||La Fonda de Taos
There has been an establishment which provided lodging on the current site of the Hotel La Fonda de Taos as early as 1820, making La Fonda the oldest hotel in Taos, New Mexico. The first was not a hotel per se. It was the St. Vrain Mercantile Store, supplying locals and travelers alike with everything from tack, grocery items and seed, to rooms, baths, and a saloon. Over the following 60 years, numerous fires would change the look of Taos Plaza, but the hotel itself escaped every one of these tragedies.
Aloysius Liebert built the Columbian Hotel and Bar on the south side of Taos Plaza in 1880. Aloysius was a leader of his close-knit community, and his hotel and bar would evolve into a gathering place for locals and visitors alike, ultimately becoming the center of Taos soccial life, with dances held in the spacious lobby.
In 1900, Robert Pooler and his wife, the former Maclovia Mares, purchased the hotel and bar. They had hoped to run the establishment together for many years. But in 1909, a disgruntled customer who had been removed from the establishment for drunk and disorderly behavior, returned to shoot Robert to death. Maclovia and her heirs continued to run the hotel and bar until it was sold in the late 1920s.
A new direction for Taos
It was during the first part of the 20th century that fortune, or more specifically, a broken wagon wheel, brought two young artists traveling to Mexico to Taos, and everything changed. The two artists fell in love with the beautiful country and the light in Taos. The artists, Ernest Blumenschein (Blumy) and Bert Phillips never did get to Mexico, instead becoming the founding members of the Taos Society of Artists. Many of their peers followed, and Taos would become an important art colony. Phillips, Blumy, and several other members of Taos Society of Artists met at the hotel for breakfast and cards (Long John Dunn ran his roulette wheel in the Columbian) on a regular basis and hung many of their paintings in the lobby of the hotel. The hotel became known as an art center, a tradition that continues today with the Gallery La Fonda located in the hotel lobby.
The early 20th Century also saw a a massive influx of immigrants from all over Europe. 1922 brought brothers James and John Karavas, along with James wife Noula and their 5-year-old son Saki to Taos in search of the American promise of a better life. They had emigrated from Greece to New York where Saki was born. Upon their arrival in Taos, they leased the restaurant in the Columbian Hotel, and by the end of the decade they had purchased the hotel from Maclovias heirs. After completing major renovations, which included adding a second and third story to the pueblo revival style building, the brothers opened the "La Fonda, Spanish for the Inn, in 1937.
Saki Karavas became sole owner of the La Fonda in 1953 and ran the hotel until his death in 1996. Saki was a serious art collector and quite a charismatic Taos figure. He was also a big fan of D.H. Lawrence, owning several first editions of his literary works.
La Fonda Named D. H. Lawrence Trustee
When Frieda Lawrence died in August of 1956, her estate, which included the Lawrence Forbidden Art paintings, passed on to her then husband Angelino Ravagli. Later that same year Angelino sold them to Saki, who displayed them in his office along with innumerable other paintings and photos. Guests and visitors could pay a dollar or two to view them. Today representations of the Forbidden Art Collection hang in their own gallery in the La Fonda de Taos.
Saki passed away leaving no heirs, leaving his hotel and art collection to his good friends, George and Cordelia Sahd. The Sahds, previously the founders and owners of the Ranchos Trading Post, began renovation of the hotel in 1998. With a few future plans remaining, renovations on the guest rooms and hotel interior were completed in 2002, making La Fonda de Taos into an historically accurate, upscale hotel while preserving a Taos treasure.
Pictured top right: James Karavas stands in from of La Fonda, circa 1937
Pictured bottom right:Taos Plaza and the Hotel La Fonda de Taos as it looks today, decorated with farolitos for the Christmas Holidays.