On Location with the Reluctant Medium
La Fonda, the Inn at the End of the Trail
For more than 400 years, there has been a fonda—inn or hotel—at the intersection of what is now East San Francisco and the literal end of the Old Santa Fe Trail. That first inn was constructed of adobe blocks, which were made of mud, shaped by hand and dried in the sun. Some would have had animal prints embedded from nocturnal visits by wildlife. The 1921 floor plans indicate there was a courtyard entrance, but that has since been enclosed. Although the original structure was replaced, and the hotel has undergone several renovations, it maintains the adobe architectural design that predominates in Santa Fe.
For our Reluctant Medium, Rachel Blackstone, it is a gathering place. After a strange and frightening event at High Desert Country magazine office, Rachel Blackstone and her office crew met in the La Fonda bar where they could enjoy the fireplace and sample the Mexican beers.
The lobby of La Fonda is more than a large hallway drawing guests away; it acts as the heart of the hotel with La Plazuela restaurant, the newsstand, the bar and many specialty shops that attract an international crowd. The tile floor has felt the footsteps of both the famous and the infamous: from Spanish conquistadores to the creator of the Santa Fe Trail, William Becknell, to modern-day celebrities such as Shirley MacLaine, Larry Hagman, Diane Keaton and Linda Hunt. And while it is rumored that Billy the Kid worked in the hotel’s kitchen, there is no proof that he ever washed a dish.
La Plazuela was first a courtyard, some referred to it as the back yard. It was the sight of at least two deaths, but more on that in our ghost story segment. Eventually, a massive skylight was built over the courtyard so guests could eat among the sunbeams, a stark contrast to the lobby’s dark handcrafted
beams which are detailed with carvings. The front desk is a treasure of rich wood made by authentic craftsman. The hand-crafted chandeliers are constructed of tin, copper and glass, adding both light and ambience.
Mexican and Spanish influence is found everywhere in the furnishings, artwork and religious artifacts. In fact, several artists, most notably Gerald Cassidy, Paul Lantz, Vladan Stiha, also a resident at the hotel, have added paintings, murals, and painted panels that make La Fonda one of a kind. Ernesto Martinez is the current La Fonda artist. His work is most evident in the creative motifs found on the glass panes surrounding the restaurant. La Fonda continues to be both museum and posada (lodging).
J. Robert Oppenheimer, the renowned physicist of the Manhattan Project, reportedly hung out with his colleagues at La Fonda’s La Fiesta Lounge, federal agents in tow. But you can sip a margarita and listen to music, sans feds.
The Bell Tower on the fifth floor is the perfect place to appreciate beer and stunning sunsets at the same time. The view encompasses Sandia to the south and the Jemez to the west. After the hot colors of the sunset, stay for the indigo sky with a billion stars to keep you company. But should you venture out alone, beware the door. Mind that it’s not locked prior to closing it behind you. I have some personal experience with being locked out. Not a problem until a storm moves in or nature calls.
Like most storied buildings, La Fonda is a place of legend and myth. It has been the site of traders and cowboys, conquerors and native. It goes a long way back and will likely go way forward. It is reputed to have tunnels leading to the courthouse and the Palace of the Governors, and maybe even a dungeon-like room or two. Rowdy cowboys could be hustled away inconspicuously to sleep it off.
La Fonda was a Harvey House for more than four decades. Currently, it is a Historic Hotels of America, a Preferred Hotel Group brand, a program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Even if you don’t stay at La Fonda when you visit, you must see it, write a post card while sitting in one of those vintage chairs in the lobby, browse the many shops and immerse yourself in the three cultures (Pueblo Indian, Hispanic and Anglo) that exist in this city. It continues to surprise first-time visitors and long-time residents. And like wine, it improves with age.
For more information: http://www.lafondasantafe.com/
— G G Collins
Ghost Story of the Week: Sharpen those psychic skills for the upcoming question.
While La Fonda has stood the test of time, it has also racked up a good number of ghosts. There are so many that we’ll cover just a few this time.
During the 1800s a gambling hall was part of the hotel. As we all know, for every person who wins, there are many more who do not. In one particular incident, a man was hung in the courtyard (sometimes referred to as the backyard). Maybe it was thought he was cheating, but whatever the reason, he was lynched. It has been reported that some guests to La Plazuela have seen the shadow of a man hanging.
The Hon. John P. Slough, who was a chief justice of the Territorial Supreme Court, was shot in the lobby and later died of his wounds. He insulted Capt. Rynerson, also with Territorial government, calling him dishonest. Rynerson took offense and shot the judge. Guests say they’ve seen a man walking the hotel dressed in a long black coat (robes perhaps?).
And yet another man lost his life in what is now the restaurant. Originally it
was the courtyard and in the center was a well. Apparently a businessman lost his company’s money in a round of cards. He was so distressed, he jumped into the well to his demise. Although the well was filled in long ago, you can still see where it was. Look at the fountain in the center of the restaurant. It even closely resembles the look of the well in the postcard shown. Hotel staff and guests have seen a ghostly figure cross the room to the site of the old well and watched as he disappeared into the floor.
The Southwest Ghost Hunters Association conducted an investigation into La Fonda in 1998 and found the strongest suggestion of paranormal activity in the parking garage. During its construction, human remains were found there. This happens from time to time in Santa Fe and environs. All work ceases until the remains can be recovered.
Psychic question of the week:
For the answer, check back next Sunday.
Answer to last week’s psychic question: The Longest Yard, a perfect score by everyone!
Posted on July 21, 2012, in On Location in Santa Fe, Uncategorized and tagged ghost story, La Fonda Hotel, On location, psychic skills, Rachel Blackstone, Reluctant Medium, Santa Fe New Mexico, travel. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.