A Texas real estate investment company has acquired El Rey Inn, a Cerrillos Road fixture for 80 years that’s known for its lush landscaping, courtyards, fountains, gardens and graceful architecture. Among changes the new owners plan for the property is replacing the inn’s breakfast room with a restaurant and bar.

Terrell White, who had owned El Rey since 1973, sold the 5-acre complex to a company called Behringer, formerly known as Behringer Harvard. The Addison, Texas, business, which in the past has focused on office and apartment properties, launched a hotel investment division last year.

El Rey, which had been family-run since it opened as roadside lodging on a busy commercial route southwest of downtown Santa Fe, is now being managed by Evolution Hospitality, based in San Clemente, Calif.

Employees of the inn said Wednesday that White left at the end of June after the sale closed.

White couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday, nor could Jeff Burns, managing director of Behringer Lodging Group.

While the 86-room inn still looks the same on the outside, one change already implemented is higher room rates. In the past, the lowest summer rate for a room was $109 a night. Now it’s $169.

Another change: The motel now allows pets — for a $50 nonrefundable fee. And the new owners intend to replace a couple of fountains with fire pits, desk manager Sylvia Martinez said.

In addition to the planned bar, El Rey intends to offer a margarita-tasting area, Martinez said.

Martinez, who has worked for the inn for 25 years, said Wednesday that construction work on the property is scheduled to begin next month.

The Santa Fe City Council on July 13 voted 5-3 to approve transfer of a liquor license from the Willard Cantina Cafe in Willard, N.M., to El Rey. The application for the transfer, filed by a limited partnership known only as El Rey Beverage Holdings LLC, was filed in late February.

Burns and four other Behringer executives and officers are listed as managers for El Rey Beverage on the Secretary of State’s Corporations and Business Services website. They also are listed for another limited partnership, El Rey Hotel Holdings LLC.

El Rey Inn, according to information on its website, was known as El Rey Court when it opened in 1936 with a dozen rooms. At the time, the original U.S. Route 66 came through Santa Fe. That changed the next year.

More rooms, as well as a swimming pool, were added in the 1950s. After White bought the property, he continued adding rooms, including the addition of a two-story, 10-room Spanish-American courtyard. White also upgraded the interiors of the rooms. “Each room is unique, decorated with Southwestern-style furniture and antiques,” the website says. “Paintings and sculptures collected from around the globe adorn the inn.”

Both Martinez and desk worker Monica Encinias praised White as an employer, saying he treated his workers like family. “You could not find a better boss than Terrell,” Martinez said.

The inn’s website indicates the feeling was mutual: “The Whites also attribute the Santa Fe hotel’s longevity to the dedication of its staff. … Staff loyalty is shown by their combined 366 years of experience at El Rey.”

In 2014, White received national recognition for El Rey’s profit-sharing plan for employees, which started in 1981. An article on the CNN Money website said that White “put in $7 million over the years and paid out $5 million. When a longtime housekeeper left the El Rey after about 30 years, she took $275,000 with her.”

Contact Steve Terrell at 505-986-3037 or sterrell@sfnewmexican.com. Read his political blog at tinyurl.com/roundhouseroundup.

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