Hotel Andaluz carries on Conrad Hilton's New Mexico vision

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A 2008 renovation sought to retain and restore the Hotel Andaluz's original design features.
A 2008 renovation sought to retain and restore the Hotel Andaluz's original design features.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- To most Americans, the name Conrad Hilton is synonymous with the international Hilton hotel chain and properties like the Waldorf Astoria and the Beverly Hills Hilton.

In New Mexico, however, the founder of the Hilton dynasty is still remembered by many as the homegrown success who brought luxury and glamour to downtown Albuquerque with the development of his first hotel outside of Texas.

Opened in 1939, the Hilton Albuquerque was just the fourth hotel Hilton himself built. It was the tallest building in the state and the first to have air conditioning or an elevator.

The lobby of the Hotel Andaluz in 1939, when it was the Hilton Albuquerque.
The lobby of the Hotel Andaluz in 1939, when it was the Hilton Albuquerque.

Today, it is a historic landmark and an independent boutique property known as the Hotel Andaluz, but it will always be known to many longtime locals as the Hilton, the place to see and be seen.

It was also a place to possibly get a glimpse of Hilton himself, a New Mexico native known to spend a lot of time in the hotel, including the night before his wedding to second wife Zsa Zsa Gabor.

"Many people my parents' age knew him or had met him," said Kyla Thompson, a native of Maljamar, N.M., and a longtime Albuquerque resident. 

"My parents were ranchers and always came to Albuquerque for the stock show and stayed at the Hilton. I think one year, when my father was president of the New Mexico Cattle Growers Association, he may have met him. My family always talked about Mr. Hilton and how proud they were that he was from here and was so successful."

Hilton was born in the small community of San Antonio, about 90 miles south of Albuquerque, when New Mexico was still a territory. He went to college in the state and was a Republican representative in the first New Mexico Legislature. 

The exterior of the Hotel Andaluz.
The exterior of the Hotel Andaluz.

After serving in the Army, he went to Texas, where he bought his first hotel in 1919, the 40-room Mobley Inn in Cisco. He went on to buy and build hotels in Dallas, Abilene, Waco and El Paso, Texas, before opening the Hilton in Albuquerque.

Thompson said the hotel, in the heart of downtown, remained a social mainstay of the city for decades.

"When I was in college in the '60s, all of our main sorority and fraternity events were always at the Hilton," Thompson said. "It was just fun. It was a lot of fun to have someone that famous nearby. But the hotel itself was just fabulous. It was truly a wonderful place to go and had lots and lots of people stirring around in the lobby. If you wanted to see and be seen, that's where you went."

Hilton sold the property in 1969, and it went through several owners and renovations before the current owner, real estate developer Gary Goodman, bought the hotel, then known as La Posada de Albuquerque, in 2005 for $4 million.

Goodman spent several years and $30 million renovating the hotel, which was renamed the Hotel Andaluz in 2008, according to general manager Phil Snyder.

The Albuquerque Hilton was the tallest building in New Mexico when it opened in 1939.
The Albuquerque Hilton was the tallest building in New Mexico when it opened in 1939.

Snyder said Goodman was careful to try to recover and retain many of the hotel's original features.

"A lot the murals were painted over," Snyder said. "He had the paint stripped off them. He kept a lot of the original architecture to bring it back to its former glory."

The decor incorporates Moroccan and Spanish influences that reflect the original design of the lobby, which remains a central focus. The second-floor mezzanine is also intact, enabling guests and partygoers to see what's going on below.

The hotel, Snyder said, remains a social gathering place, with live music in the lobby on weekends. 

"We really consider ourselves Albuquerque's hotel," he said. "We are rooted right in the history of Albuquerque."

Now a member of the Historic Hotels of America, the property is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and remains one of the city's finest hotels, earning AAA's Four Diamond ranking eight years in a row.

It's also still a favorite for history buffs, many of whom still call to request the Zsa Zsa Gabor suite.

"It was where they stayed the night before their wedding," Snyder said. "At the time, it was a little risque. But he was Conrad Hilton, so he got to do what he wanted."

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