Wednesday, January 16, 2008

One of Santa Fe's Greatest

With all the gorgeous hotel properties in Santa Fe, what makes La Fonda stand out as “the” place to stay? A recent visit made me consider its distinctive qualities.

La Fonda’s unusual character is found not just its history, of which there is ample evidence. There’s been an inn on the site since the city was founded in 1607. Two centuries later another incarnation served travelers on the Santa Fe Trail. The current building dates to 1922, and in 1925 it was acquired by the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad, which in turn leased it to Fred Harvey, the marketing genius behind the promotion of the West through his chain of Harvey House hotels and tours. Since 1968, the massive adobe monolith overlooking the Plaza has been locally owned and operated.

From the outside, La Fonda is not remarkable among its brown brethren except for its size. You might even walk by with small notice except for the cluster of shops which line its sides. Perhaps you have stopped for a croissant at the French Pastry Shop on the West San Francisco side or bought a Western style belt from Tom Taylor. If you haven’t shoved through the old wooden doors and entered the lobby, you’ve missed the heart of the city.

At first dim and cavernous, the lobby takes a minute to come together. Settees of wood and leather line the walls, and the dark tile floors gleam with polished patina. But as your eyes become accustomed to the soft light, you begin to pick out the thick wooden beams, latilla ceilings, carved corbels, handcrafted chandeliers, and tin and copper light fixtures. The lobby, hallways and meeting rooms are filled with paintings, carvings, historic photos. Art is everywhere. In particular, I admire the ten great figures by Ira Diamond ”Gerald” Cassidy, immortalizing outstanding figures of the great Southwest. The Matachine is a particular favorite, and I always spend a minute or two admiring the massive portrait.

At the heart of the hotel, the main dining room, La Plazuela is enclosed in an interior courtyard with soaring ceiling, ornately carved furniture by local artisans, folk art murals, and over 400 windows painted with birds, chiles, and flowers by resident artist Ernest J. Martinez, who started working at La Fonda in 1954.

Martinez’s work is one of the things which make La Fonda special. His paintings grace not only the public rooms but many of the guest rooms as well. My room on the second floor carried a kachina theme and bore examples of his work in the head board, nightstands, blanket chest, desk, dresser, and the glass panes of the door leading to the sitting area. After so many nights spent in cookie-cutter accommodations, my room at La Fonda was a visual joy, and I slept well watched over by my kachinas.

La Fonda on the Plaza, Santa Fe, (505) 982-5511

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