Monday, March 16, 2009

New Mexico Historic Hotels: Two Different Fates

The demolition of grand old hotels is a ongoing tragedy.  A new exhibit at the Albuquerque Museum illustrates the glory which once was the Duke City's Alvarado, and a recent stay at Silver City's  Palace Hotel illustrates the obstacles some of these antiquated properties face accommodating the modern traveler.

The magnificent Alvarado was the inspiration of the Fred Harvey Indian Department working in conjunction with the AT&SF railroad..  Built in 1902, the complex extended two city blocks. Constructed in the Mission style of wood frame with a red clay tile roofing, the complex included a railroad depot and offices, hotel, restaurant, and a museum and gift shop united by a 200-foot arcade and 4-foot exterior walls.  The walls were surfaced with steel lathe and rough gray Portland cement stucco.  The upper levels had projecting parapets and towers influenced by California missions and included features like pierced facades used for hanging bells and four-sided bell towers with open arches. 


Perhaps the Alvarado's best loved featured was the Indian and Mexican Building Museum, which was positioned along the arcade south of the lunchroom and within reach of passengers traveling on the railroad.  The Indian Room held native work from the regions linked by the railroad, and the Spanish Room featured a collection of Spanish, Mexican, and New Mexican art.  The salesroom had shelves of southwestern pottery and the Navajo jewelry the Harvey Company specially commissioned for its appeal to travelers.  As a child I had two Harvey bracelets, and one daughter collects them.

Unfortunately, time and the economy was not kind to the Alvarado, and in spite of heroic efforts by Albuquerque. Historical Society, it fell victim to the wrecking ball in February 1970. An auction was held, and everything was sold off to eager buyers.  Fortunately, those buyers valued the material, which often was donated to the museum.  These artifacts are the basis of the current exhibit, which runs through June 7, 2009.  It is comprehensive.  You'll find everything from the trademark Syracuse Denmark china and Gorham Churchill silver to door hardware from the Cocina Cantina, the one-time lounge.  

On a recent fact-gathering trip through southern New Mexico, I had the opportunity to stay at one of the state's still-operating historic hotels , The Palace in Silver City.  The imposing building with its cast iron front was built for the Meredith and Ailman bank in 1882. Converted to a hotel in 1900, the new owner Max Shutz "spared no pains or expense to make the new hotel an up-to-date house in every respect...(with) every modern hotel convenience such as closets, bath rooms (sic), electric lights."

The Place has experienced many ups and downs since then.  Purchased by Cal and Nancy Thompson in 1990, the hotel has been restored and refurbished with the help of the Main Street Project and the New Mexico Historical Preservation Office.  For aficionados of old properties with a Victorian flair, The Palace has some predictable eccentricities.  There are no elevators, and the climb to the second level is long.  At the head of the stairs, a sitting room doubles as the breakfast nook.  Rooms split off the long, narrow halls and vary greatly in decor.  

Since I booked late, no single rooms were available, so I reserved a suite.  My "suite" consisted of two rooms divided by a bath consisting of tub/shower and toilet.  The quarters were so crowded that my knees touched the tub while perched on the throne.  The larger of the two rooms was dark with a blocked window and contained a king bed, a dressing table, end table and sink. The smaller room which overlooked the street had a rump-sprung coach, a television, microwave, sink, and a small refrigerator.   This was definitely not the Ritz.

After a continental breakfast in the morning , I stuck my head in several rooms which were waiting for the maid and discovered several brighter, more pleasant accommodations.  Next time I'm in Silver, I'll call ahead and try for one of the quarters with a queen bed.  Room 70 was especially inviting.  

Two hotels, one still hanging on with the patronage of travelers willing to  put up with some inconvenience, one destroyed for a parking lot.  I'll take the inconvenience any day.

The Albuquerque Museum of Art and History, 19th & Mountain Road, NW, Albuquerque 87104,  (505) 243-7255.  Closed Monday.  Fee. 

For information on existing Harvey Houses, go to Fred Harvey Harvey Houses 

The Palace Hotel, 106 Broadway, Silver City 88061.  (575) 388-1811. 


  1. Any thoughts about the historic St. James in Cimarron? Their website seems to be a dead end. Is it still operating?

  2. The St. James is undergoing extensive remodeling and currently is closed. They expect to re-open in June, if all goes well.

  3. Those new Mexico historic hotels sounds like a place I'd like to visit some day. Your blog has made me realize that I need to travel a bit more often.
    Thanks for sharing!