Las Vegas’ La Castañeda Hotel

Las Vegas’ La Castañeda Hotel

Las Vegas’ La Castañeda Hotel, 115 years old and closed since 1948, must have been well made. The building’s appraisal by Linda Gegick, who has been working on architectural, engineering, and historic surveys for new owner Allan Affeldt, makes the restoration challenge sound modest. “I’d say that it suffers from a lack of regular maintenance,” she summed up.

One of the more interesting details to emerge from her surveys is the fact that architect Frederick Roehrig and the builder employed steel railroad rails as joists between the basement and the first floor. Those are still in good shape.

Affeldt is a former two-term mayor of Winslow, Arizona, where he and his wife, Tina Mion, restored — and own and operate — the 1929 La Posada Hotel and Gardens. They purchased the Castañeda in early April and are preparing a full renovation and return to hotel use. The building at 524 Railroad Avenue was constructed in 1899 by the Santa Fe Railway. Its namesake was Pedro de Castañeda de Najera, who chronicled Francisco Coronado’s 1540-1542 expedition to the Southwest.

The railway contracted with the Fred Harvey Company to operate the hotel, making it a sister to the Montezuma in Las Vegas, El Ortiz in Lamy, La Fonda in Santa Fe, the Alvarado in Albuquerque, and other famed Harvey House hotels. For special occasions, Bridget Malone, for 30 years the lead Harvey Girl in La Castañeda’s 108-seat dining room, would bring out a special expensive set of silverware, according to Richard Melzer’s 2008 book, Fred Harvey Houses of the Southwest.

Author Elizabeth Barlow Rogers, in her 2013 volume, Learning Las Vegas: Portrait of a Northern New Mexican Place, quotes Daniel T. “Bud” Kelly Jr., who as a boy would visit the hotel with his grandparents: “With all the Harvey Girls dressed up in their white uniforms, it was a pretty snappy spot.”

This spring The New Mexican quoted Affeldt saying that Las Vegas has “the prettiest downtown in the Southwest.” In June he told Pasatiempo that restoring La Castañeda will require about $2 million and two years. But that project will be delayed while he does some work at the city’s Plaza Hotel. On June 30, he closed on that 1881 edifice, located on the plaza in the older section of town, about 12 blocks west of the railroad district.

Affeldt said he hopes the two hotels will help revitalize Las Vegas. He added that the Castañeda, the main facade and courtyard of which face the railroad tracks, will depend more on I-25 travelers than on those riding the rails — although Amtrak’s Southwest Chief, which runs between Chicago and Los Angeles, still stops twice a day at the 1899 depot right next to the Castañeda.

Gegick is also busy with a feasibility assessment and preservation plan, for the MainStreet Las Vegas organization, to restore the 1899 Rawlins Building, directly across Railroad Avenue from the hotel. “They’re simultaneously doing those surveys to try to save that building too,” Affeldt said, “but the city is hoping the Castañeda will be the catalyst for the whole railroad district.”

Gegick’s surveys will tell the hotel’s new owner “what we can keep and what needs to be changed.” He knows the roof has to be renovated. “It’s pressed-metal sheets, so it looks like shingles. It’s in remarkably good condition, but the flashing points need to be fixed and sealed.”

Gegick added that the second-floor gable roof “is formed metal, like a Spanish tile, but it’s not ceramic. The loggia roofs likely were also that, but now they’re asphalt shingle.” The loggias, which have been referred to by others as arcades, extend along the hotel’s front walls, including those facing the courtyard, and along the south elevation facing the depot.

The walls of La Castañeda are all brick, built on stone footings. “Inside there are some wonderful ceiling moldings, some with dentils, and the structural columns in the lobby have cast floral motifs,” Gegick said.

The architect was quite the slave to the exterior details. “Everything was so well-thought-out,” Gegick said. “The mortar joints are beaded. The arches are either three or four bricks deep. The windows on the first floor are mostly eight-over-one, and on the second floor they’re eight-over-two, with a lovely little sash detail: a half a teardrop on the outside bottom corners of the upper sash. Also, there are second-floor bay windows on every facade.”

The caps of the curvilinear parapets are metal, and the central tower is wood frame with metal cladding. “The original plans show the tower to be of frame construction with wood sheathing,” said Las Vegas architect Jonathan Whitten. “The cupola area at the top is clad entirely with galvanized metal. A note on the original tower drawing states, ‘The exterior of the tower and all parts visible must be of Galv. Iron #26.’”

What else about the structure is outstanding? “For me,” Gegick replied, “it is more than the sum of its parts. It’s the finely proportioned spaces, the views, the elegant details.”

Patrick W. Kidd, in his very detailed 2010 University of Pennsylvania master’s thesis, “Branding the Southwest: A Preservation Plan for the Fred Harvey Houses,” notes, “Although many later Mission style structures were coated with stucco or cement applied to resemble stucco, Roehrig left bare the buff brick facades of La Castañeda.”

About the loggias, which are approximately 12 feet deep, Kidd offers this astute observation: “At first glance, the structure appears quite large and impressive, but on further investigation, the observer notices how much of that sense of grandeur is achieved through Mission detailing, such as the arched arcade.”

The Mission style originated in Southern California in the 1890s, according to an article in the September 1988 Bulletin of the Historic Santa Fe Foundation. The focus of that story was an Old Santa Fe Trail house designed by Thomas MacLaren in 1910 for Bronson Cutting, who would go on to become publisher of The New Mexican and a U.S. senator. “Adopted by the railroads for hotels and stations, the style was brought to New Mexico by the Santa Fe line,” the story says. “One of the best examples was the now-demolished Alvarado Hotel in Albuquerque.”

Corinne Sze, the author of the article, compliments the house as “exceptionally elegant and balanced in design” and says it “embodies the characteristic features of the Mission Revival style in the liberal use of arches around window and door openings, in the orientation around a central courtyard, and in the curvilinear gable” — all accolades and descriptions that would also fit the Castañeda Hotel.

Affeldt plans to recycle a large quantity of furniture purchased from La Fonda last year, when it was remodeled. “There are 950 pieces: beds, dressers, bureaus, trasteros, cabinets, chairs, trestle tables, folding tables, desks. The irony is that we bought it all in New Mexico, had to take a dozen trips with moving vans to Arizona, and now we have to move it all back to New Mexico. It’s nice for Ernest Martinez [La Fonda’s in-house artist for 55 years], and it’s nice for La Fonda, because they really cared about the furniture and they wanted it to stay together as a collection. It will completely fill all the guest rooms.”

He found places for a few pieces of La Fonda furniture in his Winslow lodging, “but really where it belongs is in an Arts and Crafts/Mission Revival building like the Castañeda,” Affeldt said. “It’s going to be perfect. And it has that Fred Harvey tradition to it, which is really great.” ◀

(1) comment

S. Ulrich

More pictures would have really been nice. NB "journalists".

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