Saturday, November 5, 2005
In 1939, Conrad Hilton Opened a Showplace Downtown That Survived Changes
By Toby Smith
Journal Staff Writer
La Posada de Albuquerque, all 10 stories of it, was for many years the tallest building in the state. Though the hotel has long since been nudged from the top spot, few city edifices still standing can match it for rich history.
Originally the Hilton Hotel, La Posada de Albuquerque anchors the southwest corner of Second and Copper NW.
The building was hotel magnate Conrad Hilton's first hostelry in the city. Born in tiny San Antonio in the New Mexico Territory, Hilton today likely is less known than his great-granddaughter, party girl Paris Hilton. But 65 years ago, he was among the wealthiest men in the world.
When the $700,000 Albuquerque Hilton opened on June 9, 1939, the Journal's 14-page special supplement didn't miss a thing. There were stories about the hotel's custom-made linens, its special silver-and-earthenware teapots and the man who would be the new night clerk. The hotel's two elevators, reported the Journal, were "the latest design in vertical transportation."
Three years after his showpiece started doing business, Conrad Hilton honeymooned there with bride Zsa Zsa Gabor.
The Hilton in the beginning had 160 rooms. A stirring atrium, corner fireplace and comfy chairs greeted visitors in the lobby. Southwestern touches were everywhere: Indian murals, imported tinwork and tiles, paintings, exposed beams and wrought iron.
Just as impressive were the guests who stayed there. Actor Jimmy Stewart liked to check in for the weekend when he was stationed at Kirtland Field during World War II. Steve McQueen, in town to make a movie, held a bash in his suite that years later was remembered fondly by the staff.
For years, Clyde Tingley, Albuquerque's mayor, held court in the lobby. Another mayor, Harry Kinney, did likewise the night he and Pete Domenici were elected to the old City Commission.
National politicians liked the Hilton as well. Lyndon B. Johnson and Spiro Agnew both lay their heads on hotel pillows.
In 1969, when the Hilton chain erected a new hotel in Albuquerque, at Menaul and University, the old Hilton was sold. The new owners renamed it the Hotel Plaza.
The Hotel Plaza stuck around until the early 1980s, when the building was sold again. A few years of confusion followed. One group of owners anointed the building the Hotel Bradford, but the Bradford sat idle until another developer bought it and began a massive renovation and a renaming.
When La Posada de Albuquerque opened on Aug. 3, 1984, it quickly won raves and awards for its historic preservation.
Many of the furnishings and items from the old Hilton had been reinstalled. The number of rooms dropped to 114, including four suites, but all featured the original sinks and tilework. Details from yesteryear were carefully restored.
In 1991, however, La Posada went into foreclosure. The hotel never closed, however, and as Downtown Albuquerque rejuvenated, the hotel began to rise again.
Last spring, La Posada was sold again, this time to a local group, Goodman Realty. A $7 million renovation is under way.
If you have a question about Albuquerque's history, an idea for a story or the people who have made the city what it is today, send a letter to Arts editor Rene Kimball, 7777 Jefferson Drive NE, Albuquerque, N.M. 87109 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org