Valverde Now

Val Verde Hotel, 2019

The wrought-iron gates stand closed and chained. The courtyard empty, the building seemingly silent without any excitement about the coming commemoration. The once grand, first "modern" hotel in the state will be 100 years old this week. Can the building at 5th and Manzanares be restored to its former grandeur?

The Val Verde Hotel opened on June 24, 1919 with great fanfare: 50 guests attended the banquet in the "luxurious dining room" and 32 of the 60 guest rooms were already rented before the opening, according to the Socorro Chieftain.

One hundred years later, a gathering to celebrate the event had been set for Wednesday but was postponed until Aug. 1, according to a Facebook page. The organizers are circulating a petition to urge "civic leaders to save the Val Verde for the next 100 years."

But whether it is feasible or even possible to do so is being questioned by some.

Built primarily to serve railroad passengers, the two-story California mission style building was designed by Henry Trost and was said to be the first hotel to offer hot and cold running water and furnace heat in each room with the entire building lit by electricity.

The first hotel manager, D.E. Snyder, died of pneumonia in 1922 leaving his wife who managed the hotel while raising three children. Her brother Walter Paxton and his wife took over in 1929 continuing until 1955, according to Paul Harden, local historian.

A 1935 column titled "the Roadrunner" published in the Santa Fe New Mexican praises the hotel: "Hotels come and go and their standards vary, but the Val Verde in Socorro is unique. It started in with that peculiar and rather intangible thing called class, and year after year has managed to keep it" The author, Dana Johnson, noted it was a popular stopping place, with tourists often going out of their way to stay there. "It is not big and it is not pretentious but there is merely some one there who knows how to run a hotel. And it is surprising how few hotel keepers do."

The building continued to attract quality managers. The Val Verde Hotel's dining room was renovated and reopened in 1985 by Desi and Fita Apodaca.

Val Verde Sign

Three years later, Lewis and Mary Gillard took over the business. The Val Verde Steakhouse became a popular place once again, with guests from all walks of life and many countries. And while Mary can count off the celebrities who ate there, including Jodi Foster and Ralph Edwards, it was the guests who shared their memories and made new ones that was the highlight for her.

"People would come up to me and say, 'my dad was a bell hop here,'" she said, or they had their first date there. "It was a special occasion for many, many people."

The restaurant was joined by other businesses during its revival years during the 90s: An antique store gave way to the Lobby, a popular full-service bar that hosted local and visiting bands. Artists galleries, a bookstore and hair salon filled the ground level while the rooms upstairs were rented as apartments. The courtyard was lovingly tended by garden enthusiasts to make the entire grounds inviting.

Like many old buildings, supernatural sightings have been reported over the years by staff and guests. "I spent the night there and never saw anything," says Mary. "But then I'm not susceptible." Paul Harden wrote an article about ghostly encounters at the Val Verde published online at socorro-history.org

The Albuquerque Journal's 1985 grand reopening article quotes Fita Apodaca: "I got as far as this window, … looked in and saw the ceiling caved in; it was full of lumber and furniture and I said, 'You're crazy. I'm going back to work.'"

Part of the dining room ceiling has again collapsed. And even before the building's sale in 2003, an employee there recalls wondering if the floor might give in on him some evening.

Peggy (Paxton) Dailey grew up at the hotel. "She would tell me, you have the same worried look on your face that my mother would," recalled Mary. Her mother would pay to have the roof fixed and "immediately start saving for the next roofing job," Mary said.

"I would love to see the Val Verde Hotel restored, or at least stabilized as a Socorro landmark, said Harden.

He recalled that part of the rock wall at the Hammel Brewery collapsed a few years ago. Fixing the wall meant fixing the foundation first, a job that was well over what the insurance would pay.

"It appears the Val Verde Hotel is in its 11th hour," Harden said, "… action to restore would need to be commenced in the very near future. Unfortunately, in another couple of years, I'm afraid it will be midnight for the historic Val Verde. Once deemed totally unsafe and condemned, it will need to be razed to everyone's disappointment."

The building's owner could not be reached for comment.