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Discover the hotel La Fonda with its rich tradition of hospitality, housed in Pueblo style architecture with fixtures.

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La Fonda, a member of Historic Hotels of America since 1991, dates back to 1922.


La Fonda’s History

There has been a hotel on the site of La Fonda on the Plaza since the 1600s. Jenny Kimball, La Fonda’s Chairman of the Board, explains the construction of the current hotel in the 1920s.


A member of Historic Hotels of America since 1991, La Fonda has been one of Santa Fe’s most recognizable icons for centuries. It also bears the distinction of being among the most historic holiday destinations in the entire United States, as early municipal records indicate that an inn operated on the site at the time of the city’s founding in 1607. (Interestingly, some additional sources seem to state that it may have opened in 1610.) Over the course of the next two centuries, travelers from across North America would visit La Fonda as they passed through Santa Fe along the El Camino Real de Tierra Adento. When Captain William Becknell forged the path that would become the “Santa Fe Trail” in 1821, he and his party stayed at the inn upon arriving at Santa Fe’s central plaza. But Captain Becknell would be just the first of many frontiersmen and trailblazers who would visit the inn over the next few decades. Soon after New Mexico became a U.S. territory in the wake of the Mexican-American War, several American transplants purchased the inn and changed its name to be the “United States Hotel.” But many Mexican residents referred to the building as the “La Fonda Americana.” Its gambling hall quickly emerged as its most attractive feature, which provided a source of amusement on the frontier. The inn thus became a haven for rough outlaws and gangsters. The Chief Justice of the Territorial Supreme Court, John P. Slough, was even shot to death inside the inn by Captain William Rynerson. Rynerson was a member of the territorial legislature who represented the people of Dona Ana County. He and his local political allies had found Judge Slough to be incredibly arrogant and attempted to remove him from office. Slough, in turn, insulted Rynerson’s character, enraging the captain. Rynerson then fired a bullet into Slough when the latter refused to apologize for his slander. Though Rynerson was tried, he was later acquitted.

In 1881, the original inn was subsequently sold to Dr. Robert Longwell and Abraham Staab. Staab took a leading role in operating the business, due to his experience as a successful merchant. (Staab would also build a brilliant mansion in downtown Santa Fe that would eventually become a resort called the “La Posada de Santa Fe.” This venue is another member of Historic Hotels of America.) Staab upgraded the building significantly, installing a series of retail shop spaces along the façade facing San Francisco Street. The inn unfortunately burned down in 1912, though, leaving the beloved local icon a charred wreck. Undeterred, the Santa Fe Builders Corporation began seeking ways in which to raise the appropriate finances to reconstruct the hotel. Yet, the inn’s fate remained quite uncertain for several years thereafter. Nevertheless, local business leaders came together and resolved to save the ailing structure. In 1920, the Santa Fe Builders Corporation finally raised enough capital to reconstruct the inn through the sale of some $200,000-worth of bonds. Architect Isaac Hamilton Rapp then designed the new building, using Spanish Colonial Revival-style architecture. Some have called Rapp as the “Creator of the Santa Fe Style,” as he was among the first to popularize the use of historical Spanish American design aesthetics in the nation. The inn subsequently reopened as the “La Fonda” few months later. But in 1926, The Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway purchased the hotel and leased it to hotelier Fred Harvey and his renowned hospitality chain. The business then hired architect John Gaw Meem and designer Mary E.J. Colter to recreate the building as a luxurious “Harvey House.” Harvey House itself was a hotel chain noted for its high standards, fine dining, and a staff of exceptionally well-trained waitresses known as the “Harvey Girls.” When their work finally concluded, La Fonda stood as one of the most exceptional “Harvey House” in America.

La Fonda continued to operate under the care of the Fred Harvey Company until 1968, when Sam and Ethel Ballen purchased the building for a sum of one million dollars. By this point, the Fred Harvey Company had been absorbed by Amfac Inc., the precursor of today’s Xanterra Parks and Resorts. The Ballens invested heavily into saving the La Fonda, as the building had fallen into considerable disrepair. Their efforts to reverse the decay did much to save the building’s historical architecture and timeless elegance. But when Sam Ballen passed away in 2007, he left La Fonda in the hands of his descendants. The building had grown again to be quite dilapidated, as a host of structural problems had come to plague the structure. As such, Ballen’s heirs began looking for a new owner who could take over the ailing business. Jennifer Kimball gathered a group of investors and bought La Fonda from the Ballen family. Kimball herself was an attorney who had spent a quarter of a century working for the Ballens and had developed a close relationship with the family. But Kimball was determined to preserve the legacy of Sam and Ethel Ballen, sparing no expense to ensure that La Fonda was truly revitalized. The recent renovations took the better part of a decade to complete, with nearly every inch of the building completely restored. Jennifer Kimball herself worked closely withSanta Fe-based architect and interior designer Barbara Felix to resurrect La Fonda. The work that the two managed to accomplish was nothing short of spectacular. Thanks in large part to their diligence, the hotel’s brilliance radiated unlike ever before. La Fonda has since become one of the best destinations in downtown Santa Fe. It is currently close to a number of outstanding cultural attractions, including the Georgia O’Keefe Museum, the Santa Fe Plaza, and the historic Palace of the Governors. La Fonda is also a contributing structure within the renowned Santa Fe Historic District, which is listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.

  • About the Location +

    Santa Fe, New Mexico, is one of the most historic capital cities in America, founded around the same time the English first arrived in the Chesapeake Bay. While a tiny frontier outpost resided in the region as early as 1607, Santa Fe was not formally founded for another three years. The Spanish conquistador, Don Pedro de Peralta, had traveled north to the settlement and decided to transform it into an actual town. Peralta was the acting governor of Santa Fe de Nuevo México, which functioned as the colonial administrative region for the Spanish lands that resided between the provinces of Texas and California. He subsequently called the new town “La Villa Real de la Santa Fé de San Francisco de Asis,” and declared it the capital of Nuevo México. Several new administrative buildings then emerged around a quaint central plaza, such as the Palacio de los Gobernadores (Palace of the Governors). The community continued to represent the authority of the Spanish Crown in Nuevo México for the next several decades, until an uprising by the local Pueblo people drove out the settlers in 1681. Poor treatment and scant political representation in the colonial administration had caused the revolt to occur, which successfully forced all the Spanish and Mexican settlers to flee as far south as El Paso. Don Diego de Vargas eventually recaptured all of Nuevo México nearly ten years later, leading to the repopulation of La Villa Real de la Santa Fé de San Francisco de Asis. Subsequent generations of colonial governors—as well as the population as a whole—adopted a policy that sought better cultural relations between the two societies, ushering forth a period of relative peace that lasted for more than a century.

    La Villa Real de la Santa Fé continued to operate as the main administrative capital for Nuevo México right up until the Mexican War for Independence erupted in 1810. After more than 11 years of hard fighting, Mexico seceded from the Spanish Empire to form its own nation. Santa Fe remained the capital of the region, even as it became a province of the newly independent Mexico. The town had grown into something of a city by this point, with several thousand settlers living within its boundaries. Its emerging commercial opportunities soon attracted traders from the United States, who started traveling to the area in large numbers. Their migration south became all the more easy when William Becknell constructed the 1,000-mile-long pathway known as the “Santa Fe Trail.” Americans quickly established makeshift shops all along the historic central plaza, making it a major economic center in Mexico’s frontier. The United States eventually seized the city—along with the rest of Nuevo México—following its victory in the Mexican-American War. Nuevo México was reborn as the “Territory of New Mexico” with Santa Fe serving as its capital. The new American administration had also taken to referring to the city simply as “Santa Fe,” although its original name remained unchanged. The town only kept growing, though, as its size expanded exponentially. Some of the city’s most recognizable landmarks appeared during this time, such as the great Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi. Then, in the 1880s, Santa Fe was connected to the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad, which caused an economic renaissance to transpire throughout the entire city. Yet, political corruption also spread across Santa Fe, with even some of the era’s greatest outlaws—like Billy the Kid—frequenting the area regularly.

    Fortunately—thanks in large part to the efforts of Governor Lew Wallace—federal administrators were eventually able to clean up the town. (Wallace was a Union war hero and author of Ben-Hur). Despite its brief time spent as a hive for criminal activity, people still continued to relocate to Santa Fe. Its importance to New Mexico’s political landscape remained intact, too, serving as its capital when it finally became a state in 1912. Yet, some of the new arrivals were attracted to the city not only for its economic prospects, but its dry, warm climate. People suffering from tuberculosis particularly found the area’s environment intriguing, as it helped them combat the effects of their debilitating illness. Not long thereafter, regular Americans began heading south to the city upon hearing stories of its beautiful weather. As such, a vibrant tourism industry appeared to serve the influx of new travelers. Artists even began relocating to Santa Fe, inspired by the region’s desert landscape. Among the artists who spent time in the city in the mid-20th century was the iconic Georgia O’Keefe, who created many wonderful paintings of New Mexico’s geography. Those intellectuals developed a thriving community of art galleries and studios that has lasted well into the present. In fact, UNESCO has even recently included Santa Fe within its Creative Cities Network. Today, much of Santa Fe’s historic downtown is recognized collectively as a U.S. National Historic Landmark. Some of the specific buildings themselves are identified as individually National Historic Landmarks, too, including the prolific Palace of the Governors. Around since 1610, it is the single oldest municipal building in the entire United States!

  • About the Architecture +

    In 1922, the Santa Fe Builders Corporation commissioned architect Isaac Hamilton Rapp to craft the appearance of its new hotel, “La Fonda.” Renowned as one of the architects responsible for the diffusion of Spanish American design principles into mainstream American culture, Rapp used a brilliant combination of Spanish Colonial Revival-style architecture to create La Fonda. Architect John Gaw Meem and designer Mary E.J. Colter further expanded upon Rapp’s work when the two were hired by the Fred Harvey Company to redesign La Fonda some four years later. Meem installed a six-story bell tower onto the façade, as well as guestroom extensions along both Water Street and the historic Santa Fe Trail. Meanwhile, Colter and several local craftsmen built a variety of new details into the interior that reflected authentic Spanish and Native American culture. All kinds of fantastic structural components appeared inside the hotel under her watch, such as wooden beams and corbels, hand-painted furnishings, tin and copper light fixtures, colorful tiles and textiles, and wrought-iron railings. The Fred Harvey Company also assigned local artists the task of producing paintings, sculptures, and murals to enliven the building, many of which are still on display today. One of the greatest pieces of artwork in the collection were the dynamic illustrations of Gerald Cassidy, which depict historical scenes of life on the frontier. Other renowned works of art included Paul Lantz’s depiction of a Mexican village and Ernest Martinez’s priceless motifs.

    Also known as “Spanish Eclectic,” Spanish Colonial Revival Revival-style architecture itself is one of the most popular throughout the entire United States. It has influenced architects for generations, especially those located in the western-half of the country. True to its name, Spanish Colonial Revival-style is a representation of themes typically seen in early Spanish colonial settlements. Original Spanish colonial architecture borrowed its design principles from Moorish, Renaissance, and Byzantine forms, which made it incredibly decorative and ornate. The general layout of those structures called for a central courtyard, as well as thick stucco walls that could endure Latin America’s diverse climate. Among the most recognizable features within those colonial buildings involved heavy carved doors, spiraled columns, and gabled red-tile roofs. Architect Bertram Goodhue was the first to widely popularize Spanish Colonial architecture in the United States, spawning a movement to incorporate the style more broadly in American culture at the beginning of the 20th century. Goodhue received a platform for his designs at the Panama-California Exposition of 1915, in which Spanish Colonial architecture was exposed to a national audience for the first time. His push to preserve the form led to a revivalist movement that saw widespread use of Spanish Colonial architecture throughout the country, specifically in California and Florida. Spanish Colonial Revival-style architecture reached its zenith during the early 1930s, although a few American businesspeople continued to embrace the form well into the late 20th century.

  • Famous Historic Guests +

    John Wayne, actor known for his roles in The Man Who Shot Liberty Vance, True Grit, and The Longest Day.
    Simone de Beauvoir, existentialist and author known for her works The Second Sex, She Came to Stay, and The Mandarins.
    John P. Slough, Chief Justice of the Territorial Supreme Court of New Mexico
    **Ulysses S. Grant, 18th President of the United States (1869 – 1877)
    John F. Kennedy, 35th President of the United States (1961 – 1963)

    **Grant visited in the years before the current iteration of La Fonda was ever constructed

  • Film, TV and Media Connections +

    Ride the Pink Horse (1947)

    Mysteries at the Hotel: Dueling Politicians, Nuclear Intel; Seattle Scammers” (2014)

  • Women in History +

    Mary E.J. Colter: One of the architects responsible for giving La Fonda its iconic appearance, Mary E.J. Colter is remembered today as one of the most prolific architects in American history. Not only is Colter responsible for helping establish National Park Service Rustic architecture as a style, but she also managed to promote her work at a time when architectural design was a male-dominated industry. Born in Pittsburgh right after the American Civil War, Colter moved around the country with her family before finally settling down in St. Paul, Minnesota. From there, Cotler began studying architecture and eventually enrolled into the California School of Design at the height of the Gilded Age. After relocating back to St. Paul to teach architecture for a few years, Colter secured a position as an interior decorator with the esteemed hotel business, the Fred Harvey Company, in 1902. While only seasonal in nature, she nonetheless made a memorable first impression. For instance, her work with the Alvarado Hotel’s special Indian Building in Albuquerque, New Mexico, was regarded as an absolute masterpiece. (The Alvarado Hotel is no longer standing, as the building’s owner, the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway, demolished it during the 1970s.)

    By 1910, Colter had become a permanent, full-time employee of the Fred Harvey Company, designing numerous interior designs. In fact, Colter had established herself as the led architect for many of the corporation’s numerous buildings projects throughout the Southwestern United States. She specifically affected the designs of many outstanding hotels, including La Fonda, which the Fred Harvey Company had managed for a time in the early 20th century. Perhaps Colter’s finest work transpired in Grand Canyon National Park during the 1930s, where she created and renovated several beautiful recreational structures, like the hotels Phantom Ranch and the Bright Angel Lodge & Cabins. Colter specifically synthesized numerous historic architectural examples throughout the project, such as Spanish Colonial, Mission Revival, and the Arts and Crafts Movement. Her architectural approach subsequently inspired many other contemporary architects, including those employed on behalf of the National Park Service. Indeed, the National Park Service would even incorporate aspects of Colter’s designs into its greater “National Park Service Rustic” aesthetic. Today, Mary E.J. Colter is hailed as one of the most influential architects of 20th-century America, as well as a pioneer for women who have since followed her into the field of professional architecture.

    Simone de Beauvoir: In 1948, Simone de Beauvoir arrived in Santa Fe during her famous four-month-long trip across the United States. The renowned author had visited many major cities throughout the country, traveling to each destination onboard a Greyhound bus. Even though Santa Fe was less extravagant than many of the other places she visited, de Beauvoir believed that the city proved to be far more attractive due to its historical character. In fact, she ranked Santa Fe superior in its charm when compared to the sprawling metropolises of Chicago and Los Angeles. She even commented that, “La Fonda is the most beautiful hotel in America, perhaps the most beautiful I have ever seen in my life.” The came from a place of were high praise, as Simone de Beauvoir was among the most prominent literary figures in the 20th century. Born in Paris in 1908, Simone de Beauvoir grew into one of the most influential authors of her time, writing many philosophical transcripts on the theories of Existentialism. Much of her work also challenged reigning concepts about gender and sex, which subsequently guided generations of feminists for many years thereafter.

    Simone de Beauvoir got her start at the Sarbonne, where she studied directly under renowned German philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. While attending university, she met the great Jean-Paul Sartre, and the two formed a romantic connection that greatly impacted both of their lives. After teaching at a few schools during the 1930s, de Beauvoir began to embrace writing as her primary career. She produced her first book in 1943—a novel entitled She Came to Stay—which used her complicated romance with Sartre to explore the role of the conscience in relationships. Simone de Beauvoir subsequently wrote many additional books, with her most prominent being The Second Sex. Printed in 1949, it was a criticism of the historical patriarchy that dominated Western society throughout its history. Today, The Second Sex is often regarded as one of the most important works ever produced in regard to modern feminism. She also dabbled in writing several autobiographies toward the end of her life, as well as a few celebrated investigations into the phenomenon of old age. Having passed away in 1984, Simone de Beauvoir is remembered today as one of the century’s most celebrated intellectuals and civil rights activists.