La Fonda ren­o­va­tion ends

Home - Santa Fe Real Estate Guide - - CONTENTS - By Paul Wei­de­man

The last phase of the La Fonda ren­o­va­tion is com­plete, or close to it, and the el­e­ment of the project that has re­ceived some early crit­i­cism is the glitzier lounge with its new rounded bar, mod­i­fied ceil­ing, new fur­ni­ture, and re­stricted ac­cess. Pa­trons used to be able to wan­der in af­ter com­ing in along the long hall­way from the San Fran­cisco Street en­trance. The prob­lem with that setup, ac­cord­ing to owner Jenny Kim­ball, was that a num­ber of them would also wan­der out, with­out pay­ing.

The new bar ac­tu­ally harkens back to the old­est bar shown in ho­tel pho­tos and plans. Sur­viv­ing draw­ings from John Gaw Meem, who did a re­design of the ho­tel with ar­chi­tect Mary Colter in the late 1920s, show the din­ing room/kitchen in the lo­ca­tion of the cur­rent lounge. “Our next clue of the bar doesn’t show up un­til a ho­tel brochure that dates a horse­shoe bar be­tween 1949 and 1968,” said ar­chi­tect Bar­bara Felix, who led the re­cent ren­o­va­tions. “Fi­nally, in a 1980s plan we see the straight bar that was re­cently re­moved.”

Vis­i­tors may also lament the re­cent changes in the other public ar­eas, but they are prob­a­bly com­par­ing them to the ap­pear­ance of re­cent decades. The own­ers in­stead wanted to take the space back to what was en­vi­sioned by Colter and the ho­tel’s orig­i­nal ar­chi­tect.

The es­tab­lish­ment harkens back to the 19th cen­tury, when a ho­tel on this site went through var­i­ous in­car­na­tions as the Santa Fe House, U.S. Ho­tel, and the Ex­change Ho­tel, ac­cord­ing to the 2011 book­let From Ev­ery Win­dow: A Glimpse of the Past, writ­ten for La Fonda by Bar­bara J. Har­rel­son. The ho­tel known as La Fonda opened in 1922 and was de­signed by the Rapp, Rapp & Hen­drick­son ar­chi­tec­tural firm from Trinidad, Colo. Three years later, La Fonda was ac­quired by the Atchi­son, Topeka & Santa Fe Rail­road, then leased to the Fred Har­vey Com­pany, which ran it as a Har­vey House for four decades.

In 1926, Meem and Har­vey Co. ar­chi­tect Colter be­gan a three-year re­design. One ob­jec­tive was to sim­plify what were per­ceived as some overly “fussy” el­e­ments by Rapp— but the bold­est change was the ad­di­tion to the south­west cor­ner that in­cludes the dom­i­nant bell tower at Old Santa Fe Trail andWater Street.

One ma­jor goal of the re­cent ren­o­va­tion was to re­turn the lobby, in­clud­ing the bar space, to the “more open, gra­cious feel” seen in pho­to­graphs from the first half of the 20th cen­tury, Felix said. To­ward that end, the front desk, which had been pushed out into the cen­tral space in re­cent decades, has been “tucked back into the ar­chi­tec­ture.” For a sim­i­lar rea­son, the newsstand was pushed back.

“Part of the goal­was to try to open this back up vis­ually. We’re re­ally ex­cited to get this space back for a more open feel­ing again, with bet­ter site­lines, more day­light, and just a friend­lier feel­ing,” Felix said dur­ing an early-April visit. Kim­ball added, “We’re buy­ing back some of the re­tail space for the same rea­son, and the store, now called De­tours, has­moved to the cor­ner, where it used to be.” This was once the lo­ca­tion of the ho­tel’s In­dian Room/Cu­rio Shop, di­rectly on the Santa Fe Plaza. The new store has ab­sorbd

the newsstand func­tion. Work­men also re­cently took down the wall, with win­dows, that stood as a bar­rier be­tween the lobby and the lounge. The wall was a 1980s ad­di­tion. Here and there dur­ing such ren­o­va­tion work in the ho­tel, traces of the orig­i­nal wall plas­ter were en­coun­tered. “It’s been great to con­firm that per letters be­tween Meem and Colter, the orig­i­nal plas­ter color was in fact yel­low,” Felix said. “The cur­rent/new paint is based on the orig­i­nal yel­low plas­ter color.”

In a mid-April state­ment, Felix wrote, “We have had to do ex­ten­sive research through old draw­ings and doc­u­men­ta­tion, pho­to­graphs, and some in­ter­views to try to as­cer­tain when changes were made – and if orig­i­nal ar­chi­tec­tural el­e­ments were still in­tact be­hind hid­den walls. The lobby area has been par­tic­u­larly chal­leng­ing due to the lack of doc­u­men­ta­tion as com­pared to what we could find for other ar­eas of the ho­tel – com­bined with the changes made over the years to bring the build­ing up to code, in­clud­ing the ad­di­tion of sprin­kler lines, fire alarm de­vices, phone/ data lines, and re­place­ment light fix­tures when historic fix­tures were bro­ken or re­moved.”

All the re­tail boxes in the long hall­way have been redone; Gon­za­les Wood works from Grants did the rope and corn/ flower carv­ings based on Meem draw­ings. The east end of that hall­way now ends in an ex­panded vestibule en­try from San Fran­cisco Street, the only ex­te­rior change in the re­cent work. The idea to en­hance that en­trance is log­i­cal, be­cause most guests to­day ar­rive there — ei­ther dropped off by the air­port shut­tle or driv­ing them­selves— rather than the old main en­trance on Old Santa Fe Trail.

The La Fi­esta Lounge now has a tin ceil­ing, re­plac­ing the latil­las that were ap­par­ently added at some point in the more re­cent past. Felix re­lated that Nancy Meem Wirth (daugh­ter of the late John Gaw Meem) re­mem­bers tin pan­els up high on the walls that had pressed train pat­terns, and that­was part of the rea­son­ing be­hind the new tin ceil­ing. It was also done to im­prove acous­tics.

Some things about the lounge have not changed. The Bill Hearne Trio still plays on Mon­day and Tues­day evenings. But nowthere are 10 taps on the bar — there are draft beers for the first time. “We love the his­tory but you do want to make sure you’re stay­ing rel­e­vant,” Felix said. “And at the end of the day, I don’t think any­one wants to walk into a 1920s bar. They want to walk into a 1920s ho­tel, but they want a place to get good food and drinks.”

“We made the de­ci­sion that if we were go­ing to do any­thing cut­ting-edge, it would be the bar, be­cause frankly no­body young was com­ing to our bar,” Kim­ball said. “My part­ner still can’t be­lieve some of what we’re do­ing, but you can al­ways change things out if they don’t work. But we’ve stayed very true to char­ac­ter with the lobby and ev­ery­thing else; the only thing we pushed a bit was the bar. Andwe built the bar around Har­vey, the Colter rab­bit.” That sculp­ture is based on a se­ries of an­i­mal ash­trays Colter had made for the old lounge.

The art­work that hung in the lounge be­fore the ren­o­va­tion is be­ing re-hung in other ar­eas of the ho­tel. “Also, the old tin/painted glass wall sconce fix­tures have been re­paired and have been re-hung in the cor­ri­dors so that more peo­ple can en­joy them,” Felix said. “We have saved historic light fix­tures from other por­tions of the ho­tel, and had them re­paired, in or­der to have them re-hung back in their right­ful place in the lobby.”

She said the work should be wrapped up by mid-month.


La Fi­esta Lounge soon af­ter its com­ple­tion in March. Be­low, a rendering of the lounge with rounded bar


Photo of the La Fonda lobby, circa 1935, by T. Har­mon Parkhurst NEG. NO. 053575 COUR­TESY PALACE OF THE GOVER­NORS PHOTO ARCHIVES (NMHM/DCA)

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