Amtrak and Las Vegas, New Mexico

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Las Vegas New Mexico was established in 1835 after a group of settlers received a land grant from the Mexican government. The town was laid out in the traditional Spanish Colonial style, with a central plaza surrounded by buildings which could serve as fortifications in case of attack. Las Vegas soon prospered as a stop on the Santa Fe Trail. During the Mexican-American War in 1846, Stephen W. Kearny delivered an address at the Plaza of Las Vegas claiming New Mexico for the United States.
A railroad was constructed to the town in 1880. The tracks were laid east of the Gallinas River, a mile from the Plaza. When the iron horse finally arrived on July 4, 1879, hundreds of citizens gathered around, including merchants, professionals, desperadoes, and dance-hall girls. To maintain control of development rights, it established a station and related development one mile east of the Plaza, creating a separate, rival New Town, as occurred elsewhere in the Old West. During the railroad era, Las Vegas boomed, quickly becoming one of the largest cities in the American Southwest. Turn-of-the-century Las Vegas featured all the modern amenities, including an electric street railway, the "Duncan Opera House" at the northeast corner of 6th Street and Douglas Avenue, a Carnegie library, the Hotel Castaneda (a major Harvey House), and the New Mexico Normal School (now New Mexico Highlands University). Since the decline and restructuring of the railroad industry began in the 1950s, the city's population has remained relatively constant.
The six trains that stopped there daily opened up an era of prosperity, bringing with it both legitimate businesses and shady characters.
The Fred Harvey Company as well as the AT&SF built the Castaneda Harvey House in 1898. Prior to that there were two earlier buildings on the site in 1881 and 1885. When the railroad constructed the hotel they were taking advantage of the natural hot springs adjacent to it. This was quite a tourist draw and even today you can relax in one of the outdoor hot water tubs. In its day it was a nationally popular resort in Las Vegas NM.
La Castaneda is one of the earliest Harvey Houses to be built in the Mission Revival style. The Rawlings Building which is across the street from the hotel and the Las Vegas train station was used during the period to house the Harvey Girls who staffed the La Castaneda. The Harvey Girls and their history is a unique part of the Fred Harvey tradition. Harvey Girls were held to extremely high standards and did much for the reputation of the Harvey Houses.
La Castaneda was a sister hotel to Albuquerque's Alvarado Hotel, which was unfortunately demolished in 1970, and the La Fonda Hotel in Santa Fe. It has stood forlorn and mostly empty alongside the railroad tracks in Las Vegas for decades.
The hotel is ready for a makeover and Allan Affeldt will try to repeat in Las Vegas what he did in the 1990s when he and his wife helped save the then-decrepit La Posada hotel in Winslow, Ariz. That was another of the Harvey Houses that dotted New Mexico, Arizona and California to serve train travelers.
Affeldt said the hotel’s rooms, some now with collapsing roofs, will be enlarged and since most did not have individual bathrooms, those will be added. The old Castaneda had 40 some rooms while the new one will have about 25.
Affeldt says the idea is to recreate that turn-of-the-19th-century hotel where it should look and feel as much as possible like it originally did, but as a collector of contemporary art, he wants to support contemporary artists in the community.
Furniture is not a challenge. Affeldt said he bought all of the original hand-painted furniture from La Fonda, which sold off room furnishings during a remodel last year.
“We will also use it as a space for all kinds of exhibits and shows and lectures. So we want to make it a vibrant community space. We want to do a lot of events, like in the courtyard, in the dining room. There’s no space like this in Las Vegas.”
The restoration of the AT&SF steam locomotive, 2926, is almost complete and the plan is to provide excursions from Albuquerque to Las Vegas, NM where passengers can stay at the Castaneda Hotel. Of course Amtrak’s Southwest Chief also makes two stops in Las Vegas providing more possibilities for the hotel to become a destination stop.
 




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