I’ve not added much to this series on old hotels lately. It’s not for lack of trying — I’ve been out traveling but not finding anything good to write about. A lot of the “good” old places have been demolished or else my schedule didn’t make it easy to stay at the few promising places that I passed on my journeys. I’ve been trying out a few 1950s era motels but there isn’t much to write about.
I recently had an opportunity to stay over in Las Cruces, New Mexico, after dropping my daughter off at the opulent Amtrak station in Deming where she caught the train to New Orleans. “Never again on that route”, she says emphatically. That’s her story to tell but I’ll just say that it ended with a very long bus ride. Everyone has a story to tell about Amtrak and now she has hers.
My experience in Las Cruces was much more enjoyable. I had only driven through Las Cruces once coming back from Big Bend National Park in Texas a few years back. I don’t even think I stopped for gas so I didn’t know much about the place. It’s about a four hour drive from there to home so I was probably in a hurry. This time I was on a more casual schedule — the train didn’t even stop at Deming until around 1 PM so I covered the hour-long drive east to Las Cruces that afternoon. The drive was uneventful and I pulled into a rest area on a hill just west of town to get my bearings. I was greeted by a giant Roadrunner and a panoramic view of the city laid out in the Mesilla valley with the Organ Mountains in the background. Las Cruces is New Mexico’s second largest city which is an impressive statistic until you realize there are only two-million people in the entire state.
New Mexico’s towns and cities are often a mix of old and new (sometimes very old) and Las Cruces conforms to that pattern. The community of Messila, a short distance to the south, preserves much of the area’s adobe architecture as well as the Basilica of San Albino on the town plaza. I took an unexpected detour into Mesilla on my way into Las Cruces and enjoyed walking around the plaza and the local shops and cantinas. It was a weekend and the annual Indian Market was taking place on the plaza with local Indian arts and crafts offered for sale. There was music and a nice crowd enjoying the day.
Las Cruces came to life just after the Mexican War in 1849, being originally laid out by the military. The railroad was enthusiastically greeted when the first train arrived in 1881. Why Amtrak doesn’t stop in Las Cruces now, at a real depot, is one of the inscrutable mysteries of modern passenger rail service in America. The city became the home of New Mexico State University around 1890. Like a lot of places, the city center fell victim to urban renewal in the 1960s, including the impressive St. Genevieve church, dating back to the 1850s. It seems that recovering from urban renewal has been slower than planned. I guess I’m yammering on about Las Cruces because I’ve never been there and the place is worth a visit…not just for the city but for what you will discover in the general area.
Lundeen Inn of the Arts
When I went looking for an historic hotel in Las Cruces I was surprised not to find much. There are a number of the usual interstate highway motel chains. There’s a possibly elderly hotel/resort, Hotel Encanto, that seemed a little Disney-esque based on what I could discover. I kept looking until I found the Lundeen Inn of the Arts. It doesn’t just pop out when you are looking…you have to be patient.
It doesn’t actually pop out at you when you arrive, either. It is a combination art gallery and inn located in a large Spanish/Mediterranean styled home behind a wall on South Alameda Blvd. I passed it up and had to turn around and make a slower pass before I found it. Be patient…it is worth the effort.
Jerry and Linda Lundeen transformed a couple of century-old houses into this inviting and very memorable inn. Jerry was a prominent architect in Las Cruces and well known in New Mexico. Jerry died a few years ago but Linda keeps the Inn and the concept of art mixed with hospitality going. They lived here together for fifty years and most of what you see is Jerry’s handwork…clearly a labor of love. The Inn once had eighteen rooms but now has maybe half that as the adjoining building has been converted to condominiums.
This is sort of a rambling place that reveals itself to you as you go deeper into the interior. There’s a human scale to it — no gaping maw of a grand hotel lobby — your introduction is much more subtle. There are multiple levels, stairways and corridors, and hidden spaces. The entry is tucked into an alcove between the two main structures. There’s a small entry foyer and registration desk with the main gallery space extending behind and down a level. Linda was busy in the back when I arrived so it took a few minutes to find her and get checked in. After a short introduction and conversation she decided that I should stay in the Georgia O’Keeffe Room upstairs at the end of the balcony. The rooms feature artwork by New Mexico’s artists and there were a few of O’Keeffe’s prints on the wall in my room.
The room was comfortable and included a day bed for as many as three room guests. There was a nice reading area in an alcove and plenty of books supplied if you haven’t remembered to bring your own. I love places like this that provide a small library of books in the guest rooms. I’m seeing it more and more in the historic hotels. It’s a nice and thoughtful touch. This is a century-old building but it was rock solid. The floors were not squeaking at every step; it was quiet; the bathroom was comfortable though not a fancy recreational venue; and, there were sufficient electrical outlets for all of my plug-ins. It seems that as I get older I get more dependent on battery chargers and plug-ins. The in-house internet service worked fine. I slept well in the comfortable bed. I did not visit other guest rooms but mine was very nice.
As I mentioned, my room was at the end of the balcony. It overlooked the large, two-story great room and dining area. Guests would be served coffee and a sit-down breakfast there each morning. Linda’s daughter does the cooking and probably most of the heavy lifting as far as running the place but Linda is the “Lady of the Manor”, so to speak. She is a welcoming and gracious hostess who knows every inch of the place and has stories to tell. She will gladly sit and chat for a while and provide recommendations on where to eat or what to see. Linda grew up in Albuquerque, attended “Old Main” high school and frequented the famous Alvarado Hotel, probably the grandest Harvey House establishment along the Santa Fe line — sadly demolished in the 1970. She has a few stories to tell and I enjoy listening.
There was at least one movie filmed here at the inn and it has had its share of celebrity guests over the years. Guests are free to wander. There are a couple public rooms as well as the gallery space to explore. The back yard includes a small outdoor chapel. I suppose you could get married here.
That evening I took Linda’s advice and ate supper at the Double Eagle. This was another of Jerry Lundeen’s architectural projects; an impressive transformation of an old adobe hacienda-style structure into a restaurant on the plaza in Mesilla. The food was good and it was a pleasant evening. The Green Chile Won-tons were good as was the Tres Leches Cake.
The next morning the guests, all five of us…plus Linda, gathered for coffee and conversation. I hadn’t met any other guests — hadn’t seen any — until then. One was a librarian whose husband was a retired English professor and volunteer at a nearby National Monument. One was visiting from Albuquerque and in the process of purchasing a condo. One was a writer from New York City gathering material for a writing project. Our breakfast was sausage and French Toast with fresh fruit and plenty of the best coffee I had on the trip. Conversation lingered over the table well into mid-day. There were two topics of conversation that were not allowed under Linda’s house rules: politics and religion. That was a welcome relief — not talking politics for several hours with interesting people was a treat. We forget sometimes that there are other things to talk about. Finally, at about eleven o’clock, we realized the day was getting away from us and we all went our separate ways.
There are a couple small, polite, dogs that reside at the inn. They made their appearance in the morning and patrolled the back yard for a while. They made a quick visit to the group of guests and then were gone.
I think it is fair to say that the Lundeen Inn of the Arts is not for everybody. When I travel I meet people who probably would not be comfortable with the casual intimacy of the place. There are some folks who would rather enjoy staying at a more modern Hampton Inn or a Comfort Inn out by the interstate. If a person has serious mobility issues, it could be a little challenging to get around in the Inn — there are several levels and stairways…call ahead first. The same advice holds if you have a special diet.
As you can tell, I liked the place and would stay there again when in Las Cruces. The price of the room was under $100 — less than some of the chain motels by the highway.
New Mexico State University
On my way out of Las Cruces I made a side visit to the campus of New Mexico State University. I was interested in the architecture. I had heard that Hentry Trost, famous in the southwest, was the architect for the older campus buildings built around 1909. When I got on the campus, which was nearly deserted, I was puzzled at the mix of new and old buildings as well as old buildings with new and larger annexes. It was a nice campus but nothing much seemed to stand out from the right era. Perhaps there has been some modernization efforts. There’s no ivy-covered walls but mostly crisp clean lines that carry on a modified Mission-style of architecture. In the southwest, bright sunlight and shadow offer the ornamentation on some of the more simple architectural styles.
Organ Mountains — Desert Peaks National Monument
The Trump Administration is wanting to redefine a number of National Monuments that were designated during the Obama Administration. New Mexico has two targeted monuments including the Organ Mountains — Desert Peaks National Monument located near Las Cruces. I drove up into the Organ Mountains to get a look for myself.
The monument is in four different parcels with unique features in each one. I just had time to visit one area. The view to the east from the Organ Mountains looks out over the White Sands Missile Range and in the far distance you can see White Sands National Monument, maybe 40 miles away.
I’m not sure why the Trump Administration would want to tinker with the size, boundaries, or purpose of the National Monument unless there was a political motivation or some business interests pushing the issue. We don’t need another golf course here.
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