If a hotel
is to be successful, it must be part of the community in which
it is located. The Eldorado Hotel, since it opened its doors for
business in December 1985, has worked hard to integrate into the
mainstream of Santa Fe life and society. Indeed, it would be hard
to imagine any other individual or company that has contributed
more to the community than has the Eldorado, Santa Fe's largest
hotel and its only four-star one.
owners and management are also cognizant of the important role
the city has played in the history of New Mexico and the Southwest.
They feel that it is paramount to protect and preserve the diverse
cultures of the area, so that future generations will understand
the complexities that make up the tri-cultural mosaic of The City
the historical occupancy of the downtown site on which the Eldorado
is located cannot, truly, be traced back as far as 1607, when
Don Pedro de Peralta established Santa Fe as the capital city
of the Northern Kingdom of New Spain, there is evidence of Native
American activity less than a quarter-mile west of where the hotel
there was a pueblo close to the present downtown area. And ancient
feet, surely, trod the soil where now weary travelers rest after
a tiring but exhilarating day exploring the sights and drinking
in the atmosphere of one of America's oldest and most intriguing
cities-a city that was already making its mark 13 years before
activity in New Mexico dates back to the Coronado expedition of
1540, and settlement in Santa Fe to the early 1600s. It was after
the revolt of the Pueblo Indians and the subsequent return of
the Spanish under Don Diego de Vargas in 1692 that the city slowly
but surely started to develop into a most important trading post.
It became the center of Spanish society in new Mexico, befitting
the northernmost point on the famous Camino Real-the Royal Road
that connected Santa Fe with Mexico City.
all the commerce in which the city was involved traveled over
the Camino Real until 1821, when the Santa Fe Trail was opened.
Then Americans from the Midwest and the East poured into Santa
Fe along the new trail, with new trade goods, and the city thrived
in this exciting atmosphere. Gambling parlors and houses of ill
repute dotted the city, but were mainly concentrated on the west
most likely that the adobe buildings located on West San Francisco
Street were an integral part of the city's nightlife. The rooms
for the large "rooming house" that stood on the site of the present-day
Eldorado in the 18th and 19th centuries were probably used for
more than sleeping! There is also considerable evidence of a bar
or saloon on the site at this time.
1830s the four Robidoux brothers operated a tannery on the site,
and at least one of them, Louis, had his residence alongside the
store. The Robidoux brothers had come to Santa Fe from Missouri,
and they were all involved in the fur trade. Their travels and
their trading took them all over the West, but Santa Fe was their
nearest thing to a permanent address.
however, it seems that the seamier side of Santa Fe nightlife
had abandoned the area. Between that time and 1908 the site was
occupied at various times by furnished rooms, a blacksmith, a
cobbler, a photographic salon, a furniture store and a bicycle
meantime, the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad, known popularly as
the "Chili Line," had come to Santa Fe. From the railroad terminal
the trains ran past the Santuario de Guadalupe, down Montezuma
Avenue and along Jefferson Avenue, crossing San Francisco Street
less than 100 yards from the current location of the hotel.
the property housed the Santa Fe Mill & Lumber Company, owned
by Frank Thompson. A young boy named John Hillyer, whose family
had recently moved to Santa Fe from Riverton, Wyoming, got his
first summer job that year. He drove Mrs. Thompson around town
in a Model T Ford roadster. It was his duty to drive while Mrs.
Thompson collected outstanding bills for the lumber company. John
Hillyer, as we will see, was later to play an important role in
the story of this piece of property.
about this time, F. A. (Ferd) Berry came to Santa Fe with his
wife, Kippie, and the rest of his family. Ferd and his wife were
raised in Arkansas but came west in the early 1900s to manage
a bank in Dayton, New Mexico, a town that no longer exists. While
the couple was in Dayton, their two daughters, Maria and Perle,
the banking business after a few years and struggled along doing
three or four jobs at a time to support his family. In 1913 he
went to work for the Big Jo Lumber Company in nearby Artesia.
Big Jo, in those days, was a large company with 35 to 40 lumber
yards across the West.
business was proving to be good for Ferd Berry, and in 1927 he
persuaded Big Jo to let him and a few partners open a business
in Santa Fe. It wasn't the best time to start a new business.
America was entering the Great Depression, and, as his daughter
Marie said, "In those days we had to fight hard for every nickel
we made." But the Berry family persisted and climbed out of the
Depression years owning a thriving business.
the daughters were growing up. Marie had attended high school
in Kansas; and the younger Perle went to school in Santa Fe, where
she met a good-looking young fellow named John Hillyer. After
graduation both Perle and John attended the University of New
Mexico for a year, but then returned to Santa Fe.
had trained to be a teacher, and was assigned to a post in Stanley,
New Mexico. But she didn't stay long, and soon headed back to
Santa Fe, where she went to work for her father at Big Jo. Back
in Santa Fe, it wasn't too long before Marie met Bob Santheson,
a young assistant at the Santa Fe Floral Company, and they were
Perle, also trained as a teacher, left her job with the Santa
Fe school system and joined Marie in working for their father
at Big Jo. Perle and John Hillyer "courted" for 11 years before
they were married in 1939. Eventually both husbands wound up working
for Big Jo, and it became, truly, a family business.
of Santa Fe in the 1930s differ somewhat, depending on who's doing
the recollecting. Perle recalls the city as "A nice, quiet place
to live, with lovely, friendly people. It had a small-town feeling,
and just about everyone knew everyone else. The older Spanish
ladies strolled around town dressed in their beautiful black shawls,
and they would often be confused with the many nuns seen around
from nearby villages came to town leading their burros, loaded
down with wood and other goods, to be sold door-to-door on the
streets of the city. Over on Burro Alley, not far from the lumber
company, behind what is now the Lensic Theater, there were hitching
posts where the owners tied up their burros, placed a blanket
over the animals' heads, and then left to do their shopping, or
perhaps visit the local cantinas.
however, remembers a slightly different Santa Fe. While agreeing
with Perle on the nuns and the burros, and the peaceful atmosphere,
she tells of movies at the old Paris Theater and then later at
the new Lensic. The Lensic had a dance hall on the second floor,
so that customers could see a movie downstairs and then finish
the evening "tripping the light fantastic" upstairs. She also
recalls target shooting on what is now St. Francis Drive.
Berry died in 1976, at the age of 91. His daughters and sons-in-law
continued to operate the business until 1983, when Bill and Nancy
Zeckendorf bought the property, lock, stock and barrel, and started
on the construction of the hotel.
Fe was already a very special place to Bill and Nancy. She was
a ballerina, and had performed with the Santa Fe Opera in its
early days. While visiting Santa Fe in 1962, Bill's mother met
Nancy and thought it would be a good idea for her son to become
acquainted with this lovely young dancer.
the parties had returned to New York, the mother set up a blind
date for her son and Nancy. They hit it off right away, and were
married in 1963. They have had a love affair with Santa Fe ever
initial inquiries by a local Realtor had brought the parties together,
Nancy took the leading role in negotiations with the Hillyers
and Santhesons for the Big Jo property. Marie Santheson recalls
Nancy as a wonderful person and "a most gracious lady" throughout
the discussions. Graciousness is one of the qualities that pervades
the hotel to this day.
the Zeckendorf family already had strong ties to Santa Fe. Bill's
great-great-uncle Aaron Zeckendorf had arrived in the city in
1863 and served his apprenticeship in the mercantile business
with his cousins the Speigelbergs. Aaron's brothers Louis and
William followed him to Santa Fe soon thereafter. The three of
them then opened their own business here.
values have changed in the last 400 years. But today's modern
world still recognizes contributions made to the preservation
of those parts of our history that are worth preserving. The Eldorado
Hotel will be remembered for the part it has played in recalling
and preserving a small part of Santa Fe's remarkable past.
article by Malcolm Pynn was excerpted from a comprehensive history
and study of the Eldorado
Hotel, commissioned by the owners. For more information on
Santa Fe's largest and only four-star hotel.