Sometimes an old building seems to have a charmed life, like the proverbial cat with nine lives. The Amador Hotel, on the corner of Water and Amador streets, is one of those. Now nearly a century-and-a-half old, the building, the next subject in this series of stories about historic structures, is being repurposed to continue serving Las Cruces.
About 1879, Martin Amador purchased the one-story adobe we know now as the Amador Hotel. He was an entrepreneur and visionary, who helped shape Las Cruces and, in the process, became a wealthy man. This adobe is a case in point.
The Santa Fe Railroad Co. planned to build a spur to Mesilla, then the Doña Ana county seat. Mesilla leaders could not agree on a price for a 100-acre parcel the railroad needed as a right-of-way. Las Cruces businessmen Amador and Nestor Armijo jumped at the opportunity. They could see the economic benefits that would accrue to the city with the railroad and donated the 100 acres. Santa Fe Railroad accepted the land and built the spur. That’s probably why Las Cruces is New Mexico’s second largest city, and Mesilla remains a 19th century village catering to tourists.
The first train rolled into town in 1881, an act that helped relocate the Doña Ana county seat from Mesilla to Las Cruces. And, since a courthouse was an essential part of county government, Amador donated his adobe and remodeled it, adding a second floor and balcony to serve as post office, jail, and courthouse, while the “permanent” courthouse—what today is Alma d’Arte Charter School—was under construction.
After Amador died in 1907, Corina Campbell, Amador’s youngest daughter, inherited the property. Ambitious, Campbell and her husband, Frank, built the Amador’s reputation as being “the finest lodging establishment in the Mesilla Valley.”
Amid bailes, theatrical productions, light opera, puppet shows, and other entertainment, people met for weddings, anniversaries, birthdays, and graduations. And since roller-skating was so popular in the early 20th century, its wood floors made it ‘all the rage.’
To honor her family’s female relatives, Corina painted their names, including her own, above each of the hotel’s rooms. Frank, filled the hotel with lavish furniture and exotic collections from his world travels.
He also commissioned 17-year-old Lillian Egerton, a classmate of Martin Campbell, Sr., to create seven pastel drawings along the hallway as well as above the doorway of the building’s entrance. He paid her $30. Egerton pursued a career in fashion design, first at Neiman-Marcus in Dallas and later at its store in New York City, quite a step up for a girl from rural New Mexico.
During most of the 20th century, this grand old building served the community as a social gathering place with fine dining, libations, and entertainment. All the while, it maintained a reputation as one of the best places to stay in the region. But times change, and America’s downtown cities were victims of that change. The rise of the automobile and eventually Interstate highways took people away from downtown business districts and from the classic hotel.
The Campbell family no longer could afford to keep the business running and in 1972, the hotel was sold to Citizen’s Bank, which renovated it for its own use. But even that was temporary. A decade later, it was sold to Doña Ana County for use as administrative offices. When the new government center was built in 2006, the Amador was finally abandoned. Even though it had been listed on the New Mexico State Register of Cultural Properties, it could well have been demolished.
Doña Ana County wanted to sell the Amador Hotel and the county courthouse when it occupied its new offices on Motel Blvd. When a buyer for the Amador Hotel never materialized, unlike the Doña Ana County Courthouse across from the Amador, the Doña Ana County Historical Society stepped forward to try to broker a deal. The county agreed to sell the property for $1 to the City of Las Cruces, and a nonprofit organization was created to assist the city in the restoration and preservation of the hotel.
After it acquired the building, the city contracted with Kells + Craig Architects to conduct an adaptive re-use study. The architects reported their findings to City Council in March 2009 at which time they made three recommendations. The recommendation the City Council approved was to use the building as a small event center, bar, and restaurant. That study guided the work of the Amador Hotel Foundation as it raised private donations for restoration work on the downstairs rooms. Additionally, the report guided the stabilization of the lobby columns, asbestos remediation, demolition of the bank drive-through teller lanes on the north side, and demolition of the east side.
An assessment is also being conducted to determine the building’s historic period of significance, most likely sometime in the early 20th century. The interior is being renovated and remodeled to conform to that historical period. Enter Max Bower of Red Mesa Development & Design. Although the city owns the historic hotel and the entire Amador parcel, it agreed to lease the properties to a service provider for the restaurant and bar, which would then be responsible for scheduling and catering in the hotel.
Bower’s company demolished the building that once held My Brother’s Place restaurant and is redeveloping the entire block between Main and Water Streets. In its place, on the corner of Main and Amador is a new building housing the Las Cruces Convention and Visitors Bureau. To the north is an L-shaped structure that soon will house a martini/tapas bar, a full-service restaurant and bar and a brew pub.
Bower has formed Amador Hospitality LLC, to provide the desired scheduling and catering services for the hotel, using the food services of the restaurant and bar for public events at the hotel. The Amador will be available for wedding receptions, reunions, and other family events.
So before long, this ancient adobe that was once a pillar that anchored the south end of Las Cruces, will once again be a contributing part of an economic force for renewal of downtown.