We recently stayed at a Boutique Hotel. The website called the Patterson, an Inn. A wonderful breakfast was included, so shouldn't we say B&B?
None of those fit. I'd just say, we were guests at an Impressive Mansion, for one night! That works.
In 1891, State Senator Thomas Croke built this grand looking, red sandstone home, on Denver's Capital Hill. It had even more embellishments, than it does today.
Croke lived only a short time in the home, before selling to another Senator named Thomas. Senator Thomas Patterson was actually a U.S. Senator in later years, but he and his family, moved into the stately mansion in 1893. The property has changed hands numerous times in 130+ years.
When I first spotted the mansion from across the street, I thought of a French chateau. Then I thought of the beach. I was reminded of an elaborate sandcastle.
Even the carriage house on the right, had turrets and towers.
From our parking spot on the corner, I studied the side of the house and wondered where our room would be. It was perfect weather for sitting out and I longed to relax on the lower terrace.
But, I was pretty sure the terrace was for the use of guests in the DaVinci Room. I viewed that room on the website, when we booked. It was $75. more, but the spacious room also came with a fireplace and a sunroom. The rounded room with windows, was visible in back. Ahhh... next time we'll splurge.
It was a little early for the 3:30 check in, but we headed up the stairs to the arched doors.
The doors were locked, but we were soon greeted by Phoebe. A few days earlier, I'd chatted with her, when she called to welcome us in advance and ask about food allergies. That seemed surprisingly gracious for a hotel in 2022!
We followed through 2 sets of doors. Once inside we were met with a grand, yet somehow homey space. Fresh flowers, stained glass and lots of lovely wood.
It was hard to imagine this home in the 1970's, when it came close to demolition. It was rescued but never renovated properly until recent years. By 2010, the vacant building was under contract to become a group facility for homeless men. That didn't happen,
As we followed Phoebe into an office area, she pointed out the entrance to the breakfast room. It's been about decade since the mansion was gutted and turned into a B&B.
I've seen "before" photos and they did an amazing job. I believe the woodwork and intriguing fireplace are all original.
Haunted Guest Room?
Just across from the breakfast room, I noticed the door to the DaVinci Room.
Could that room have once been the Patterson's bedroom? I should have asked.
I read that Senator and Katherine Patterson both died in the home. He in 1916 and she in 1902. And then there was another resident (Dr. Sudan's wife) who committed suicide in the house in the 1940's. Ugh. I guess we don't need to know more specifics about these deaths. I do know this home is considered one of the most haunted on Capital Hill.
Up the Stairs
Phoebe was warm and chatty as she checked us in. We were told about breakfast and given coupons for free drinks in the basement lounge. Then she had us put our luggage into the elevator. There was just enough room for the bags, so they traveled alone.
We headed up the beautiful stairs to the second floor. Since the elevator only went to the second floor, we grabbed our bags and headed up some more stairs.
It was a more narrow stairway to the third floor. The floor where the servants once lived.
Inside the Turret
The third floor may not have been the most luxurious in its day, but it seemed the most intriguing. Phoebe opened up a door not far from our room and switched on a set of tube lights.
She pointed to the glow from a window, at the end of the odd passage. We were invited to explore. The round room was the inside of a turret.
There was a sloppy circle of carpet inviting us to sit a spell. We didn't, but we did pause to wonder about all the people who have looked out this window over the years.
It was odd to see the crude, wooden interior of the cone. From the outside, the pointy roof looked so perfectly smooth.
As we peered out the curved glass, we hadn't yet heard the story about the dogs who supposedly leapt (or were thrown) from this window.
I learned later about the pair of guard dogs, that fell to their death in the 1970's. The vacant mansion was being renovated and there were problems with theft and vandalism. The dogs were left in the building overnight to scare away troublemakers. In the morning they were found dead below the (open or broken?) window. I can see why we Phoebe avoided that story while we were up there.
The guest room where we stayed was right beside the turret. It was a little confusing, but Phoebe hinted that the somewhat hidden turret, might have been open to our room at one time. Later we went outside and I looked up at the rounded window directly beneath the cone. That's where we'd been looking out.
There was also a good view of the two dormer windows, beside the turret. The windows look much smaller in my photo, than they did inside our room.
Room No. 9
Phoebe showed us to our room with the brass plaque. I didn't think about it until later, but the other 8 rooms had names like "Biltmore" and "Prague" and "Cheshire". Surely there's a reason for the "No. 9" name!
The wonderful angles and bold stripes were a fun surprise when the door opened.
Our dormer window gave the room a little nook for a desk and chair. Love a window that goes to the floor! And more bold stripes!
It was entertaining having our room in the front of the building. I could spot the gold dome of the capital. Did Senator Croke walk to work?
Pops of Yellow
I was happy to have something different than Victorian furnishings. I liked the bold black and white, along with splashes of bright yellow.
There was no claustrophobic attic feel to the room. The steep roofline, gave us a lots of headroom. That pleased Don, who often has to watch his head.
The bathroom was wonderfully spacious and bright.
Having separate sinks was a treat. The hotel we'd stayed in the night before, barely gave us room for a toothbrush.
Four mirrors and lots of light! I could pretend I was in my dressing room, sitting down to apply make up, before hitting the stage! Not bad for staying in the servant's quarters.
I like to make use. I made sure to allow time for a luxurious bath. I loved it that the tall windows had frosted glass and I could happily open the drapes. Poor Don was less pleased. These fancy tubs are tricky for tall people, but the rigged shower and curtains worked well.
I was also happy to realize the "fancy phone" was not just a prop. There was indeed a dial tone. I wanted to make a call... just to make use. But in this cell phone age, that means I'm required to remember phone numbers. I made no calls.
12 Spirits Tavern
There were so many fun and funny surprises during our stay. The basement lounge had some good ones. The sneaky entrance from the street had no sign, so it felt like a speakeasy.
The Tavern had just recently opened to the public. Hotel guests were given a couple comp. drink tickets. Word of mouth seemed to be how other visitors had learned about the place.
Looking Around for Spirits
The Tavern was named for the 12 spirits, that supposedly roam the mansion. Don and I took a quick peek into some areas of the basement, in case any were lingering in the shadows.
We only found an old laundry sink. We found no old cigars boxes or animal cages. We'd heard that Senator Patterson had a cigar lounge in the basement and in later years a vet lived had his office in the basement. Were there any little ghost animals?
Social Time in the Tavern
The basement felt more cozy than eerie. It felt like a neighborhood bar, where a few locals gathered. Don and I felt like we were hotel guests AND locals at the same time, when my local friend Martha, came and joined us in the Tavern.
We actually wore these fine glasses the next day, but we should have put them on while we visited in the 12 Spirits Lounge. These whacky glasses could have scared spirits away... while we sipped on spirits!
After Martha departed, Don and I shared a couple goodies from the Tavern menu. The general manager, Scott served our drinks and recommended the Savory Hot Pie, with bacon, maple syrup, sherry and thyme.
The Grilled Cheese with sourdough, Brie, Gruyere, caramelized onion and cranberry-tomato jam, was equally satisfying and reasonably priced at $6 and $8. A delicious surprise, in the basement!
Owner, Chris and Scott made the atmosphere welcoming. Chris chatted with us earlier about how he'd had his eye on this mansion years ago, but finally became the latest owner, during the pandemic.
He verified what I'd read in a Forbes article about plans to open a licensed "Marijuana Consumption Lounge" in the coach house portion of the inn. And what an interesting conversation that was. Chris was actually open to hearing the concerns of an open minded guest who happens to hate the smell of pot. Not enough space in this blog post, but it was an interesting converstaion.
Evening & Night
Don and I were able to get out at dusk and enjoy exploring the neighborhood on foot. What a beautiful walk, spotting the mansions in the area once known as "Millionaires' Row".
We returned in time to see a "Ghost Tour" standing on the corner. Too bad the group spotted us going in, or we could have dashed up and flashed lights in the turret room.
The yellow walls greeted us in the morning at breakfast.
A chalkboard above the fireplace told us our sweet and savory options.
Where to Sit?
I had my eye on the cute round table in the turret!
But we were actually more comfy at the table beneath a very interesting framed photo. We sipped some coffee (which happened to be extra good) while we enjoyed our surroundings.
Curious Photo and Curious Floor
"Watching the Turtle - Xmas 1893" was written in the corner. Was this photo taken in the mansion? And what was with that turtle activity, anyway?
A close look at the floors was interesting. The design was nice, but the nails were odd. The carpenter must have used 100 nails per foot!
When Chef Wess appeared from the kitchen with our food, we were pretty darn impressed. I went for sweet, with Raspberry Challah French Toast!
Don did the savory. Fried Chicken Biscuit with Sausage Gravy! Man, were these tasty! The colorful gravy had an exotic flavor. Curry? Not even sure, but both were amazing. What a great addition to our stay.
We had our chance to ask Wess about his recipes, but after we raved about breakfast, we were off on other subjects.
Not only was Wess a great chef, but he was another pleasant member of the staff. He was about done with breakfast duties and had time to fill us in on some of his experiences, that got him to this point in his career. A very nice and humble guy.
Good Bye Neighborhood
We were able to late check out, so Don and I squeezed in one more long walk before heading off.
Here are just a few of the amazing mansions that have managed to survive the ups and downs of this historic neighborhood. Love them all!
We stayed on the top floor of a stately mansion, overlooking Colorado's Capitol. That's enough right there.
We also had great conversations and some memorable feasts. The location was a huge plus and the price was surprisingly low, for our Castle-like stay! ($275) Next time we'll go for the DaVinci!
Grand and Mysterious!
This is the beautiful hotel building, where we stayed in June.
The 3-story structure has been sitting in Aspen for way over a century. That's about all I know! The lack of historic info, feels mysterious!
Before we parked, I started snapping photos from the window. The building and setting was even more photogenic than the website images.
For a moment I thought maybe the structure wasn't really historic. The brick and stone looked flawless, as if it had been built to look old. There was a Disney World feel, with the brick walk, street lamps, flowers and shops.
We parked and approached and I was happy to see the sign above the corner window. Independence Building 1889. I prefer old.
Even though the hotel's website had mentioned the word historic, I had begun to wonder if they were referring to the historic location. Their focus was clearly not on the building's past.
The obvious entrance to the building, was at the corner. But not this door!
I very much doubted we would check in at the counter, inside a lovely Ralph Lauren shop. (I did step inside later and found a basic red bandana for $99!)
Down We Go!
To the right of fancy green door, I spotted the hotel sign. We passed by a very curious and steep, stairway.
The green sign welcomed us to a newer set of stairs. It felt like an adventure heading underground, to a lobby. More NYC than Aspen!
We headed down a few steps to a door, which led to more stairs. The windows, hanging light fixture and white-wood walls, kept things bright.
The host, Andrea greeted us from a desk, in the windowless lobby. She was welcoming and relaxed and offered advice about parking and restaurants. But Andrea didn't have too much info about the building's history. She only knew of its more recent years. "Condos..."
Up to Third
We grabbed our bags and headed up, in a modern elevator. There was also an interesting set of stairs. The open stairway seemed to float up from the basement.
The angles and levels seemed so modern. Could these be original stairs? Maybe they had once been enclosed in a stairwell? It was hard to imagine this modern space 100 years ago.
Before heading into our room, I peeked over railings and looked down halls.
There were nice sitting areas on the second and third levels, but not a person in sight. No sounds behind closed doors. It certainly didn't feel like a hotel.
Our hotel location was ideal! We were right in the heart of Aspen. A block from the slopes and right on Cooper Avenue Walking Mall. But parking was less than ideal.
After tossing bags in our room we moved our car from a temporary spot and headed with our residential street parking pass, to find a place to leave the car.
Food & Wine Classic
We had a map showing areas where we could park, but we drove in circles. Aspen was gearing up for their annual Food & Wine Classic.
The festival was a week away, but many streets were already blocked off. Tents were going up. It took forever to find a spot, but at least the walk back was entertaining and pleasant.
Back in our quiet "hotel" we settled into our room.
The high ceilings made the room feel a little more spacious. There was a lot of light wood in that room, from shutters to ceiling.
The room wasn't huge, but we appreciated the incredibly comfy leather couch. Table and chairs are always appreciated.
There was a noisy a.c. unit, but it was only needed briefly. It was pleasant having two windows that opened.
The distant mountain view was nice. I should have taken a shot of the square below. People watching in Aspen is entertaining and we had a fun view of a restaurant patio with lots of fashionable people.
I didn't see anyone dressed in this outfit, but I could have bought it for myself. It was in the shop window below us.
Good for Price
There was nothing outstanding about our room. Queen bed with a triangular table. Cowboy art. There was sort of a 1980's Alpine style, to the room. It didn't seem to be in the same era (or class) as the ritzy shops underneath us.
The bathroom was basic. I had issues with the shower and the sink. But again, we were in the heart of Aspen and our hotel room was under $250. That's incredibly low for Aspen, where nearby hotels were charging over $1,000. for a night. No real complaints.
Besides the hotel's location, the roof was a major highlight of our stay.
The rooftop had a 360 view of Aspen and the surrounding mountains.
Not a soul joined us when we headed up to catch the sunset.
We had the roof deck to ourselves, which made the hot tub all the more inviting.
We dashed downstairs and changed, then made use of the robes in the closet. How could this affordable Apsen hotel be so empty in June?
A little later I made a quick trip down to the street, to see how the hotel looked at night. My first surprise was seeing a nearly full moon above our building. (Looks a little more star-like in my photo.)
As I headed towards the entrance I looked up and spotted our room. I could see our 2 glowing windows, above Maverick's. That's the shop that sold "my outfit", as well as a Louis Vuitton western saddle.
In the morning we headed to the basement for our complimentary breakfast.
There wasn't too much out of the ordinary. There was yogurt and some burritos that could be microwaved. Some fruit and cereal.
We were the only guests sitting at the long table near the big bear. I sipped my coffee and wondered. It was becoming more clear that this was not a a true hotel, but privately owned room/condos that could be rented. Somewhere between a hotel and Airbnb.
By 11 we checked out, knowing nothing more about the historic building. But we left with some memories of great weather and wonderful walks.
We've stayed in 4 Aspen hotels over the years. For the price, this is the one with the most bang for your buck. I'd return.
The building was lovely and the location was outstanding, for $250. The vibe in the hotel was oddly quiet. And why have I found so little on the internet about this historic Aspen property?
After lots of searching I finally found one news article, from 1963. It said the building had just been purchased by a Mr. Robinson, the director of an Aspen skiing corporation. For some time it had been called the Prince Albert building. There had been shops below and dorms above. The new owner planned on keeping the Victorian flavor, when he remodeled. I guess that Victorian disappeared at some point.
And that's it for my research. I give up. I hope if someone knows more, they'll enlighten me!
The Old Miner's Hotel
In June, Don and I had our third visit to Ouray.
Now we've tried 3 of Ouray's historic hotels. I believe this was the only one built as a hotel for miners.
Hurray for Ouray!
Ouray might just be my favorite town in Colorado. It sits at 8,000 feet, but oddly feels low. The town is surrounded by 14,000 foot peaks!
The approach to town from the Million Dollar Highway, is hard to beat. Ouray's nickname, "Switzerland of America" fits it well.
In this photo from 1900, you can see the words St. Elmo Hotel, above the curved door. Catherine (Kittie) Heit, sits high on the stagecoach, to the right. She was the woman who built, owned and operated the hotel, until she died in 1915. Impressive woman for those times!
When I compare the vintage photo to my color one, the building looks the same. Red awnings in 2022. Coach and horses in 1900. Even the oriel window looks the same, except there was no man peering out in my photo.
The Ugly Years
After Kittie's death, ownership changed hands many times. The hotel was modernized and by the time this photo was taken, the building seemed to have lost much of its charm... and its oriel window. Hopefully it didn't collapse, when someone sat in the window!
With remodeling, rooms were enlarged and bathrooms were added. The miners didn't get their own bathrooms back in the day, but they did have a generous host. Ms. Heit was known as "Aunt Kittie" to the miners. She was evidently a mother figure and well loved in the community. She had a big heart for the lonesome and homeless and didn't always charge "the boys" who were down on their luck.
On Main Street
There was easy parking when we arrived on a Tuesday afternoon. St. Elmo was located at the quiet, south end of town.
We could see the lovely Beaumont Hotel to the north.
We had a nice stay at the luxurious Beaumont, in 2019.
To the South
To the south, we could see the San Juan mountains and remember our drive on the Million Dollar Highway.
Don was ready to relax and enjoy the evening after that white knuckle drive, with no guardrails! I actually didn't witness him gripping the wheel. Lucky for both of us that he's a calm driver.
This is how the lobby looked when we arrived about 4. Actually, it didn't look this empty.
There was a large family checking in. Some grandparents and adult kids and a very sweet toddler, were gathered near the green counter.
We were in no hurry. I took in our surroundings while the family got organized with rooms.
The wallpaper was intriguing, with all the patterns. I studied the formal Victorian decor and secretly wished the nearby family, Good Luck! This hotel didn't appear to be exactly kid-friendly.
We checked in with Dave after a bit. I think the family before us, wiped out his allotment of hosting energy. I had so many questions, but I was a little intimidated. "Later." I told myself.
I wanted to ask, What's was with the longhorn display? I wondered if Dave was from Texas? I wanted to learn more hotel history. But Dave seemed rushed. So I sat like a proper Victorian Lady and kept my mouth shut. Not really. (The photo was taken later and Victorian ladies probably didn't cross their legs.)
We got our key and Dave took us on a quick tour. We followed him through the doorway, away from the entrance.
We headed down the hall, where the wallpaper changed to green. He pointed through a door, to the breakfast room and another room with a TV and piano. Then Dave continued towards the back door. Was he taking us to some annex building?
He moved quickly towards the rear of the building and opened the back door. I nearly stumbled into him, when he came to a halt.
He pointed to the gravel lot and let us know we were welcome to park there. Then he pointed to a hot tub on a covered deck, but he wasn't clear about usage. Dave didn't mention anything about the ditch with the creek. I hoped the toddler didn't go wandering.
Our tour ended at the bottom of the stairs. Don and I lugged our bags up, in search of Room 6.
We paused under the skylight, waiting for the hallway to clear. There were 9 rooms and ours seemed to be situated right in the family's area. The Patriarch of the group headed into the room on our left... the toddler family to our right.
As usual, we booked the cheapest option. 18-day road trips require some skimping measures. Although it wasn't that cheap. Over $250 for our night. In 1898 Boarders were charged a dollar a day. Transients were $1.50.
The room was not grand or luxurious, but it was cute. I'm all for cute and cozy, but I'm not 6'2". Don got busy checking the chairs to see if they could possibly be comfortable enough for his frame.
My eyes were entertained as I took in all the busy wallpaper and tapestry art and chair fabric. The patterns and dark carpet made the tiny room seem even smaller.
We love historic hotels and many have tiny bathrooms. We've had smaller, but this one seemed extra small for the room price. But it was clean and a little updated. I'm always game for a claw footed tub, but Don was jumping for joy to not have that, as his only option.
The sink-in-room set up, was fine. Even if it took up valuable space. But I really don't like Styrofoam cups! A hotel that describes their rooms with the word luxury, should step it up a notch with glass. Even plastic.
The air was a bit stuffy, but there were a few fan options in the room. It was a lot faster to do what we rarely get to do in humid Texas. I opened the window! When I did that, I was surprised to hear the sound of the creek! It was a wonderful sound and I have no idea how that trickle of water, could sound like a mountain stream!
I never would have thought to open the transom. That seems like a no-no. But I noticed that the Patriarch next door had opened his. So I used the rod and sure enough it worked. Suddenly we had a nice flow of fresh air in the room.
The rooms on the front must have had great views of Main Street and mountains. But our side room and every room had a view. Ouray is the perfect little hamlet with mountains in all directions.
We had a roof and a patio in view, but the mountains and clouds beyond, were lovely.
It was a beautiful evening for wandering. No need for an Uber in this great town of about 1,000.
It always takes a while to adjust to elevation. Don and I made a stop at Goldbelt and enjoyed the upper patio. I shared Don's drink. A half a drink goes a long way.
Dinner at 7
We headed back to the hotel by 7. We had reservations for the restaurant below our hotel.
There's fun history about the Bon Ton Restaurant, that once stood beside the hotel.
Bon Ton Italian Cuisine
Bon Ton sounds like a 1970's restaurant, but the restaurant has been around since the 1880's. Kittie bought Bon Ton in 1890 and built the hotel some years later.
In 1898, St. Elmo opened and Bon Ton was moved to the new hotel. The vacant wood frame building was later used for a few businesses, including a Chinese laundry. It was torn down in 1924 and now holds the hotel's patio.
Eventually the Bon Ton Restaurant moved to the basement. Did the miners actually eat in the restaurant? Lucky miners if they did.
The basement was cozy with stone walls and tiny windows. Our staff was almost over attentive, but I really can't complain about that.
My Kittie's Cannelloni was packed with surprises and calories! Spinach, ground beef, sausage, ricotta, marinara, Alfredo, mozzarella! And the entrees came with baguette and herb butter as well as a fresh and generous house salad. Big A+ for our meal!
We slept well, despite full stomachs. Open air with cool temps and creek sounds surely helped. We headed to the breakfast room at 8:30.
Unlike my photo, the room was surprisingly lively. The toddler family and a few couples were all chatting with each other.
The table near the bay window opened by the time we had food. Dave's grown son was on breakfast duty and made our fried eggs and potatoes. He was very friendly considering he had just cooked eggs for about 15.
Where had these people been last night? The hotel seemed so quiet and empty.
Don and I finished up pretty quickly and took our coffee across the hall to the lounge.
We sat a while and pondered the hotel. I saw Dave walk by a few times. I hoped that he'd ask about our stay, so I could ease into a conversation. Not about history. I can get that on the internet. I was curious how he got into this biz. I pictured him preferring the golf course or a fishing weekend. Was I wrong? He seemed to be an odd fit for a boutique hotel. What was his story?
The location was excellent and the hotel was tidy and the room was comfortable enough.
The price seemed a little high for the room. If we'd had a welcoming host like Aunt Kittie, I wouldn't have noticed the Styrofoam cups or the tiny bathroom. I love a gracious and enthused host! That would have made our stay memorable!
Old Hotel Old Plaza
In early June, Don and I spent one night in the unique town of Taos.
What a curious town, of blended cultures. Our historic hotel was right in the heart of town, on the south side of the 330-year-old Taos Plaza.
La Fonda Means Inn
There are La Fonda hotels in Santa Fe and Taos. There's actually no connection besides the name. The hotels look similar with their pueblo style design, but Santa Fe's hotel is much younger. Built in 1922. It's also much more expensive
We were able to book a room at La fonda de Taos, for $149. When we arrived, the hotel looked picture perfect, with its smooth adobe, rounded corners and rustic ladder, connecting one flat roof to another. In fact it looked like part of a Hollywood set. So much of Taos does.
The Original Pueblo
Many hotels in New Mexico have borrowed the appealing adobe style, of the Historic Taos Pueblo. The Native American community has been continuously inhabited for over 1,000 years. It sits just a few miles outside of town.
Don and I were able to visit the Taos Pueblo a decade ago. It was moving to study the structures and to meet people who lived there. Sadly the community has been closed to the public throughout the pandemic. Years ago, residents of this Pueblo would sell their crafts in the lobby of La Fonda de Taos.
Don and I arrived in Taos on a warm June afternoon. We were a little early for check in, so we wandered the Plaza. It seemed quieter than when we visited 10 years ago.
Most of the tourist shops on the plaza looked a little worn. I'm sure the pandemic hasn't helped. I paused to admire an old horsey in front of one store. I pondered the large statue on the Plaza and wondered why those hands were so incredibly large.
Around 4 pm, we headed to the hotel's colorful entrance.
We rolled our bags towards the desk, where a woman with colorful hair greeted us.
Heather at the Desk
I wish I'd gotten a picture of Heather, but not because of her green hair. I'd just like to have a picture, to remember her. She made our visit interesting and memorable.
When we first approached the desk, Heather was all business. She checked us in and I studied the beautiful woodwork around the key/message boxes.
Don signed some paperwork and I wondered about the designs on the counter. I suddenly wished that I had postcards to mail, when I noticed the old wooden mailbox standing nearby. How old is that?
So Many Questions
I knew this hotel had a million stories. I'd read something about the glassed-in office, behind the desk. Something about an eccentric previous owner, who kept some very special paintings in his office. I didn't ask.
Heather was about 20 years younger than me. I've learned that employees under age 50, don't always have much interest in history. But it turns out that Heather actually knew a lot. Her own stories came out bit by bit... with each visit I had to her desk. She had childhood memories of hanging out at this hotel. Heather had always dreamed of working here.
Behind the Curvy Windows
Before we headed to our room, I looked across the 2-story lobby. I asked if that was the restaurant, through the oddly shaped windows.
Heather said the restaurant had been closed for a few years, but was due to reopen soon. She told us that the restaurant area had once been an art studio. Her father had been an artist and Heather remembered his sculptures being in that space.
Off We Go
We got our key and headed for the stairs. We crossed through the lobby, past the cozy sitting corner with kiva fireplace. For a moment I wanted it to be winter, so I could read a book by the fire.
Directly above, the ceiling held some surprises. A chandelier hung from hand-hewn timber. A painted skylight and a woven rug, were tucked right between the beams. I could have easily missed that.
We headed up the stairs, admiring the wrought iron handrail and decorated woodwork. The floors above were added in 1937, after the Karavas family took ownership. When we reached our 85-year-old, new room, we found little to admire. The tiny room had a view of a roof. An odd step up to the bathroom, looked lethal. I headed to the desk to have a chat.
Heather apologized, because there were few options. They only have 19 rooms. We'd have to upgrade 50 dollars for a view. Don and I usually go the cheapest route, but suddenly we were happy to pay. We rumbled our luggage up and down more levels... across a cozy mezzanine area, to our Deluxe King Room on the third floor!
I wouldn't describe our room as deluxe, but it was spacious. Our room was one of only 2 in the hotel, that had access to a balcony.
There was a somewhat wobbly ceiling fan and the bed was not the most luxurious. But we had two bedside tables and space to open up suitcases. I don't ask for much.
I loved the rounded kiva, even if it no longer burned wood.
It was a little warm for the (electric) kiva fireplace, but we gave it a try anyway.
There was a desk and TV. There was a couch, which was un-comfy, as sleeper sofa couches tend to be.
The bathroom was small but there was an actual tub and some attempts at updating. So we were fine.
My favorite part of the room was that it faced The Plaza and we could actually open the window.
It was a little frustrating when I realized we had to share the balcony with our neighbors, but they turned out to be a nice couple from Denver. We chatted a bit before they headed inside. Never saw them again.
After getting our room settled, it was time to explore the hotel. The mezzanine lounge had a shelf with books and games.
We didn't pause to play or read, but I did wonder about past guests who might have lingered in this area. Rock Hudson, Clark Gable and Judy Garland are some of the Hollywood celebs who have been guests. Over the years, Taos and La Fonda have attracted more artists and writers, than movie stars. Georgia O'Keefe and Tennessee Williams are some of the many.
Writer AND Painter DH Lawrence
It's unclear to me if the famous writer D.H. Lawrence actually stepped foot in this hotel. However, his 9 paintings were given a home at La Fonda, in the late 1950's. That's an odd fact. Odd that DH Lawrence painted. And more odd, that his paintings were "obscene" and once banned in England!
Lawrence and his wife Frieda spent a couple years living in the Taos area. That was after a visit in 1922, when they were drawn to the community and mountain scenery. At that time Hotel La Fonda was called Columbia Hotel. It had become a popular hangout for Taos Society of Artists. It seems like DH would have enjoyed the company of the artists that gathered at the hotel daily, for breakfast and cards.
The Karavas Fam
It was during that same time that James and Noula Karavas moved to Taos with their young son Saki. The Karavas family bought the hotel, but before long DH and Frieda headed back to Europe. This photo shows James, sometime after the remodeling and name change, of 1937.
While the Karavas family settled into hotel ownership, DH was finding a new creative outlet with his painting. In 1929 he exhibited some of his art in London. It was promptly confiscated. His erotic art, like his writing, was considered obscene.
Poor old DH didn't have many more opportunities to dabble in art. He died in 1930 of tuberculosis. Frieda moved back to Taos after his death. She brought the forbidden paintings, along with her lover. By the time she died in 1956, Little Saki was all grown up and had become the sole owner of La Fonda. He was also a collector or art. He bought the obscene paintings and hung them in his office, behind the lobby counter. At some point he began charging a dollar to view the DH collection.
Saki died in 1996, but his office remains. However the erotic paintings are elsewhere. Don and I were curious to see them.
Viewing the Art
We stopped by the desk to ask Heather. She said that hotel guests were allowed to view the paintings for free. We had to wait until she was freed up, so she could grab the keys and unlock the door to the conference room. We stepped inside and found an entire wall covered by a set of drapes.
Heather invited us to sit, while she dramatically pulled the cord. The fleshy art was suddenly revealed. Don and I grinned behind her back and I halted a giggle before she turned. It clearly wasn't the nude bodies that made me giddy, it was the whole deal. The private show. The serious parting of the curtains! It felt like we were being invited to a private peep show... or the viewing of corpse. It was silly and surreal!
Before Heather left us to enjoy privately, she turned on a 10-minute recording with some history. I tried to pay attention and to absorb the experience.
The art was curious and awkward and a little amusing. Hardly pornographic by today's standards. I'm guessing no one ever suggested that DH was as talented with his paint as he was with the pen.
After viewing we thanked Heather at the desk and then I dared to ask, "Are these the originals?" Heather was honest with me, that these were very special reproductions. Which suddenly made our whole viewing even more mind-boggling and funny.
So Many Stories
After our exciting art experience, Don and I needed a drink. There was no hotel bar, but there was Noula's Coffee Shop, named for Saki's mother.
Heather told us the coffee cafe had been a candy shop, when she was kid. Saki would let her pick out candies from the shop. While pondering options, I looked up and noticed that our balcony. It was empty and we needed to make use.
Don made us drinks and we enjoyed some porch time.
Cheers to the Characters
We set the camera timer to capture our memory and then made toasts.
We toasted to DH Lawrence and to all the characters who have enjoyed this hotel. We needed an extra big toast to honor Mr. Pooler, who was the second owner of La Fonda. I'm not sure how much he enjoyed ownership, since he was shot and killed in the hotel bar, by a drunken guest, in 1900.
The Plaza in 2012
The view of The Plaza and distant mountains was lovely. But I expected more excitement on a Saturday evening.
Ten years ago we visited Taos on a weekend and the Plaza was full of locals enjoying a band performance.
Cars & Bikes
There was no scheduled entertainment for us, but before long we had a different kind of show.
There seemed to be a slow and steady stream of cars and motorcycles, circling the Plaza. Like American Graffiti days, these cars were definitely cruisin'. The drivers made sure windows were open and music was cranked up and throbbing. Now and then we saw an extra special vintage car and I was thrilled. We toasted to the locals and their evening amusement, before heading off to dinner!
Luckily the Plaza was quiet by bedtime. In the morning I headed downstairs to peek at the Plaza in early morning light. Heather was no longer at the desk, but Nate greeted me from behind the desk.
I told him I wanted to get a photo of the woodwork. He was happy to oblige when I invited him to pose. Then I headed for the door.
The red doors were still closed at 7 am. I opened one and suddenly heard the sound of an angry female voice, shattering the quiet morning. "F---ing Pervert!" A woman (with mental health issues) was ranting and wailing from a park bench in the empty plaza. I headed back inside and told Nate what he already knew. "She's the Town Crier." He said. Yikes.
Coffee and Muffins
Instead of wandering outside, I got Don and we purchased coffee at Noula's.
We weren't as kind as one kind soul, who bought a coffee and delivered it to the mad woman on the bench. We sat in the L-shaped lobby and enjoyed the beams and art, instead.
I sipped and wondered about all the artists who once hung out here and displayed their work on the walls. I wish I could have met the owner Saki. He was evidently an eccentric businessman, who ran the hotel in his own way. He was also known as the Don Juan of Taos. Heather said she remembered him well. She laughed as if she knew more.
Drums on the Plaza
Back in our room we packed up with the windows open. The loud woman was gone. But there was another sound.
I heard drumming and went to the balcony. A family seemed to be performing... for no one.
I went down to watch and wondered if they were practicing. Two little girls played while the adults danced and chanted.
I watched quietly and it became clear that they were involved in a ceremony of some kind. There was a pause in activity and a woman came over and handed me some leaves from a branch. I watched the family placing items in the center, blowing on conch shells, turning to face the north, east, south and west.
She invited me to sit and watch during their blessing. I was asked not to cross the circle, when I went to sit. I offered a donation when they finished and was embarrassed when it was turned away. I left feeling like every silly, odd, uncomfortable or whacky thing I'd noticed in the past 20 hours was unimportant. I headed back to the hotel feeling content. I knew this is what I would remember most.
I raced back to the hotel, so we could check out on time. But I did pause to look at a painting on the wall. It was Noula Karavas, in her Native Greek attire.
Beside the painting there was a photograph of Noula (in another festive outfit) in the lobby. I'm guessing that's Saki next to her. She helped run the hotel with him until the end of the century.
It was easy to recognize the corner with the same furniture and kiva. But the red paint and designs and the artwork was all so different.
I headed up and we grabbed our bags and rumbled across the mezzanine.
I told Don to hold on. I tossed him my phone and ran down to have a quick sit, in Noula's chair. That completed my stay!
There was something a little "off" about La Fonda, at first. Maybe the pandemic was lingering. Maybe my expectations had been too high. But we both eased into our stay.
By the time we left, I was just plain Fond of La Fonda! We only scratched the surface, with the history of this place. I'm so grateful that the hotel is still sitting on the Plaza, accepting guests for a reasonable price. I'm glad the restaurant will open soon and more guests can come and enjoy.
Thanks to Heather and Nate and the wonderful Family in the Plaza. We had a memorable time.
First Stop - Carlsbad
In June, Don and I spent the first night of our 18-day road trip, in Carlsbad. Mostly, it was a convenient stopping point. But we got lucky, when we found out there was an interesting hotel to try!
We booked a night at this lovely hotel in an historic building. Originally it was built as the community's first bank, in 1892.
Our First Choice... La Caverna
If we'd had more than good luck, we could have stayed at La Caverna, built by Trost & Trost. We've stayed at a number of Texas hotels, designed by the Trost brothers.
It would have taken more magic than luck, to have stayed at this wonderful southwestern style hotel. It was torn down a few decades ago.
La Caverna is long gone, but years ago it sat right next to the First National Bank. (our hotel) Today, you can see O'Reilly Auto Parts, sitting to the left of the Trinity Hotel. Not a very impressive replacement.
To the right of Trinity, you can see The Post Time Inn. It was once part of a 1960's motel complex, that was added to La Caverna.
There's a lot of history around this intersection of Fox and Canal. The old bank on the corner, came close to meeting the same doom as La Caverna. Luckily, 3 business partners were concerned about losing another historic Carlsbad building. They bought the dilapidated bank building in 2007.
They took a couple years renovating the building into a hotel and restaurant. They did a pretty amazing job.
I read about the state of the bank building, when renovation began. One of the windows had been shot out. There was no air-conditioning, heat or running water. Today the building shows no signs of those dark years.
The exterior looked immaculate. I wish I had some scoop about the unusual brickwork, though. With a close inspection, I was suddenly reminded of when I played with modeling clay as a kid... and drew brick patterns with a toothpick!
I found an old photo for comparison. The image was too dark to show the brick clearly.
But I was amazed at how little has changed with the building, in 131 years. The lobby entrance is still on the corner. The entrance to the stairs, is on the left. I wonder how much glass is original in all those tall windows?
We arrived before 3, on a Friday. There was lots of parking available, on the side of the building.
Right away, I wondered about the odd piece of art, near the entrance.
Besides street parking, there was a private lot in the back of the building.
I love small towns and cities where parking is free and and easy. However getting to our room up the fire escape stairs, was a little tricky with bags.
Lots to Love
I love buildings on corners. And I love how boldly, this hotel sat on the corner.
I loved the wonderful afternoon light. I loved the grapevines growing up that brick. Grapevines?
I loved all the glass in the doors and windows. And I sort of loved that odd glass Christmas tree near the entrance. Those were actually wine bottles. Would that artsy tree light up at night? (sadly no)
We headed for the door, but paused to see the message painted on the window. It was a good message, but a sad sign of the times.
The lobby was quiet at 3. The tall ceilings and old fireplace helped me imagine the old bank. Mostly the space felt more like a small gift shop, than a hotel lobby. Not much lobby lounging space. But we were at least able to check in early.
We peeked around a bit before heading up. We noticed a vault in the back. It was a reminder of the old bank days.
The vault had become a humidor for cigar sales. We didn't get to see the second vault upstairs. It now connects to a guest room and evidently holds a couch and TV. Odd!
The second floor was accessible through a door at the top of the "fire escape". There was also a door off of Main Street, that opened to a staircase.
Seven of the nine guest rooms, were upstairs.
After climbing the stairs, I was aware of 3 things in the hall. There was a powerful cleaning fragrance. It was very dim, despite lots of fancy chandeliers. And there seemed to be a lot of crosses. I guess I hadn't stopped to think about the name of the hotel, until I saw all the crosses. Trinity... The unity of Father, Son & Holy Spirit? Hmmm?
Our room was quite lovely for $169. A luxurious king bed and double doors to a huge bathroom...
...and we had our own cross on the wall. Again, I wondered. We've stayed in a few hotels with crosses on the wall. But they were playing along with a convent theme or the old mission theme, whatever the building had originally been. What was with this Trinity name anyway? Are we attracting Christian travelers? I hope there's a better reason than that.
Great and Not Great
The room was wonderfully clean and comfy, but there were a few things that just didn't fit. The framed art was not my favorite. Purchased at Kirkland's at the mall?
The bed and linens were heavenly and I loved having a decent ceiling fan. But the drapes were heavy and odd. They covered those beautiful windows, so awkwardly.
I was happy with how the TV was hidden in a wardrobe. That's always a classy move.
The desk and chair were decent. There was no microwave, coffee maker or fridge, but there was a wine cooler! The wine glasses and pretty ice bucket added a nice touch. I was beginning to see a wine connection with our hotel.
I absolutely loved the wildly tall double doors, even if they didn't close well. The woodwork and transom helped me imagine the past. What was this space used for a hundred years ago?
I assume the floors were all wood, back in the banking days, but I liked the fresh carpet and bathroom tile. The floors probably creaked back in the day, like back in 1924, after the bank closed. Who worked up here, then? Who filled this building when it was later used to produce the local newspaper or when famed Sheriff Pat Garrett had an office in the building. Did Sheriff Garrett work here, before or after he shot Billy the Kid?
Surely these double doors are original? What did they open up to? I'm guessing it wasn't a glamorous bathroom.
I was very excited about the soft towels & robes, the double sinks and enormous shower!
I was less excited about those dangling drapes, near the toilet. I was glad for privacy, but I was frustrated by how our 3 tall windows were covered.
At least we were able to pull the drapes back. The view wasn't spectacular, but I do love looking out to check on the weather. I watched a storm brewing at one point.
We could also keep an eye on the Lucky Bull Grill across the street, to see when the crowds thinned. It looked like a popular place.
Dinner at the Trinity
We ended up eating at the hotel's restaurant. The reviews sounded too good to pass up. Earlier when I peeked in, I was impressed with those high ceilings. High enough to add an extra level of dining, past the bar.
It was crowded when we arrived at 6, but the owner Dale Balzano got us seats at the bar. He invited us to enjoy a complimentary wine tasting.
We sampled a few wines from the Balzano Family's vineyards. (the wine connection) We each ordered a glass of Malbec and browsed the menu with some good Italian choices. The lasagna and Caesar salad was excellent. The cheesecake to-go, was yummy but on the small side.
The conversations ended up being the most entertaining part of the evening. The staff (wearing colorful bowties) all seemed in good spirits. We got some fun scoop on the hotel and the area from our bartender and other guests. One remembered coming to the old bank building, when it held a resale shop for Red Cross. A nearby couple told us they met 20 years ago, at the bar next door. The (evidently) very lively bar, had been part of the old El Caverna hotel complex. It felt wonderful to be back talking with others on the first night of our trip!
After Dinner Walk
After finishing up, we chatted with Dale, (the hotel's sole owner now) on our way out. He suggested we walk along the Pecos River. He pointed us in the right direction, right past the old train depot.
It was a lovely night after the rains passed. We spotted a geyser-like fountain and some swans and numerous families settled into lawn chairs, with fishing poles and picnic food.
We followed a family on bikes, crossing over a walking bridge. The air felt warm and breezy, like a summer in my childhood... back when people used to come outside to enjoy the cooler evening temps.
We were back to the hotel by 9:30. Earlier before our walk, I took this photo. I could see our room with its arched corner window on the left, just above the restaurant. Oops. We left that light on!
When we returned an hour later, we peeked through the glass at the restaurant. The guests had all cleared out and I knew our room above would be quiet... unless we heard noises from RUBY, the ghost who evidently haunts the hotel.
No ghosts woke us, but the sun did at 5:49 am. The rounded section of window above the drapes, welcomed early daylight to our room. But I was happy to shower early and get down to our complimentary breakfast treat.
The Trinity Restaurant had already welcomed a few locals before we arrived at 7:30. I recognized some staff from the night before and wondered how they could be cheery all over again. Our server Dee Dee, greeted us with lots of enthusiasm and invited us to choose any specialty coffee and pastry item, as guests of the hotel. As you can see, the cinnamon roll and scones came with artwork! My scone was perfectly delish.
We'd chosen this place mostly because of the location. It was a good stopping point on our drive. But we got so much more.
Historic hotels in small towns are rarely so nicely remodeled or run. During the pandemic we've learned to lower expectations, especially in smaller communities. We didn't need to here. The room was spotless and luxurious. The restaurant's food had big city flavor, but the atmosphere had a small town, busy-but-relaxed-vibe. It seemed as if the guests and workers were all happy to be there. The location in town was another pleasant surprise. I will always remember that after dinner walk! We could have happily stayed another night.
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!