The Spirit of Hospitality Since 1922

Time Travel through the history of La Fonda

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La Fonda on the Plaza holds a coveted place in a rich tapestry of hospitality that predates American independence.  City records indicate that La Fonda sits on the site of the town's first inn, established when the city was founded by Spaniards in 1607, making our property the oldest hotel corner in America.

Vibrant and eclectic, and a proud member of the Historic Hotels of America, La Fonda's history can be traced back 400 years.  In 1821, Captain William Becknell and his party found their way to La Fonda during the maiden commercial route across the plains from Missouri, establishing the Santa Fe Trail as well as La Fonda's reputation for hospitality.  Throughout the 19th century, La Fonda quickly became the preferred lodging option among trappers, soldiers, gold seekers, gamblers and politicians. The adobe structure changed hands several times as the years progressed, enduring milestones such as the Civil War, railroad expansion and New Mexico statehood, while maintaining its status as a Santa Fe landmark.

Learn more about our history here.

A Vintage Photo Of A TruckA Woman In A White Dress

1920s

The structure that guests enjoy today was built in 1922 and features the influence of architects Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter and John Gaw Meem. Authentic elements including hand carved beams, stained glass skylights and a 25 foot cathedral ceiling create a romantic aura unique to La Fonda's Santa Fe history. Elements of the original design are still evident throughout the hotel, with La Plazuela situated on the hotel's original 1920's outdoor patio, as well as breathtaking skylights, terracotta tile and hammered tin chandeliers in our event venues.

A Vintage Photo Of An Old Building

1925

In 1925, the building changed hands when it was acquired by the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway. The company leased the property to Fred Harvey, a gentleman renowned for his keen sense of hospitality. Harvey introduced his own personal touch and made the inn a Harvey House, a hotel chain noted for its high standards, fine dining and the signature "Harvey Girls," a staff of exceptionally well-trained waitresses.

lobbyHarvey the Rabbit welcomes you to La Fonda

1920s

The hotel’s expansion was much more remarkable than just adding rooms. Under the direction of Harvey’s lead architect and designer, Mary Colter, the hotel embraced Native American and Spanish designer influences from the largest to the smallest detail further defining the Santa Fe look—even down to Jackrabbit ash trays.

A man standing outside Of A Building

1920s

Another Harvey Hotel signature was the introduction of the popular Harvey Detours to La Fonda featuring tour packages featuring lectures and trips to Native American pueblos and historic sites. Tourists from across America and the world flocked to Santa Fe and other Harvey destinations bringing the culture of the Southwest to the world.

A Group Of People Walking Down A Street

1930s

La Fonda’s popularity as the destination for Santa Fe and tourists alike manifested itself in La Fonda’s claim that “all the world passes through our lobby” with artists, writers, politicians, socialites and an assortment of “roustabouts” holding court at La Fonda.

A Display In A Store

1940s

From its beginnings, La Fonda welcomed and fostered the art and culture of Native American and Spanish cultures. The hotel commissioned artwork from local artists.

A Group Of People Posing For A Photo

1950s

Popular musicians appeared at the hotel’s nightclub, The Gates of Spain and performed throughout the hotel, including in the beautiful portal.

A Group Of People Standing In Front Of A Buffet

1950s

From it’s beginnings as a Harvey Hotel, La Fonda has always been known for creative cuisine with unique interpretations of Northern New Mexican fare and upscale European dishes with New Mexican and Native American influences.

A Bedroom With A Bed In A RoomA Man And A Woman Posing For A Photo

1960s

During the ‘60s, La Fonda had begun to lose some of its lusters and at one point there was even discussion of tearing it down. The Ballens came to the rescue dedicating their lives and pocketbook to the rejuvenation and restoration of the hotel and by embracing all things Santa Fe.

Sam held court daily in La Plazuela with politicians, business people and visitors to Santa Fe. Both Sam and Ethel were passionate about New Mexico’s culture fostering relationships with Native American and Hispanic artists

Graphical User InterfaceSmoke Coming From Zozobra

1970s

Always a focal point for Santa Fe celebrations, La Fonda has always been the go-to destination to celebrate Fiestas de Santa Fe.

A Close Up Of A Sign

1980s

During the 80s an eclectic mix of posters and local art were on full display throughout the hotel's corridors.  As Santa Fe became a national hub for music and art festivals, La Fonda was the center of the action and the go-to destination for visitors and performers.

A Group Of People Standing Next To A Window

1990s

Ernest Martinez was a La Fonda employee for more than 50 years who became known for the painted windows at La Plazuela. Martinez won the Santa Fe Mayor's Recognition Award for Excellence in the Arts in 1996.

He was described as a bright-eyed go-getter throughout his long career. Initially hired on a temporary basis to repair furniture, his legacy of work includes more than 480 of La Plazuela’s restaurant windows, each of which is unique. (He painted these in 1961-62 and restored some of the windows that were originally created by an unknown artist.) His work can be seen throughout the hotel, including paintings, tin carvings and painted pillars in the parking garage.

He grew up in La Puebla, north of Santa Fe, and started painting in 1942, when he was only nine years old. As a self-taught artist, he worked in a variety of media, because, he said he never wanted to get bored. He came to La Fonda in 1954. While here, initially hired to repair furniture, his workshop was in the hotel basement. He often worked on three paintings at a time, as well as doing tin work, bronze sculpting and wood work.

Martinez described his works as his "children, not claiming favorites." He often received job offers from elsewhere, but he never wanted to leave, because La Fonda was his "home." In describing his work at La Fonda, he said, "The whole hotel is my gallery."

Martinez retired from La Fonda in 2009.

A Close Up Of A Man Wearing A Hat

1990

In 1990, this second-floor grand ballroom was named by the Ballens in honor of William Lumpkins, (1909-2000), renowned artist, architect and friend. He had been commissioned by the hotel to move the restaurant to the courtyard where it became La Plazuela. Lumpkins, a New Mexico native, was born on Rabbit Ears Ranch near Clayton. A life-long Buddhist, he was a well recognized and highly regarded personality in Santa Fe, often wearing his big signature flat hat and neckerchief.

Multi-talented and multi-faceted are understatements. For a period, he had an architectural firm in La Jolla, California where, among other notable buildings, he designed the Chancellor’s residence for the University of California, San Diego. He was a member of the Transcendental Painting Group (formed in 1938); known in the art world for his abstract watercolors; and, a co-founder of the Santa Fe Art Institute in 1985. Also an accomplished architect, Lumpkins is best credited as the designer of over 2,000 buildings in New Mexico and California, including the design of the DeVargas Shopping Center here in Santa Fe. He was also instrumental in the restoration of the Santuario de Guadalupe.

As an entrepreneur and inventor, he was recognized as a pioneer in passive solar engineering for residential construction, founding Sun Mountain Designs in 1972. Additionally, as an internationally respected expert in Contemporary Adobe construction, he authored the adobe specifications chapter of the Universal Building Code and published several books on the subject.

The Lumpkins Ballroom has been a preeminent site for innumerable Santa Fe community and private celebrations since its inception, and the tradition continues today.

La Plazuela Restaurant offers authentic Santa Fe cuisine

2000s

Barbara Felix was asked to give the dining room "a light facelift," that included repairing the sinking floor and leaking skylights. Honoring the spirit of Colter and Meem, Felix replaced leaking, inefficient skylights with wood beams and decking and hip-roof style skylights more akin to the original skylights that once were in the lobby. (The opening of the lobby ceiling directly outside the restaurant entry is the original skylight. A new skylight was added in the roof above this opening as well as one in the south mezzanine at the same time the restaurant was renovated).

The original flagstone floor was buckling, sinking, and pulling away from the walls, so Felix had core samples drilled to understand what was causing this. Age, condensation from enclosing the restaurant and the old fountain lines were all determined to be culprits. It is possible there was once a well in the fountain location, and could have also contributed to some sinking of the floor.

During re-construction, it was found that the original (sadly, broken) fountain tiles had been used to infill the fountain area. Felix' dedication to following Meem and Colter's design vision for the courtyard resulted in her finding quarry stones in nearby Lamy, thus matching the new flagstone to the original stones. The new flagstone floor is on top of a layer of concrete and visqueen barrier (plastic) that is protecting the original flagstone flooring that is still beneath the current floor. Because the floor is now the same height as the adjacent corridors, Felix was able to remove the ramps and return the fountain to the overall design.

Felix conducted paint samples on the existing doors, posts and corbels, and was able to determine the original courtyard colors were cream and natural wood, not turquoise and dark stain. The original wood doors to the north and south entries (now the main entry) were missing, so she added steel-framed doors to lead one's eye directly to the Arnold Ronnebeck sculpture in the south portal lounge. The sculpture was originally commissioned by Colter. The hotel still has a few original steel windows, but most of the original windows were wood.

The interior designer for La Plazuela, Vivian Nichols, enlisted artisans to hand-forge the light fixtures and create hand-carved painted chairs. Felix worked with local artisans to hand-forge the hardware, repair carvings and faux-paint the woodwork (the dark-stained black paint is still beneath and contains lead).

These most recent renovations took thousands of hours and included talented interior designers, contractors and other artists. In 2014, this project earned the City of Santa Fe’s Historic Preservation Division Architectural Preservation Award for maintaining historic integrity.

La Fonda cozy accommodations

2000s

In 2013, an extensive renovation was completed. The multi-million dollar renovation included new exterior stucco to the entire building, the guest rooms were refurbished with new plumbing, windows and insulation.  The luxury accommodations were designed to offer a unique blend of modern and historic furnishings with a return to Mary Jane Colter's original interior design elements. These enhancements were brought about by extensive research at the behest of architect Barbara Felix and La Fonda's CEO Jennifer Kimball. Today, there are 180 guest rooms in the hotel.

In October, 2014 Jennifer Kimball and her brother Philip Wise along with his firm, Cienda Partners, acquired the property, eager to continue the hotel’s rich legacy of gracious hospitality amid extraordinary surroundings, maintaining La Fonda's position as a prized national treasure, perfect for guests in town for all occasions, from art tours to beautiful Santa Fe weddings.

View of the Sky from the Bell Tower Bar just after Sunset

2020s

La Fonda's distinction as an unforgettable destination has never been clearer. As the hotel closes in on 100 years of hospitality, we remain committed to providing sustainable, equitable and accessible travel experiences, service and employment for years to come.