Art of Space

The restora­tion of La Cas­tañeda in Las Ve­gas

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO - Paul Wei­de­man

On a re­cent day in mid-Septem­ber, dozens of work­ers were busy in­side and out­side the his­toric Cas­tañeda Ho­tel as own­ers Al­lan Af­feldt and Tina Mion pre­pared to open seven rooms in an­other month or so. It will be the first time in 70 years that guests have stayed in the es­tab­lish­ment at 524 Rail­road Av­enue in Las Ve­gas.

The cou­ple se­ri­ously dove into the project in midJan­uary. “We’re try­ing to do in a year and a half here what we spent 10 years do­ing in Winslow,” Af­feldt said. He was re­fer­ring to the 1930 La Posada Ho­tel and Gar­dens in Winslow, Ari­zona, which he and Mion, an artist and his wife, own and op­er­ate. Mion added, “We’re still work­ing on La Posada af­ter 21 years. We moved in with $5,000 and a chair and my brother and an­other col­lege friend, so it was four of us and ba­si­cally no money.”

In the spring of 2014, they pur­chased both La Cas­tañeda and the 1882 Plaza Ho­tel in the older part of Las Ve­gas. They did ren­o­va­tions at the Plaza be­fore start­ing on the old ho­tel in the city’s rail­road dis­trict. One of the first tasks there was as­bestos re­me­di­a­tion; the haz­ardous ma­te­rial had been used ex­ten­sively to wrap pipes. On Sept. 14, one crew worked on the ho­tel’s south side, paint­ing the flat-roof sec­tion above one of the ho­tel’s log­gias or ar­cades. The U-shaped build­ing de­signed by Fred­er­ick Roehrig has log­gias, in­cor­po­rat­ing more than 50 arched open­ings, along most of its sides. The open part of the build­ing, with a cen­tral tower be­hind a court­yard, faces the rail­road tracks, and its two points — the ends of the build­ing’s south and north wings — ter­mi­nate with mis­sion­style gable façades.

The Santa Fe Rail­way built the rather courtly brick ho­tel in 1898, then con­tracted with the Fred Har­vey Com­pany to op­er­ate it. The ho­tel was named for Pe­dro de Cas­tañeda de Na­jera, a man who chron­i­cled Fran­cisco Coron­ado’s 1540-1542 ex­pe­di­tion to what is now the Amer­i­can South­west.

Roehrig and the builder used steel rail­road rails for the joists be­tween the base­ment and the first floor. Those are still in good shape, but other ar­eas suf­fered from seven decades of ne­glect. “This is about 30,000 square feet, less than half of La Posada, which was struc­turally per­fect,” Af­feldt said. “This was in much worse con­di­tion. The north­west corner failed. We had to ex­ca­vate that and put in a new foun­da­tion and in­stall hel­i­cal piers to jack it up.”

Up­dat­ing the elec­tri­cal sys­tem, in­clud­ing ac­com­mo­da­tions for a new four-story el­e­va­tor, was a big job. So was the ac­cess-re­build­ing pro­gram. “To give you an idea of how com­pli­cated this project was, it was Vic­to­rian era, right? So from the out­side to the in­side, it was a step up, be­tween seven and nine inches. This en­tire ar­cade has been re­done, 6,000 square feet of

brick.” The depth of the en­tire paved sur­face un­der all of the log­gias was in­creased with a con­crete pad and then was topped with the orig­i­nal brick. “The main rea­son was to get rid of the step up. Oth­er­wise, you’d need a ramp at ev­ery door, which would look weird.

“Now we’re do­ing the same thing with the roof; all this white wood you see is new lum­ber milled here in Las Ve­gas by Old Wood, LLC. There’s an in­te­gral gut­ter all along the out­side edge, and when the gut­ters failed the water went down into the deck­ing. Ev­ery one of the rafter-tails was re­built, and many of the boards be­tween them are new.”

Most of the win­dows on the first floor are eight-overone, and on the sec­ond floor, they’re eight-over-two. And there are sec­ond-floor bay win­dows on ev­ery façade. Ev­ery win­dow had to be re­built. The cou­ple saved a lot of the orig­i­nal glass and ac­tu­ally set up a glaz­ing shop on the premises.

The new own­ers are build­ing spa­cious suites out of the old rooms, which shared just a few bath­rooms in the ho­tel. There will be stained-glass tran­soms at func­tional room doors and opaque tran­soms at the fixed doors, which were ac­tual doors to rooms in the old ho­tel. “Now that we’re com­bin­ing spa­ces into suites, only about 40 per­cent of the old doors are func­tional,” Af­feldt said. The rooms have hand­some wood floors and top-down, sin­gle-hung win­dows; work­ers had to dis­as­sem­ble each win­dow to re­place the weight-ropes.

“Each room will be named af­ter a New Mex­ico an­i­mal, and there will be a stained-glass win­dow,” Mion said, stand­ing in one of the new spa­ces, which showed paint sam­ples on one wall. “This is the Owl Room. There will be fetish boxes, too, in­side. In the Bee Room, for ex­am­ple, we’ll have a lit­tle bit of a hive, and a story about the bee in New Mex­ico and whether it’s en­dan­gered.” The rooms boast pic­ture rails and thick base­board mold­ings; all base­boards and other mold­ings were re­moved and re­paired. “That’s a level of de­tail it’s hard to imag­ine many peo­ple would go to, but the end re­sult will be a build­ing with tremen­dous in­tegrity,” Af­feldt said. The new bath­rooms will be out­fit­ted with en­caus­tic tiles from San Luis Po­tosí, Mex­ico. The pat­terns are not sim­ply painted on; each tile is man­u­fac­tured with through-color so that when it wears, the color pat­terns won’t change.

Ar­eas of the din­ing-room ceil­ing, which is com­posed of dis­tinc­tive and very de­tailed stamped-tin pan­els, have been re­placed with plas­ter. “We have a guy on our crew who’s a mad chemist and he made a mold of the orig­i­nal pieces and cast them in plas­ter and then feath­ered them in, to fill in ar­eas where the tin rot­ted out. Be­cause you can’t buy this any­more,” Af­feldt said. “One of the most won­der­ful things about this pro­gram is the in­cred­i­bly tal­ented lo­cal crew.”

“And how proud they are to be work­ing on this build­ing,” Mion said.

“It’s not of­ten that you get a chance to feel like you’re work­ing on his­tory,” con­struc­tion fore­man Jor­dan Grimm said, “and you want to build some­thing that

“It’s not of­ten that you get a chance to feel like you’re work­ing on his­tory, and you want to build some­thing that will last a hun­dred years.” — con­struc­tion fore­man Jor­dan Grimm

will last a hun­dred years.” Con­ner Re­ichert, a re­cent grad­u­ate of the Univer­sity of New Mex­ico School of Ar­chi­tec­ture and Plan­ning, pro­duced de­tailed draw­ings for the own­ers.

Dur­ing the walk­through, the own­ers pointed out one of the sec­ond­floor win­dows across Rail­road Av­enue, where other ven­er­a­ble com­mer­cial ed­i­fices are un­der restora­tion. “When we started look­ing at this build­ing 15 years ago,” Mion said, “we’d drive by and we’d say, ‘This build­ing is de­pen­dent on this part of the street be­ing re­stored.’ Now there’s a whole re­nais­sance go­ing on here.” Am­trak’s South­west Chief, which runs be­tween Chicago and Los An­ge­les, stops twice a day at the 1899 de­pot right next to the Cas­tañeda. But Af­feldt and Mion look to trav­el­ers on I-25 rather than those rid­ing the rails for the suc­cess of their ven­ture.

At the end of Septem­ber, Mion said room rates and the menu were still to be de­ter­mined. The ho­tel’s din­ing room will seat about 80, with 50 more in the bar and lounge room. Mion was look­ing for­ward to do­ing some restora­tion work on a car­toon­ish cow­boy mu­ral they dis­cov­ered hid­den un­der sheetrock in the bar, which was pre­vi­ously the lunch­room. The cou­ple wasn’t sure where they would dis­play an amaz­ing old bul­bous par­lor stove with in­tact mica win­dows. A fu­ture phase of their work on the ho­tel will in­volve fix­ing up the newly in­su­lated at­tic with a mu­seum. “It will be like a wun­derkam­mer with cab­i­nets of old mem­o­ra­bilia about Fred Har­vey in New Mex­ico,” Af­feldt said. The at­tic will also hold his of­fice, in the south wing, and Mion’s stu­dio in the north wing. “I’ve never had north light be­fore. Look at the size of this wall!” the painter cried. “My knees are get­ting old, and I’m on my knees all the time in my job be­cause I do work from floor to ceil­ing and my ceil­ing’s so low that I have to paint up­side-down or on my knees.”

Af­feldt will sat­isfy a long­stand­ing de­sire to con­struct a bridge with a struc­ture, built through the mid­dle of a large sky­light, that will con­nect the two halves of the at­tic realm. “It will be so beau­ti­ful,” he said. Mion added, “In­stead of go­ing through the ho­tel, we’ll walk through the at­tic to get to each other. The el­e­va­tor will open at Al’s of­fice, and he’ll have a special key that only we can use to go up to the fourth floor.”

The vis­i­tor can see mas­sive nuts on bolts in the floor joists of the at­tic. “Re­mem­ber that there are no col­umns in the din­ing room and kitchen space, so this whole 45-foot-long room is sus­pended from up here,” Af­feldt said. “This com­pound truss sys­tem holds up that ceil­ing. This was built by rail­road en­gi­neers.” In­ter­ested peo­ple can fol­low the progress of the ho­tel restora­tion at cas­taneda­ho­tel.org, and view video clips on var­i­ous re­con­struc­tion pro­jects at hotel­cas­taneda.blog.

Af­ter all this work, do the own­ers ex­pect to emerge in the black? “This has to be a la­bor of love first, then what you hope is that other peo­ple love it as much as you do,” Af­feldt said. “Even­tu­ally, like La Posada, it will be very suc­cess­ful. La Posada is 90-per­cent oc­cu­pied, but when we started it was just like Las Ve­gas.”

Will the ho­tel be open by Christ­mas? “The­o­ret­i­cally, but we will con­tinue to add on and do fur­nish­ings. Even­tu­ally, there will be a stair up into the belvedere [the top level of the tower]. There’s no way to get to it ex­cept by lad­der from the out­side.” The cou­ple is also in­ves­ti­gat­ing ways to re­move cal­cium stains on the ex­te­rior brick. “Ba­si­cally, it will never be fin­ished,” Mion said.

An­tique par­lor stove

Plas­ter ceil­ing “patch” pan­els

New win­dows; all photos Paul Wei­de­man

Sky­light

Clock­wise from far left, Col. Theodore Roo­sevelt at the first Rough Rid­ers Re­union, La Cas­tañeda Ho­tel, 1899, Neg. No. 014292; Har­vey In­dian De­tour ve­hi­cles in front of the ho­tel, 1926, photo Ed­ward Kemp, Neg. No. 046947; La Cas­tañeda, circa 1904, photo Louis C. Mc­Clure, Neg. No. 014705; all photos cour­tesy Palace of the Gov­er­nors Photo Ar­chives (NMHM/DCA)

Room wall in progress

Orig­i­nal bak­ery oven

Rafters and new in­stal­la­tion

A fact board in the ho­tel

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