Sunday, 19 April 2015 15:20

From Old Fonda to La Fonda

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From Old Fonda To La Fonda


Arthur Sott



The above photograph is from my grandfather's (Arthur Seligman) persdional collection. There is no information other than the caption "Old Fonda" written in pencil; no date, location, or photographer.

   I have been able to identify the photo as the Exchange Hotel always known by locals and in newspapers as the "old Fonda." The photo was taken from around Water Street looking northeast up Shelby street toward the pl;aza.. It was taken prior to the May 1916 leveling of the building but sometime after the hotel was well dilapidated.  I would date it as being taken between 1914 and 1916. The photo is consistent with a photo looking the opposite direction toward Water Street dated 1910 (Source unknown) shown below:


   The stagecoach in the Seligman photo is curious. However, my grandfather owned two stagecoaches so my guess is that this was one of them.  The coaches were donated to the New Mexico Historical Society in 1935. One is currently on display at New Mexico History Museum (Palace of The Governors) and the other at the  Lincoln County Courthouse State Monument.

    According to "Windows on the Past" by Sandra G. Lynn,"prior to 1848 the public house , which would always be known as the "American fonda, was  named the Santa Fe House and by mid-1848 it changed hands and became the U. S. Hotel." In March of 1851 it burned down, was quickly rebuilt, and renamed the Exchange Hotel.

   In 1881 the hotel was sold to Abraham Stabb (the largest land-owner in town) and Dr. Robert Longwill.  Ms. Lynn states that the hotel was dilapidated when Stabb and Longwill bought it.  She goes on " So the Sraabs began to exert some of their considerable clout in the Jewish community to raise money for a major renovation. -- The money was used co make substantial changes in the building, primarily enlarging it. Shops were added on San Francisco street and  general improvements made."

   In December 1908, The New Mexican reported that "Mrs. N. M. Thornton, recently in charge of the   kitchen and dining room of the Diaz sanatorium, has opened a private boarding house in the historic old fonda at the southeast corner of the plaza. The ancient place once the scene of exciting times when it was used as the Exchange hotel during the balmy days of the Santa Fe Trail has been converted into a very cozy and modern home. Painters, decorators, paperhangers, and kalsominers have been making the changes."

   By April 1916 the building was in ruins again and the city council asked the owner, Mr. T. Z. Winter to remove the building or face condemnation proceedings. Again in June 1916 the City Council ordered Mr. Winter to remove the building within thirty days or face condemnation.

   It was, however, another three years before the demolition took place. Plans had been obtained for a new fonda to be built on the site of the old fonda. The New Mexican announced on May 2, 1919,  that it was to be centered around a central courtyard, three stories (including the basement)on Water street and one on San Francisco. The old fonda was demolished by an Army tank during a drive for Victory Bonds at the end of World War I on May 9, 1919. For each $100 Victory bond sold the tank would "attack" the old adobe walls. The new hotel was to be named La Fonda. Citizens apparently were growing impatient and the paper reported on November 18, 1919,  "HURTS REAL ESTATE VALUES. There is no denying that real estate values are hurt in Santa Fe by the fact that two of the best business corners in the city are vacant. It is just as certain that as a hotel rises on the old Fonda corner or old Lamy block corner, that every other bit of real estate in the city limits will be worth fifty percent more than it is today."  

   On November 28 of that year, Arthur Seligman, then president of the Business Mans Co-operative association, announced  that a drive to finish the hotel would begin the following Monday. The chairmen who attended the organizational meeting included in addition to Seligman, Mrs. L. H. Rapp, Paul A. F. Walters, Sam Cartwright, Dan Kelly, Jake Levy, Martin Gardesky,  Mrs. Richard Platfil, C. J. Roberts, Levi A. Hughes, and S. Spitz. By October 31, 1920 the New Mexican printed a call by the Santa Fe Builders corporation to subscriber that have not paid at least twenty-five percent of their subscription to start paying their balance in monthly installments beginning November 1 and lasting six months. 

   L. H. Rapp, who designed the art museum, was the designer of the new hotel, to be named, La Fonda which the previous hotel had been unofficially called for decades. And to be in the "new" old Santa Fe style. It was constructed of reinforced concrete and hollow tile, stuccoed with plaster and painted earthen color to resemble adobe construction. The newspaper glorified the new hotel on December 2, 1921.

   Meanwhile the hotel struggled financially, partially because only 46-55 (various sources)  rooms were available and tourists were sent to other hotels. It closed after only two years and the corporation was in court-ordered receivership and reorganization. A May 10, 1922 article in The New Mexican boldly announced "WILL ASK FOR PUBLIC SALE OF LA FONDA HOTEL ON MAY 24" and goes on to say that if an acceptable bid was not received; "the reorganized Santa Fe Building Corporation would buy the hotel as part of the reorganization plan and then proceed to carry out the remaining steps of the plan."

   In  October 1922, the Hotel Corporation announced that the hotel would shortly reopen as it had secured a three-year lease to Mr. W. G. Sargent. It claims at the time sixty guest rooms. And goes on to say he plans on installation of all new furniture from the east, new lights and telephones.  The Santa Fe Building Corporation was reorganized as the La Fonda Building Corporation with Arthur Seligman still president and other members of the board consisting of L.A. Hughes, J. A. Cassell Jr., C. A. Bishop, and Charles Springer. A full financial statement of the reorganization was also published.

   On March 26, 1926, the newspaper announced that Harvey to take over the La Fonda hotel on May 1. Holders of stocks and bonds would get 60 cents on the dollar. The new owner was to make "immediate changes," and the $68,000 mortgage on the property at 8 percent, held by Miguel Chavez, would be assumed by the new owners.

  And with a very rocky path the Old Fonda became La Fonda which was made of hollow tile plastered to resemble the adobe of the Old Fonda.



Sources Used


The New Mexican, Various dates from  1908 to 1926.

Lynn, Sandra G., 1999, Windows on the Past, University of New Mexico Press.

La Fonda Hotel website.

Read 3741 times Last modified on Friday, 24 April 2015 14:37


  • Comment Link Jerry Kerr Monday, 20 April 2015 15:09 posted by Jerry Kerr

    Love your articles, Pete. They are always well-written and informative. They fill in a lot of gaps for someone like me ho is interested in understanding the past of the wonderful town I have adopted. Thanks.

  • Comment Link Elizabeth Dear Sunday, 19 April 2015 17:50 posted by Elizabeth Dear

    Love your fascinating article, Pete. Answers a lot of questions I had about La Fonda. Thanks for posting.

  • Comment Link Jim Baca Sunday, 19 April 2015 17:15 posted by Jim Baca

    Great article, Pete!

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