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Secret Places: The Plaza Hotel in Las Vegas, New Mexico

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Years ago many of us found a magical place in Northern New Mexico called Santa Fe. While the city remains a wonderful place to visit, it has seen meteoric growth and exploitation.

 

The Santa Fe of yesteryear is gone. Fortunately, there is another city with the same character. In the old days they called it Nuestra Senora de los Dolores de Las Vegas Grandes (“Our Lady of Sorrows of the Great Meadows”). The popular name is Las Vegas, New Mexico.

If you enjoy mixing with local culture, the place to stay in Las Vegas is the Plaza Hotel. Charles Ilfeld and Don Benigno Romero raised the small fortune of $25,000 to build “The Belle of the Southwest.” The Plaza Hotel was a first class meeting spot on the Santa Fe Trail for the “who’s who” of the times, including the Territorial Democrats and Territorial Republicans, according the to hotel’s website.

Topics of the day were similar to modern political issues. Should the territory of New Mexico join the Union?  In 1846, Stephen W. Kearny claimed New Mexico for the United States in front of a crowd gathered in the Las Vegas Plaza.

During the lame duck session of 2010, children of undocumented immigrants asked Congress to pass the Dream Act so they can go to college or serve in the military and be part of America. 

Education is in the hearts of the descendants of the original people of Las Vegas. In 1877, A group of exiled Jesuits formed the Las Vegas College, which became Regis University in Denver, Colorado. Armand Hammer’s United World College is located near Las Vegas in another famous hotel.  The college accepts talented youth from around the world.  Perhaps some of the Dream students will go to school in Law Vegas or Denver, Colorado!

In the early days, the Railroad Brought people and problems.

Teddy Roosevelt had a meeting with the Rough Riders in 1889. Billy the Kid was paraded across the plaza in chains on his way to the Las Vegas jail. Doc Holliday and his Girlfriend Big Nose Kate were there. So was Jesse James, and Wyatt Earp. What makes the Plaza Hotel fun is all the history, and you can be there, too!

Sadly, a decline in the economy and the railroad as a means of travel left the hotel in disrepair. Bryan T. Mills acquired the property in the 1940s and decided to tear the Belle of the Southwest down. Fortunately for all of us, he never got around to it.

They say Mills shows up at the hotel from time to time, which is odd since he died at the Las Vegas Elks lodge in 1945. Lauren Addario says she met him, sort of, when she worked at the Plaza Hotel. Late one night in 1997 she felt someone sit on the bed. Soon the bed released and she heard pacing.

Addairo, like most of us, was not sure of her own perceptions and kept the story quiet. However, a year later, a guest had the same experience! Locals say it is Byron, lamenting the injury to the community and history in his effort to raze the Plaza Hotel.

If you want to meet Byron, your best bet is to stay in room 316, which he favors. They say if you spend enough time at the famed grand dame, you will smell his cigar smoke or even see the leftover ash from his stogie!

The Hotel is located on the historial central plaza, a typical design feature which allowed social events in buildings that could serve as fortresses during siege. Today, other interesting stores and restaurants dot the Plaza, including the artists’ cooperative El Zócalo Gallery.

In 1982, Wid Slick along with eighteen partners restored the Plaza. The renovation cost over $2 million, far more than the $25,000 it took to build it. That brought the hotel up to first class standards again and the ownership continues to improve their pride and joy every year.

Investors are renovating the adjacent Mercantile building which has been combined with the Plaza. On the main floor, they added a grand ballroom. The original front desk graces the expanded lobby. The guest rooms in the mercantile building are all less than two years old. Hence, you have your choice: live as they did 150 years ago in the original hotel or take a modern room in the expansion. Either way, you will have a great time being part of history.

I recently toured the basement of the Mercantile building along with maintenance engineer and guide David Benavidez. The structure is built like a castle from underneath. The foundation is laid upon a solid stone and masonry wall which remains fortress-like today. Years ago, a massive boiler heated the structure but that has been removed. The cavity has left a small catacomb. It is easy to imagine the secrets lost to history and the spirits of an earlier age. Perhaps you will feel Byron’s presence if you take the tour!

 

Anne said if you present this article to the person at the front desk she would probably buy you a free ice cream! Offer limited.

 

General Manager Anne Bradford has gone to great lengths to insure the Plaza Hotel remains a driving force in the culture of Las Vegas. The hotel is a frequent sponsor of charity events for the community. The Plaza was recently involved in a drive to raise money to buy gifts for underprivileged youths. New Year’s Eve is dedicated as a “Black Tie and Blue Jeans” charity ball.  If you don’t have the britches to go with your rented tux, save the money, come to the ball, and give it to the kids!

“Everyone who works here takes an interest in the property. I see to that!” the energetic Bradford told me during an exclusive interview.

Front desk person Mike Williams conveyed his excitement for the historical landmark as he greeted me.

“Many movies have been made right here,” he told me, his eyes flashing as he told the stories one more time. “Easy Rider was made here, you know.  So was No Country for Old Men. Would you like to see a room?”

Room 203 was very spacious. There was a large sitting area, the bath had been updated (my only disappointment!), and the room was huge. Best of all, it looks right over the plaza below. For $85 it was a heck of a deal!

The huge park which is also called the Plaza is the site of events throughout the year. The Fourth of July Fiesta is one of the biggest. However, the electric light parade is not to be missed, says Mike’s brother, Sean Williams, who also greets people at the front desk.

Then there is the annual motorcycle rally in the third week of July. The Gold Wing Road Riders Association had its own event at the Plaza this year. Plus, you never know who you will meet at the Plaza. Ty Murry, the bull rider, stayed there recently, along with rock star Jewel.

While the Plaza Hotel has served as an emergency respite for travelers, this is a place to come and stay. The hotel has been the site of many adventures and the staff is eager to help you live your adventure, as well.  Soon, the basement will be finished and guests can visit the catacomb. They are going to call it “Dirty Girty’s” after Girty Lapscaler who tended bar at the Plaza for years. Perhaps Byron will be there too.

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About Tim Paynter

  • terence sutherland

    The writer fails to mention that Bat Masterson and the Dodge City Gang, along with Pat Garrett used to roam “Old Town” Las Vegas. Also Jack Johnson, heavyweight champion of the world in the early 20th Century, trained here. The Rough Riders trained here before going on to fight in the Battle of San Juan Hill, Puerto Rico.

    Queen Elizabeth visited nearby Montezuma, also in the early 20th Century. In the 30’s, big cars with Illinois plates would be seen rumbling into Old Town, staying for a few months until the heat was off in Chicago. It was later learned many were with Al Capone. Yes, there’s alot of history in Old Town, Las Vegas…