Hotel St. Francis in Santa Fe: Complexity in Simplicity

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 Santa Fe’s Oldest Hotel is on the National Register of Historic Places

The historical Hotel St. Francis has the distinction of being Santa Fe’s oldest hotel and holds a spot on the National Register of Historic Places. Built originally as the De Vargas, Hotel St. Francis offers its guests a unique experience through its use of simple Franciscan traditional sacred art, New Mexico artifacts, and historical black and white photographs of the city’s early history, visible throughout its lobby and hallways. Colors are the natural shades of wool from the churro sheep brought to New Mexico by early Spanish settlers. Guest rooms are furnished with handcrafted furniture created by many of Santa Fe artisans. Most guest rooms now have had their original hardwood floors exposed and refinished.

Hotel Interior Design Reflects Simplicity of Franciscan Order Monastic Life

The Hotel St. Francis design throughout the halls and rooms reflects the simple and spiritual style of the Franciscan Missionary Order. It exemplifies serenity, spirituality and simplicity in the heart of the vibrant city of Santa Fe. Its elegant white, Mexican marble of the lobby reflects the flickering light of candles spaced throughout. A stone baptismal font serves as the lobby’s focal point. Various handmade crosses and historical religious prints and images throughout this unique hotel celebrate Santa Fe’s spiritual history.

Original Hotel and the Mysterious Fire

The De Vargas Hotel’s demise was as famous and mysterious as its guest list. On a cold evening in January of 1922, the hotel burned to the ground leaving a sole brick chimney to mark the location. It was the biggest fire in Santa Fe in 300 years.

There were no high winds to keep the blast alive and the six-hour fire was across the street from the “then” fire department. So unpredictable was the impending destruction that guests were still checking into their favorite rooms while the hotel burned. The mysterious explosion heard by the owner, William Sargent, was rumored to be a copper still in the basement. One of the hotel’s permanent guests frustrated with Prohibition was experimenting with peach brandy. According to the rumor, a peach clogged the copper pipe and the “booze blew up”. The spectators called the fire “the darnedest show ever.”

The new hotel opened its doors in 1924 as a first class hotel with a spacious lobby where men wore top hats and ladies wore full-length dresses. The bellhops escorted the guests to their rooms, after the couples had shown their marriage licenses, and the house detective ensured that all guests stayed in their own rooms. The hotel boasted a wonderful dining room and a bar. Anyone wanting to meet almost any high-level politician in the 1930’s and 40’s could probably find him at the De Vargas Hotel Bar.

De Vargas Hotel Becomes the Hotel St. Francis

The hotel purchased and remodeled the hotel and reopened it as the Hotel St. Francis in 1986. Heritage Hotels and Resorts acquired it and fully renovated the hotel in 2009. Heritage opted to create a new experience for the hotel finding its inspiration from the patron saint of Santa Fe, St. Francis of Assisi. In 1610 when Don Pedro de Peralta founded the city of Santa Fe under the direction of the Viceroy of Spain, he gave it an official name – La Villa Real de la Santa Fe de San Francisco de Assisi, or The Royal City of the Holy Faith of St. Francis of Assisi.

St. Francis himself was a wealthy nobleman raised in privilege, who chose to give up this life to follow the teachings of Christ. In 1209 he founded the Franciscan Order. The Franciscan Order provided for a simple mendicant’s existence. The Franciscan missionaries were significantly involved in the settlement of Santa Fe and New Mexico, bringing their religious, architectural, agriculture, artistic, culinary, and other traditions to the region.

Famous Hotel Bar, Secreto Lounge: Winner of Best Cocktails in Santa Fe

Hotel St. Francis is home to the award-winning Secreto Lounge. Guests learn about the ancient wine-making traditions, which were introduced by Santa Fe’s Franciscan monks, or enjoy a wide array of modern, award-winning, hand-crafted cocktails. Secreto is fortunate to feature the unique concoctions of Santa Fe’s #1 Cocktail Blogger and Mixologist, Chris Milligan. Chris’ knowledge of mixology is exemplified in his unique “garden-to-glass” cocktail creations. If you tell him what type of alcohol and fruits or vegetables you prefer, he and his team will concoct a special cocktail exclusively for you. Secreto’s signature drink is the Spicy Secreto (First Place Winner of the Las Vegas 2010 “Shake It Up”). The drink is a tantalizing blend of organic Novo Fogo cachaca and St. Germain elderflower liqueur with fresh cucumber, jalapeño, lime juice and cane syrup, and rimmed with red chile salt.

The Spicy Secreto and many other distinguished cocktails like the Smoked Sage Margarita and the Agave. On warm days, Secreto’s seasonal patio and loggia extend the bar to become Santa Fe’s living room, providing a vantage point to watch an enjoy the vibrant Santa Fe street scene.

Tradition of the Zozobra, Burning of the Year’s Worries

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,

Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—

While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,

As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.

“’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—

Only this and nothing more.”

Though Edgar Allen Poe did not live to see William Shuster’s Zozobra tradition take form in 1924, perhaps the above first verse of “The Raven” would have crossed his mind. The toothless, empty-headed specter has been made, staged, and flamed since 1964 as part of Santa Fe’s 303 year-old Fiesta season’s tradition. Last year marked Zozobra’s break out attempt to brood in quiet, then grow fierce and fiery on the Friday night of Labor Day weekend.

Inspired by Mexico’s Yaqui Indian’s effigy of Judas, Zozobra gains his namesake from Will Schuster’s and E. Dana Johnson’s collaboration to bring physicality to anguish, angst, or dread. Zozobra, literally means “anxiety, or gloom” in Spanish – an apt name for the literal embodiment of our collective worries. Guests of Zozobra are invited to place their worries in a jar. The collection of worries is burned along with the effigy of Zozobra.

The six-foot puppet has since grown to fifty feet. Made of muslin and stuffed with shredded paper, Zozobra is an eerie, groaning, flailing character, which appears as part ghost and part monster. Amid fireworks and the ceremonial dances of ghosts and fire, a growling Zozobra is set ablaze and, it is said, as the fire consumes the beast, so go the feelings of gloom and doom from the past year, the flames renewing the hope and optimism of the gathered celebrants. The ever-howling Zozobra can be heard echoing throughout Santa Fe.

Videos of the hotel interiors, an interview with mixologist Chris Milligan on creating award-winning cocktails and the Zozobra Festival are below our photo gallery