By SCOTT GERDES
Some folks just want a hotel room as a place to store their clothes, wash up and lay down their heads, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Others, however, like to know the history of a place, what makes it different or special. Taos lodging has everyone covered from familiar chains to longtime local inns and quaint B&Bs.
The following are a few of the area’s notable lodgings that have an interesting past:
The Historic Taos Inn
This Taos landmark is known for its margaritas, nightly entertainment, Southwestern-inspired rooms and celebrity sightings. But before the likes of Robert Redford and Jessica Lange (to name just a couple) graced its lobby, the structure was made up of several adobe homes built in the 1800s. Back then, what is now the lobby was a plaza that housed a community well. A fountain (and a large Christmas Tree over the holidays) now stands in the well’s place.
Taos County’s first and only physician, Dr. Thomas (“Doc”) Paul Martin, came to town in the 1890s and bought the largest of the adobe homes on the property. The hotel’s award-winning restaurant is named for the prominent Taos figure who made house calls in any weather all over the county — first by horse then by Tin Lizzie. His wife, Helen, was a talented batik artist and the sister-in-law of noted artist Bert Phillips. In 1912, Phillips and peer Ernest Blumenschein founded the famous Taos Society of Artists in the Martin’s living room. Over time, the Martins bought some of the surrounding structures and rented them out to writers and artists.
In those days, Taos had just one hotel. In 1935, the same year Doc died, Helen embarked into the hospitality business. She purchased the last remaining plaza structure, the Tarleton House, which is now the hotel’s Adobe Bar (affectionately known as the “living room of Taos.”) Doc’s former patients rallied around Helen, and enclosed the plaza. She opened the doors to Hotel Martin the following year. It quickly became the place to go to see and be seen.
After changing hands, the name was changed to the Taos Inn, the thunderbird neon sign — the oldest in town — was added and the hand-carved reception desk was brought in. The inn was placed on the National and State Registers of Historic Places in 1982. The hotel’s restaurant is named after the respected doctor and one section of it was one of his operating rooms. In 2017, Doc Martin’s was named a “Best Wine Selection” winner by Wine Spectator magazine and that isn’t the first time.
Another reputation The Historic Taos Inn holds relates to things that go bump in the night — in the older parts of the property, anyway. As M. Elwell Romancito, longtime resident, writer and founder of Ghosts of Taos, wrote in her book, “Ghosts and Haunted Places of Taos”: “The claims at The Taos Inn of paranormal activity include staff accounts of being in the kitchen and hearing their name called from another part of the restaurant. The sounds of silverware and clatter are heard coming from an empty kitchen. The soft sounds of footsteps have been heard in an otherwise empty dining room.”
To this day, the inn is still the place to see and be seen, whether of this world or another.
The Historic Taos Inn is located at 125 Paseo del Pueblo Norte, call (575) 758-2233 or go online to taosinn.com.
Hotel La Fonda de Taos
In the heart of Historic Taos Plaza, with its large red letters streaking across its adobe face, the Hotel La Fonda de Taos is the oldest hotel in town and the only lodgings on the Plaza. The original hotel was built in 1880, although it wasn’t the first structure to occupy the site.
That honor goes to the St. Vrain Mercantile Store, which not only sold a plethora of goods, but had rooms to rent and a saloon. The next 60 years saw many fires engulf different areas of the Plaza, and possibly by some divine intervention spared the hotel every time.
Aloysius Liebert built the Columbian Hotel & Bar in 1880 on the mercantile plot where the present La Fonda hotel stands today. Because Liebert was purportedly a community leader, the hotel and its watering hole became popular gathering spots. Dances were often held in the large lobby.
The Columbian changed hands in 1900 when Robert Pooler and his wife, Maclovia Mares, bought it. Tragedy struck in 1909. An angry bar patron was kicked out of the Columbian Bar for being drunk and disorderly. The man shot Pooler and killed him in the bar. Pooler’s widow and her heirs took over, running the hotel and bar until they sold it in the late 1920s to Greek immigrant brothers James and John Karavas. James Karavas brought his wife, Noula, and their 5-year-old son, Saki, with him. The coffee shop in the hotel is named after James’ wife. The brothers renovated the property and added a second and third story in the Pueblo-Revival style. In 1937, they changed the name to “La Fonda,” which means “boarding house” in Spanish.
By then, Taos was a burgeoning art colony. A group of notable artists had founded the Taos Society of Artists and they used the centrally located hotel to meet for breakfast, a game of cards or a spin of Long John Dunn’s roulette wheel. Dunn, a Taos legend, was often described as a gunfighter, gambler, bronc rider, roper, stagecoach driver, trail-herd driver, saloonkeeper, outlaw and stubborn businessman. Many of Taos’ artists hung their works in the lobby — The Gallery La Fonda — starting what became a tradition that continues to this day.
Saki Karavas bought out his uncle’s interest in the property after his father died in 1953. He ran the hotel until his death in 1996. Saki was widely known to be a ladies’ man and art lover who amassed an impressive collection of works. Locals called him the “Don Juan of Taos.” He was also drawn to the writings of D.H. Lawrence and owned a number of first editions. Lawrence’s “Forbidden Art” paintings were sold to Saki in the mid-1950s. He displayed them in his office, along with photographs of the talented, but sometimes controversial author and his wife, Frieda, and their friends. Representations of Lawrence’s paintings now hang in a special gallery in the hotel.
Because Saki never married, he left the property and all of its contents to his close friends the George and Cordelia Sahd family. George Sahd, a longtime Taoseño, founded the Ranchos Trading Post in about 1938. He started renovating the hotel in 1998.
Over the years, Hotel La Fonda de Taos has attracted visitors, locals and the famous alike. Notable people who have stepped into the lobby include Judy Garland, Tennessee Williams, Robert De Niro, Peter Fonda, Julia Roberts and many others.
The hotel also has a great place to grab a bite. The Plaza Café offers soup and sandwiches, and New Mexican-inspired dinner entrees. It’s also a great place to do some ghost hunting — it is said the smell of Saki’s pipe tobacco and cigars can be detected to this day.
Hotel La Fonda de Taos is located on the south side of Taos Plaza. Call (575) 758-2211 or visit lafondadetaos.com.
Hotel St. Bernard
Paris-born Jean Mayer skied for the French junior national team after World War II ended. He became director of the ski patrol at Garmisch, Germany, and was a trainer and coach with the U.S. 10th Mountain Division. During the Hungarian uprising in 1956, he led revolutionaries out of Hungary. Instead of accepting a medal of honor, Mayer asked to emigrant to the U.S. His friend Bill Judd, the then head of the U.S. Ski Patrol, recommended Mayer to Taos Ski Valley (TSV) founder Ernie Blake. The Swiss-born Blake needed an expert ski instructor to run the ski school and someone to take charge at the Hondo Lodge — he envisioned an elite ski school as an integral element of the new ski resort. Blake took Judd’s advise and reached out to Mayer, and even warned him that TSV was in its infancy and money would not be plentiful. Mayer shrugged off the warning, welcomed the challenge and arrived in the Alpine-like environs of TSV on Christmas Day in 1957.
Mayer is a man of many talents (and many sayings) and Blake quickly noticed. He gifted some prime slope-side land to Mayer for a new hotel and restaurant. At the time, the Hondo Lodge was the only overnight accommodations on the mountain. The enthusiastic Mayer started building the ski-in, ski-out Hotel St. Bernard in 1958. Mayer’s brother, Dadou, and his parents, Nicole and Charles, joined him that same year to help with construction and finances. A-frames rose from the earth and the Alpenhof (a German-style building) was built. He opened the doors in 1960. Chilton Anderson, a successful local cattle rancher and fellow ski instructor, also helped the hotel’s growth by financing 28 rooms in 1962. Dadou Mayer constructed the Edelweiss Hotel right next door and his parents got into the act by opening their own lodge in nearby Red River.
But Jean Mayer’s blood, sweat and cheer is wrapped up in the St. Bernard. The hotel’s European atmosphere is unmistakable. People come back year after year for the communal dining featuring raved-about food — and being a friendly, colorful soul, Jean Mayer can be found engaging everyone he meets, swapping stories and even delivering a platter of filet mignon and smoked trout salad to a table.
Mayer’s home away from home for skiers and non-skiers alike doesn’t change much, and that’s just the way he likes it. The copper-covered fireplace is in the first room erected. It has warmed many a snow-covered kid over the years. The “St. B” has always been simple — you won’t find terry cloth bathrobes in the bathroom or room service, a gym or game room — and there is no spa, but there is a hot tub, tradition and a wealth of charm … basic, yet beautiful. Visitors also enjoy the open-air deck — a prime spot for aprés ski.
Many employees return year after year to work at St. B, alongside Mayer family members and the larger-than-life patriarch himself. Mayer also still serves as the technical director of the ski school, well, that is in between serving breakfast, lunch and dinner to guests. Mayer is a New Mexico Ski Hall of Fame inductee (2008) and so is his brother, Dadou (2016).
The Hotel St. Bernard in Taos Ski Valley at 112 Sutton Place can be reached by calling (575) 776-2251 or go online to stbernardtaos.com.
Mabel Dodge Luhan House
If ever there was a structure in Taos that hosted a healthy share of the famous and somewhat infamous, it would have to be the Mabel Dodge Luhan House … if only those walls could talk.
If they could share tales, they would start at the beginning — on June 22, 1918, to be exact. On that day, Mabel purchased 12 acres for $1,500. which bordered Taos Pueblo land just east of Taos Plaza. Her fourth husband, Tony Lujan, who hailed from the Pueblo, encouraged her to do so. (Mabel changed the spelling of their last name to Luhan because so many people mispronounced the original spelling.) That same year, the construction of the big house began. It was completed four years later and christened “Los Gallos,” (“The Roosters”). Nowadays, it’s more often called the “Salon of the Southwest.”
Up through 1948, the couple added other buildings, such as the Pink House in 1924, an upper-level sun porch and an addition to the big house.
Mabel, being a wealthy patron of the arts and an author who was particularly associated with the Taos art colony, rarely had an empty abode. Her welcome mat was put out for the counterculture and they obliged. Mabel’s support of the arts, of creative minds and her robust personality became the stuff of legend. Author D.H. Lawrence wrote about the home after a contentious visit. Georgia O’Keeffe, Ansel Adams, Willa Cather, John Collier, Frank Waters and many others set foot on the property and left inspired.
Author Lois Rudnick penned the following in her book about Los Gallos, “Utopian Vistas; The Mabel Dodge Luhan House and the American Counterculture”: “… many who came to the Luhan House were at a critical point in their lives, physically, psychologically, or vocationally. For them, the house functioned as a kind of life crisis center breaking down and healing, making — and sometimes unmaking — love affairs and marriages. Because several visitors often stayed with the Luhans simultaneously, the opportunities for mentoring, cross fertilization, and feuding were enormously rich…”
Mabel died in Taos in June 1962. She is buried just up the road in Kit Carson Park Memorial Cemetery. In many ways, even though the matriarch was gone, her spirit remained (literally, according to a local paranormal investigator) as the home retained its gift as a retreat — a center for personal growth … well, until 1970 when actor Dennis Hopper saw the property while filming “Easy Rider.” He bought it and ran his own hippie version of a salon. For about seven years, Hopper rented out rooms in the big house — that he called the “Mud Palace” — to local jewelry makers that he liked having around. He preferred to stay in the Pink House. The story goes, Hopper and his buddies wore the house down. He eventually sold it to a man named George Otero in 1977, who restored the home to its former glory. The Otero family created the nonprofit, “Las Palomas de Taos” and held workshops on the property.
The current owners, The Attiyeh Foundation, bought the house in 1996 and now operate it as a historic inn and conference center. The accommodations include 21 uniquely furnished rooms — no two are exactly alike.
Beyond being a distinctive and historic place to spend the night, the Mabel Dodge Luhan House is a continual “celebration of creativity, workshops in the arts, humanities and support of local cultural activities.”
The Mabel Dodge Luhan House is located at 240 Morada Lane, call 1-800-846-2235 or (575) 751-9686 or go online to mabeldodgeluhan.com.
Sometimes referred to as a ski lodge with campsites, the concept of the SnowMansion in Arroyo Seco is based on the hostel — a popular, inexpensive type of lodging conceived in Europe that consists of sociable accommodations where guests can rent a bed, commonly a bunk bed, in a dormitory-style room and share a bathroom, lounge and sometimes (as guests do at the SnowMansion) have use of a kitchen. For many years, the SnowMansion has been a popular, comfortable and cozy, budget-friendly place to stay for skiers, boarders and summer travelers.
The classic adobe structure began as a general store — as told by current co-owner Amu Duncan — built and operated by Clifford Chase in the late 1920s or early 1930s (depending on who you ask). Chase Mercantile was the only store in the area at the time. It was truly the quintessential general store selling everything from bubble gum to shovels, mostly to local farmers. Much of the surrounding land was agricultural and Taos Pueblo property. It was a large space — an open, two-level store. There was a wagon/cart service door by the front corner of the building so farmers could pull in to more easily load their goods.
Chase ran the store until he sold it in the 1950s to the Episcopal Rev. Robert Kennaugh from Corsicana, Texas, who converted it into a ski lodge and youth hostel for his parishioners. The reverend divided the building into six dorm rooms with four bunks each. He named it Wedelyn Inn and donated the property to The Episcopal Church.
In 1974, Ross and Kristin Ulibarri were looking for property in which to open a winter hostel. Their real estate broker knew of the inn and contacted Rev. Kennaugh about its possible availability. In turn, the reverend called The Episcopal Church who sold it to the Ulibarris.
The property was not in the best shape when the new owners took it over.
“For a year or two it was kind of closed down,” said Kristin Ulibarri. “There was a Wild West-like bar called the Gay 90s across the road. It was a lively bar to say the least. Rev. Kennaugh would sometimes rent rooms (to the bar patrons) for very little. It was in bad shape when we bought it because it really wasn’t kept up. But the bones were good. It had a commercial kitchen and picnic tables in the dining room.”
Locals often called the longtime structure the “In God we trust” building, Ulibarri described, in reference to an original wood carving of those very words that was placed up high on the outside of the rectangular building with the cut-off corner.
A friend of the Ulibarri’s — who was a magician — suggested renaming the hostel, The Abominable Snowmansion. It was christened and the Ulibarri’s had fun with the name.
“I made my husband a big, baggy, wooly suit and he used to stand on the road with a sign that on one side said, ‘Don’t shoot — stop,’ ” she laughed, “and on the other side, ‘At the Abominable Snowmansion.'”
She also remembers the village’s old-timers stopping by to tell her stories of when they were kids, and going to Chase Mercantile to trade eggs for a sack of flour or roll of muslin.
The Ulibarri’s had owned the hostel for three years when they sold it to commercial helicopter pilot Ron Stoney. He expanded the property, added campsites and decided to remain open year round for the first time.
In the 1990s, Stoney sold The Abominable Snowmansion to Penny and Phil Kirk. Penny Northrup Kirk was a member of the United States Ski Team from 1968-1972, competing on the World Cup tour. They found the running and maintenance of a ski lodge and youth hostel — and raising children — a bigger bite than they wanted to chew. The Kirks sold the property to its current owners — Amu Duncan, his brother, Subra and mother, Muna — in 2002. Amu and Subra were born and raised in nearby Arroyo Hondo.
The Duncan’s loved the Abominable Snowmansion name before web sites and social media were born; The “Ab” in “abominable” gave them first listings in phone books and guides.
“The name became less of an advantage with the onset of the internet,” Amu Duncan said. “We shortened it to The SnowMansion for ease — it’s easier to say and easier to spell for internet searches.”
The Duncans have added some modern hotel amenities such as free Wi-Fi and use of a computer. They also created some private rooms and suites, and offer a complimentary continental breakfast. There are two tepees that are set up for sleeping. Outside there are tables, fruit trees and gardens sitting on about 4 acres. The original village well, just outside a side door, is still operational.
“I like creating the communal feel of a hostel, but we also have some of the amenities of a typical hotel,” he said.
Actually, they consider it more of a communal ski lodge. Their guests, the Duncans have noticed, are often families who return generation after generation. Their goal is to keep the SnowMansion genuine and to maintain its history and “rich tradition.”
“It’s as good as always, but better than ever,” Amu Duncan expressed. “Many people’s lifelong love of Taos started here.”
The long, beefy, well-cared for wooden kitchen table has a story all its own. It originally came to the hostel from the Morning Star Commune in the nearby Des Montes/Arroyo Hondo area in the early 1970s.
“In the middle of the night,” told Amu Duncan, “people from the New Buffalo Commune (in Arroyo Hondo) stole it by taking it apart. They put it back together in their ‘big room’ so it couldn’t be stolen from them.”
The table stayed at New Buffalo until the early 2000s when the lands’ new owners, Rick and Terry Kline, uncovered it on the property. The table story was legendary and they, too, had heard the tale.
“(The Klines) knew it came from here and brought it back,” Amu Duncan said with a smile.
The SnowMansion is located in the quaint, tiny village of Arroyo Seco, 7 miles north of Taos on State Road 150, situated in between Taos and Taos Ski Valley. You literally drive through Arroyo Seco to reach the ski area. The lodge alone or the entire property can be rented out by groups. To make a reservation, call (575) 776-8298 or go online to snowmansion.com.