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While most properties undergoing a multimillion dollar facelift want to look younger, the La Fonda on the Plaza in Santa Fe, N.M., set out to embrace its 1920s roots.
Historical records show that a fonda, or inn, sat on this site even earlier, perhaps for nearly 200 years. Located at the end of the Santa Fe Trail, the property was a destination for trappers, soldiers, gold seekers, gamblers and politicians. The current hotel opened in 1922, went bankrupt and was bought by the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad in 1925. The company leased the property to the Fred Harvey Company, which ran it as a Harvey House for four decades. In 1968, local businessman Sam Ballen and his wife Ethel bought the hotel.
“We tried to do what Mary Jane Colter, one of the original architects/designers, would’ve done,” said Jennifer Kimball, chairman of the board of the hotel. “The bones of the hotel are lovely. We just stripped away some of the tchotchkes.”
La Fonda on the Plaza recently underwent a multimillion dollar renovation to bring the property back to its 1920s roots. // © 2014 Ryan Heffernan
It’s believed that a fonda (or inn) has been located on the site for nearly two centuries. // © 2014 Robert Reck
Local and regional artists contributed to the hotel’s new look. // © 2014 James Hart
Because the original property featured twin beds, new king-size headboards were created by combining two headboards. // © 2014 Ryan Heffernan
La Fonda features original Native American art, and no two rooms are alike. // © 2014 Chris Corrie
To take the hotel back to its historic design and colors, Kimball worked with Santa Fe architect Barbara Felix Architecture+Design for seven years.
The design team worked with local and regional artists to design new furniture and lighting based on traditional designs — Mary Colter had brought in Native American artists to decorate the hotel, and many of those works can be found in the rooms and hallways. Each room houses original artwork and no two rooms are alike. According to Kimball, the color palette is reminiscent of those from an Indian pueblo, mostly rusts, browns, yellows and blues.
Among new features in the site’s 179 rooms are king-size headboards made by putting together two 1920s painted wooden headboards, since Harvey House hotels only had twin beds. Chandeliers from the same decade and colorful, hand-painted furnishings light up guestrooms. New rugs with floral designs were added on top of original concrete floors. Upgraded plumbing, wiring and soundproofing were also part of the renovation and bring the hotel into the 21st century. In the future, the design team will renovate the lobby in order to bring it back to its original size.
La Plazuela, the hotel’s main restaurant, was originally an open-air courtyard. The space now features a Spanish-style fountain, a new flagstone floor, an atrium ceiling and hand-painted windows from the 1920s. Classic dishes from the region are on Chef Lane Warner’s menu, and he incorporates local products when available. La Fiesta Lounge is more casual and comes alive at night, when people dressed like actors from a Hollywood Western are two-stepping and enjoying margaritas. From May through October, the Santa Fe sunsets can be best viewed at the Bell Tower Bar atop the hotel.
One advantage of staying at the La Fonda is its location on the plaza. From there, it’s an easy walk to attractions such as the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, the cathedral and many shops and restaurants. For anyone wanting to explore further, there are walking tours from the hotel, off-road tours and ghost walks. Although there’s not a spa at La Fonda, the hotel will work with guests to find off-site spas or to book in-room massages.
Santa Fe is about a one-hour drive from the Albuquerque Airport, so it’s easy to rent a car and drive to the city or book a shuttle.