything that can happen in Santa Fe has happened at La Fonda in the Plaza – the ageless adobe mansion that has welcomed visitors to the city since those other Roaring Twenties.
“[It is] The Santa Fe Lounge, ”said Ed Pulsifer, hotel sales manager and his shameless cheerleader.
History, both real and imaginary, runs through the halls, ballrooms, bedrooms and lobby of La Fonda. State secrets may have been discussed over a bar during WWII: La Fonda served as an unofficial stopping point for people heading to a mysterious place called Los Alamos. But even without intrigue, the hotel was central to the daily rhythms of Santa Fe; old New Mexican company columnist BB Dunne made the lobby his unofficial office as he wrote about the people passing through town.
La Fonda has even taken its turn on the big screen: actor Robert Montgomery got involved in a dark black scheme in the lobby and dining room of La Fonda in the 1947 film. Ride a pink horse.
But with all that and more in the prologue, here’s a quick and necessary look to the future: La Fonda in the Plaza is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.
Although another spike in COVID-19 cases recently caused a celebration scheduled for this month to be postponed until later in the year, hotel officials are happy to extend the celebration.
The story, apparently, is worth the wait.
“He’s always had this amazing life,” said hospitality historian Stephen Fried.
Of course, La Fonda’s first 100 years weren’t quite the first 100 years of the city’s hospitality industry. Other hotels have preceded it. Historians say the corner of Old Santa Fe Trail and San Francisco Street hosted the city’s first inn, called the Exchange Hotel, in the early 1820s.
But whatever incarnation of this facility still standing in 1919, it was destroyed with the help of a World War I tank dubbed “Mud Puppy” as city officials decided it was time to move on. demolish the structure as part of a fundraiser for victory.
Local businesses then raised $ 200,000 to build a new hotel on the site: La Fonda.
Yet financial success, let alone fame, was not instantaneous. Pulsifer and Fried say the hotel struggled in its early days – until fate booked a room.
In the mid-1920s, the son of restaurateur and entrepreneur Fred Harvey, Ford Harvey, decided to integrate La Fonda into the famous Harvey House chain in order to offer regional tours to visitors and passengers of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe. For over 40 years it was a Harvey House, although unlike the vast majority of these hotels, it was not adjacent to the railroad tracks.
Ironically, this may have helped ensure his survival, Fried said. When train travel derailed after WWII, so did most of the Harvey Houses.
“I think La Fonda continued to be wonderful herself because she was lucky enough not to be on the main train line,” he said.
Fried said that La Fonda became “the immediate center of life in Santa Fe” in the 1920s and has remained so even as the city and the rest of the United States changed during World War II and the United States. advent of the interstate highway system. Whether the president is Coolidge or Kennedy, Roosevelt or Nixon, Biden or Truman, La Fonda has stayed.
The five-story, 180-room hotel’s connection to the city was so strong that a 1980s roadside billboard boasted, “La Fonda is Santa Fe.
The hotel remained part of the declining Harvey House chain until the late 1960s, when it was bought by Sam and Ethel Ballen. The couple managed it until 2014, when they sold it to Cienda Partners, a Dallas-based real estate investment company.
Jennifer Kimball, co-owner and current board chair of La Fonda, who worked at the hotel when the Ballens owned it, said she rarely goes out to dinner without meeting someone who told her about a friend, an aunt, uncle, brother or relative who has worked at La Fonda.
“There’s just a tangle between the city of Santa Fe and La Fonda,” she said, marveling that for most of the century the hotel had only three groups of owners.
La Fonda was designed by the architectural firm Rapp, Rapp & Hendrickson of Trinidad, Colorado. In 1926, famed Santa Fe architect John Gaw Meem and Harvey Co. architect Mary Colter began a three-year redesign.
A renovation that began less than a decade ago has incorporated many of these design cues into the hotel. Pulsifer and Britta Andersson, marketing director for La Fonda, say you can find Colter-period patterns and details in the walls, headboards, blanket boxes and curtains of hotel rooms to this day. – some of the touches that keep the hotel past.
“This is a historic hotel with modern amenities,” Pulsifer said, noting that if you removed or covered the TV screens in some rooms, you might think you were stepping back to the 1920s. “It’s open, it is accessible, it has a spirit.
Maybe more than one mind, in fact. Pulsifer happily talks about the hotel’s reported ghosts – a spectral bride, a spurred cowboy, a gamer, and maybe even the ghost of former owner Sam Ballen – all show up from time to time to give visitors , residents and longtime employees of the heebie -jeebies.
Even though it’s a lot of hooey, it adds to the tradition of La Fonda – and, perhaps, to the fun.
Of course, not everything was rosy. Kimball remembers the dark days of COVID-19, when hotels in the city and across the country closed as the pandemic swept across the country. The living room in town, it seemed, was in danger of becoming empty, dark.
“It was so important that our doors stay open,” Kimball said. “For me and the other owners it was… ‘The show has to go on.’ If it made financial sense, I don’t know. But in the sense of the pillar of the community, we cannot close our doors. It would be a very bad symbol.
Fried said that given the hotel’s long heritage of culture, food, drink, and perhaps spy, especially during the days of the Manhattan Project during WWII, it’s a bit surprisingly Hollywood hasn’t called in to make a movie about it.
“The role he played in WWII is twice the role played by Rick’s Café in the film. Casablanca, “he said.” And unlike Rick’s Café, La Fonda is real and everything that happened there is pretty easy to document. “