This is Part III and the final installment of a three-part history post from our Chef Concierge, Steve Wimmer on the occasion of La Fonda’s 90th birthday. You can read the first two installments here and here.
Not a great deal is known about this party as at that time the New Mexican did not publish on Sundays or Holidays. So the first description of any goings on at La Fonda was the exuberant articles about the inaugural ball for the New Governor held on New Years Eve. The whole town of who’s -who’s turned out for this party. And darn, we must have been fabulous caterers going from opening on December 30, 1922 to a huge formal party two days later for over 1000 people!
Many people that night had dinner in the Grill which was on the San Francisco Street corner of the hotel on the spot now occupied by the Indian Shop and Mama’s Minerals. The only problem with the restaurant and its large plate glass windows was that it encouraged curious locals to come stare at diners while they ate—sort of an early form of Santa Fe Television.
Our own beloved Gerald Cassidy and his wife Ina were the chairs of the decorating committee. They used a new technique in making sunbursts of material called tie-dyeing. Could it be that Santa Fe was the epicenter of the tie-dying in America for the last 90 years???
The Le Bon Ton Orchestra came from Albuquerque to provide the dance music that night. The dance began at 10 PM and went on till morning. Songs you could have danced to would have been Toot Toot Toosie, April Showers, Three o’clock in the Morning, Sheik of Araby, Way down yonder in New Orleans, and I am just wild about Harry.
No doubt the ladies had little flasks in their garter belts because we were at the height of Prohibition. Budweiser could be served and there were six stills within a two block radius of the Plaza. Our own Will Schuster was said to be a purveyor of some good stuff.
The good times ended in 1924 when the hotel which had originally cost $250,000 went bankrupt by February of 1924 and closed – all for the paltry sum of $50.000. It sat empty for two years until the Santa Fe Railroad bought the property and leased it to the Fred Harvey Corporation. The sale price was $165,000. Then came a golden era for La Fonda, as one of the Flagship Hotels in the Fred Harvey collection of hotels known for their legendary hospitality—the new and improved look brought to us by John Gaw Meem and Mary Jane Colter.