La Fonda on the Plaza has become a 21st-century luxury hotel just in time for its 100th anniversary in 2022.
Since 2007, Jennifer Kimball has overseen substantial modernization of all aspects of La Fonda. She transformed a hodgepodge of elements spanning La Fonda’s entire century into a hotel with new millennium utilities, fixtures, furnishing and décor within a historic structure.
The last touch was an overhaul of the hotel’s Terrace Inn, the 15 luxury “hotel within a hotel” suites on the top two floors of the building near the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi.
Terrace Inn, with its $600-plus nightly room rates, reopened Aug. 9 after being offline since February.
As extensive renovations over the past 14 years touched the other 165 La Fonda rooms, the La Plazuela Restaurant, the meeting rooms, ballrooms and lobby, the Terrace Inn languished in the 1990s.
“This is the culmination of a strategic plan that started in 2007,” Kimball said. “This is the culmination to get our facility modernized. Some of the electrical was original from 1922.”
Over the past six months, furnishings were replaced, the bathrooms were gutted and the “measles look” with protruding bumps in the walls was replaced with hand-trawled plaster walls.
“I would say in 2007 we had different styles of architecture [and infrastructure] from every decade since the 1920s,” Kimball said. “There were parts from the ’20s, parts from the ’50s and ’60s.”
The Terrace Inn, which opened in 1998 atop La Fonda’s parking garage, was firmly locked in the 1990s, a setting Kimball said had lost its allure.
“There was a lot of faux-adobe walls as décor,” she said. “There was a lot of peach and baby blues, oak furniture, bidets.”
The original idea was to go “extremely modern” based on a Georgia O’Keeffe design. A model room was set up, and the public spoke.
“The public wanted more of a consistent look with the historic side of the hotel,” Kimball said. “It broke my heart.”
The Terrace Inn’s look is now “a mix of new and old.” One room has a historic Santa Fe Railway architect Mary Colter-designed table with santero paintings next to Native American art.
All the headboards are decorated with Navajo Chief blankets designed by Jet Zarkadas at Los Griegos Studios. Barbara Felix was the mastermind behind the interior look of all the Terrace Inn rooms. Mark Hogan was the project architect.
They started from scratch with the bathrooms, stripping out everything and replacing plumbing and electrical.
Bathrooms now have Carrara marble floors, double sinks and custom tiled showers.
Terrace Inn rooms are as much about the patios as the rooms. The patios mostly range from 20 to 400 square feet, with the largest at 975 square feet and a capacity of 30 people.
“If a bride is staying here, she can have a bridal party here,” Kimball said.
Often, bridal parties book all 15 rooms.
Each room has a different floor plan and patio configurations.
The sheer curtains are imprinted with images from artist Del Curfman, with the paintings hanging in a Terrace Inn corridor. Curfman also created this year’s Santa Fe Indian Market poster.
Terrace Inn is in the southeast corner of La Fonda on the third and fourth floors. Before, Terrace Inn guests checked in at the main lobby and then journeyed to the far corner of the hotel.
Now Terrace Inn is a separate unit with its own check-in and concierge desk.
“There are two sorts of people who stay here,” concierge Patricia Palmer said. “Many families have stayed here for generations. [They] are sentimental about the La Fonda. Then there are the guests experiencing Santa Fe and perhaps the La Fonda for the first time. The old-timers like the sense of the familiar, the sense of the uniqueness of the hotel. The newcomers love the uniqueness of a small boutique hotel.”
Modernizing the entire La Fonda started as a bit of a mystery in 2007.
“We didn’t have floor plans,” said Kimball, adding that floor plans had to be created to start the renovations.
The La Plazuela restaurant came first in 2008-09. All 165 rooms in the historic portions of the hotel were remodeled by 2013.
“The bathrooms had not been redone since the 1920s,” Kimball said. “You couldn’t just keep replacing toilets.”
But before any remodeling could start, the utilities needed to be addressed, with wiring and plumbing dating as far as 1922.
“The vast expense was behind the walls, replacing all the plumbing and electrical,” Kimball said. “We replaced all the exterior windows and restuccoed the walls.”
Cienda Partners of Dallas became La Fonda’s third owner in 2014. Renovations continued uninterrupted.
The lobby and La Fiesta Lounge were remodeled in 2016. Meeting rooms and ballrooms followed in 2018-20.
The overhaul is done. Or is it?
“Our next project, we’re going to do the historic rooms again because they are already showing wear and tear,” Kimball said.