Home of the Movie Stars!
Old Cookbook Illustration
I first saw a picture of El Rancho in our 1954 edition, Ford Motor Cookbook. There was an inviting image of the sprawling ranch-hotel, along with a recipe from the restaurant. When I Googled the hotel, I was pretty thrilled to find out it hadn't closed down after all these years.
It was a cold February afternoon when we arrived. I was so glad to see the hotel hadn't updated the rambling, rustic, ranch-y, plantation-like facade that I'd seen in early photos. I wondered how long the logo, "Charm of Yesterday - Convenience of Tomorrow" had been connected to the hotel.
This old photo shows the same portico with logo above the pillars!
Hotel el Rancho, was the creation of R.E. Griffith in 1937. "Griff" had connections with Hollywood, because of his well known director brother, D. W. Griffith. Griff had the hotel built, to house movie stars and crews, in an area that had become popular for filming westerns.
It was fairly quiet when we arrived, so I had an easy time imagining the sprawling hotel, as it might have looked back in the day. Without modern cars and families with rolling suitcases, I could picture those wonderful cars of the '30's and '40's, pulling up to deliver Spencer Tracy or Gregory Peck, Lucille Ball or Esther Williams. So many of my favorite stars stayed at this hotel.
We crunched over a little icy snow with our bags and headed towards the middle set of doors.
Loving the Lobby!
A second set of doors took us into the square lobby. I'd seen photos, so I knew there was a hunting lodge decor, but it was better than I'd imagined. I grinned to know I was stepping into a time warp. This is just what Katherine Hepburn saw when she arrived in 1946 to film scenes from "Sea of Grass".
The main focus was across the lobby. Two carpeted staircases curved around the stone fireplace. The stairs lead to a balcony, running around the perimeter of the second story. It seemed fitting that the carpet color was red.
Don checked in at the desk with a fellow whose name tag read, Leroy. They would later compare their turquoise. I admired the silver dollars, embedded along the edge of the counter.
While Don checked in, I snooped around the lobby. Oh, if only the fireplace had still been in working order! Even without a glowing fire, the surrounding brick and stonework was mesmerizing! Outside of the fireplace, I studied the split log stairs, with bent wood railing. Just beautiful!
"Charm of Yesterday"
I took in some of the charm of yesterday, that was probably considered mighty modern, when the hotel was new. Too bad we couldn't get a shoeshine or buy stamps or cigarettes, anymore. Not that we needed any of those goodies.
I Love Doors
Leroy gave us our key and we headed upstairs and entered the hallway through a festive door with a round window.
The door to our room had the original slatted, air-vents. That was fun. It was also nice that Leroy had given us an extra spacious room, even though we had booked a lower rate room. The room was named for actress, Paulette Goddard, one of the hotel's many famous guests.
I loved having 3 windows and a door to a little terrace of sorts... although it was a little too snowy to care about that.
I was happy with the vintage coziness, but I started to mope about what I was missing. "Don, do you even know who Paulette Goodard is?" We are both huge fans of old movies and yet we were staying in a room, named for a star we didn't even know. I usually just go with the flow, but I headed back to the front desk.
I asked Leroy if it would be possible to get the Katherine Hepburn room. He said there was no problem, but had me check it out first. I was giddy, walking down the painted brick hallway, towards the door with its polished wood frame.
The room was smaller, but it had Katherine Hepburn's name on the plaque and that was good enough for me. Plus it had a wagon wheel bed and that made me chuckle.
Kate, Keeping an Eye
Kate gazed down towards the bed, from her framed portrait. I'm sure she was probably saying, "You don't truly believe I slept in this room do you? I would have demanded a bathtub and so should you."
Yep, we gave up the corner room with the bathtub and got the Kate Room, with funniest little bathroom. I tried to take a photo of the oddly shaped shower, but it was not possible.
I had to run down to tell Leroy the room was just fine. Then, I asked Leroy if I could take a photo of his awesome bolo tie. He quickly answered, "No." Then he laughed, when he saw I'd fallen for his humor.
It's difficult to tell from this photo, but Leroy (who insisted I say his name with a French pronunciation) was a very funny, talkative guy. Don and I chatted with him numerous times during our 1 night stay. Leroy was a big part of what made our stay so memorable!
Leroy and Mr. Ortega
Leroy's father and grandfather died young. He said Mr. Ortega had been like a father to him, until his death a few years ago. Leroy spoke in Navajo, some words about the wisdom of Elders. He felt it was their wisdom, that had somehow guided him to this job and his friendship with Mr. O.
While temperatures dropped outside, Don and I felt less inspired to get out and explore Gallup. There was so much to absorb without leaving the building, so we headed upstairs first.
Cozy Seating and Photos
Autographed photos covered the brick walls, all around the second level. Some of the signatures were personal, with notes about staying at the hotel. I imagine the rustic furniture and Navajo rugs were a nice change for some of the stars, used to staying in swanky Hollywood hotels.
Working up a Thirst
We studied the last wall of photos, before heading down to the 49er Lounge. If only the weather had been warm, we could have taken drinks right out onto the terrace, over the portico. Don and I do love a hotel with a porch or balcony.
I have no clue about how this rambling cluster of buildings was constructed, but I'm pretty sure the bar was original. Luckily we could enter from a walkway past the hotel's impressive Native American gift shop and avoid stepping outside in the cold.
I'm not sure when this photo of staff was taken, but evidently the hot summers were also an issue. I'm surprised they had air-conditioning!
Don and I put on our cowboy boots and a little turquoise and headed for the bar. The bar decor, unlike the hotel, had changed a bit since the thirties. We enjoyed a beer and a wine, while watching the local, after-work crowd come and go. Then we headed for the dining room.
It was pretty quiet in the dining room at 8 pm, but we didn't feel a bit rushed. We enjoyed studying the menu options like, John Wayne burger and Katherine Hepburn BLT.
I made sure to bring my vintage cookbook, with El Rancho's recipe for Spanish Omelet. When traveling we always carry one of our Ford cookbooks, just in case there's a possibility of a fun encounter.
Even if the server is way too young to care, or the atmosphere indicates we'll have a dull reaction... I take the risk and pull it out. So even though our server spoke little English and I could hardly explain why I carried a cookbook, I showed her the picture and recipe. Suddenly her eyes lit up. She laughed and rushed off to get the other servers and they all gathered around and took pictures. It was a success, even though they look very serious in this photo.
Sleeping Under the Stars
I'd like to say the spirits of all those old movie stars were swirling around us during the night. I actually slept well, so no ghostly visitors woke me.
We headed off at 8 am the next morning. It sunny, but bitter cold!
We'd said good-bye to Leroy the night before, so we just had the hotel to say good-bye to. It was a such fun stay.
It was the perfect hotel for someone who loves authentic, old hotel experiences AND old movie history! It was perfect for someone who doesn't want renovation and updates to cover up the past. And it was perfect for someone who wants the memory of a good people encounter to go along with their hotel stay.
Don and I loved this quirky place. We would stay again.
My New Year's Resolution for 2014 was to start documenting some of the memorable overnights I've had in some very odd and curious motels and hotels. Like the adventures in my Dining Blog, I have learned to enjoy the surprises that happen when you step out of the comfort zone, far away from the well-known chains.
I began with a few entries recalling my very first home away from home memories from my youth. Then, I started sharing about some of the quirky and unforgettable motels, hotels and inns that my husband and I have discovered in recent years.
The best part about this challenge was making some lists with Don and getting on the road in search of new overnight adventures. I gave myself a 2-year goal to write up 90 stories and the goal was met. Now we just keep on adding!