La Fonda on the Plaza – Santa Fe’s Haunted Historic Hotel

La Fonda on the Plaza – Santa Fe’s Haunted Historic Hotel - Photo

La Fonda on the Plaza holds a truly coveted place in New Mexico’s history — it remains a main component in the rich tapestry that is Santa Fe’s hospitality, that which predates America’s independence. City records tell us that La Fonda sits on the site of the city’s very first inn, established when the city of Santa Fe was founded by Spaniards in 1607. This makes La Fonda’s property the oldest hotel corner in all of America.

La Fonda is a proud member of the Historic Hotels of America, and its history can be traced back over four centuries. Four hundred years of people checking in, with not all of those guests checking out. While La Fonda is known for its rich, oozing history, it’s also known for its very outward and extroverted haunts.

Looking to experience the haunts and history of the American southwest for yourself? Join us for a ghost tour!

History of La Fonda on the Plaza

The site of the current La Foda has been the location of various inns since its inception in 1609. It is on the El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, which linked Mexico City to Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo and was the main stopping point of the 800-mile long Old Santa Fe Trail, which linked Missouri to New Mexico and was an essential commercial trade route prior to the 1880 introduction of railroads. The Fred Harvey Company established La Fonda as one of its premier Harvey Houses.

In 1821, Captain William Becknell and his party found their way to La Fonda during the maiden commercial route across the plains from Missouri, establishing the Santa Fe Trail.

An earlier construction of the current hotel called the United States Hotel but nicknamed La Fonda Americana by locals, burned down in 1912. In 1920, The Santa Fe Builders Corporations issued shares of stock to raise funds to build a new hotel in its place.

Architect Isaac Rapp, the ‘creator of the Santa Fe style’ was chosen to design the hotel in the Pueblo Revival Style, which drew most of its inspiration from the architecture of the Indigenous Pueblo people of the region. The new hotel was finished, and was hailed as ‘the purest Santa Fe type of architecture and one of the most truly distinctive hotels anywhere between Chicago and San Diego.’

Throughout the 19th century, La Fonda became the preferred lodging for trappers, soldiers, gold-seekers, gamblers, and politicians. The adobe structure changed hands several times as the years went on — it even endured milestones like the American Civil war, a railroad expansion, and New Mexico statehood.

Today, it houses many shops, galleries, newsstands, boutiques, restaurants, and watering holes. It’s a one-stop shop for weary travelers, an oasis in an otherwise inhospitable desert landscape.

The structure that guests enjoy today was built in 1922. Authentic elements including hand-carved beams, stained glass skylights, and a 25-foot cathedral ceiling create a romantic aura unique to La Fonda’s Santa Fe history.

Elements of the original design are still evident throughout the hotel, with La Plazuela situated on the hotel’s original 1920s outdoor patio, as well as breathtaking skylights, terracotta tile, and hammered tin chandeliers in event venues. 

La Fonda remained as a Harvey House until 1968 when a local businessman and his wife acquired the property. It stayed with them until October of 2014 when the property was bought by a partnership of families with a personal connection to the hotel.

Unexplained Happenings at the Hotel

Guests to the hotel enjoy all of the amenities that La Fonda on the Plaza has to offer, but they come with a price — very active ghosts.

One guest heard the sound of very heavy footsteps pacing back and forth down the hallways, late into the night. He called the lobby to report the disturbance, and when a hotel employee went to investigate, he saw a man in a long, black coat walk into the stairwell and disappear.

Some believe this was the ghost of Judge John P. Slough, who had gotten into a deadly argument in the hotel lobby back in 1867 with a member of the Territorial Legislature of Dona Ana County. His signature look was a long, black coat after all.

The judge’s ghost isn’t the only one reported at the hotel — with a history of over four hundred years and a hotel that’s been the site of violent gunfights and public hangings, it’s bound to have its fair share of the unexplained.

Some see the spirit of a businessman who drank and gambled his fortune away at the hotel — heavily in debt and maddened by his losses, he ran to the hotel’s inner courtyard and dove head first into the well. Diners and staff report seeing a figure that walks to the middle of the restaurant and then disappears, right at the spot where the well once stood.

Another entity reported is that of a young bride who was murdered on her wedding night by an ex-lover. She’s known to haunt the wedding suite, room 510, as well as the lobby, basement, and elevator.

Countless other reports have come out of the hotel, including a ghostly cowboy, outlines of people lying in guest beds, footsteps, orbs, disembodied voices, you name it, La Fonda’s got it.

Come to the plaza for the ghosts, but definitely stay for the beautiful Pueblo-style architecture with its bright tiles and historic wooden beams — but maybe, just maybe, sleep with your lights on.

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