Sleep Where The Stars Slept in this iconic Southwestern hotel
Spending a night at the historic El Rancho Hotel in Gallup, N.M., is almost like staying at a museum—but a bit grander and a lot more comfortable. Some of the greatest film stars of the mid-20th century used this rustic-yet-lavish hotel as their home base while filming Westerns in the area surrounding Gallup, N.M.
Want some names? Here are a few: John Wayne, Katherine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Errol Flynn, Kirk Douglas, Gregory Peck, Ronald Reagan and Humphrey Bogart, Lucille Ball, Doris Day, Jimmy Stewart, Jack Benny, Betty Grable, Mae West, W.C. Fields, Gene Autry, James Cagney and Rita Hayworth
Built in 1936 along U.S. Route 66 for R.E. “Griff” Griffith (brother of the famous movie director D.W. Griffith), the hotel is a large, rambling rustic style building that reflects the image and illusion of the Old West. During its heyday, the El Rancho Hotel was one of the premier hotels in the entire Southwest and conveyed a sense of luxury, making it the go-to place for the Hollywood set when they were filming in the area.
Stepping through the main entry doors is like taking a step back in time. You can’t help but imagine Katherine Hepburn walking through the same doors when she arrived in 1946 to film “Sea of Grass.” And it’s easy to picture John Wayne sauntering across the lobby or hear Jimmy Stewart’s voice echoing through the halls.
The large, homey lobby is welcoming and features a crisscross balustrade balcony running around the perimeter at the second-story level. Sturdy carved wood furniture, arranged in a sitting area, invites visitors to get comfortable as soon as they step through the entranceway. The room is accentuated with Navajo rugs draped from the balcony and deer head trophies hanging from the columns. Stamped tin lights and Western-style chandeliers create a soft, relaxing ambiance.
For a little more nostalgia and trace of days gone by, an old shoe-shine bench sits in the corner, along with cigarette and stamp machines (when stamps were 2 cents), as well as an old-time piano. Every room of the hotel combines rustic western grandeur with the charm of yesteryear.
The most eye-catching features of the lobby though are the twin curved staircases that bookmark each side of a spectacular walk-in fireplace cove. The stairs, made of split logs, wind their way up to the balcony that completely encircles the first floor. The railings are made from naturally bent, stripped and polished tree limbs.
Several second-floor sitting areas are furnished with comfortable chairs for reading or just looking down on the stately lobby below. You can spend hours studying the photographs of the movie stars that hang on the walls, along with framed (and sometimes autographed) scenes from the movies that were shot in the surrounding area.
Unfortunately, the grandeur of the El Rancho Hotel began fading in the early 1960s when the lure of the black and white Westerns were being replaced by brilliant Technicolor. Additionally at that time the mysterious West was no longer out of reach for most Americans because of the existence of Route 66 and the almost completed Interstate-40.
Luckily, Armand Ortega, a well-known Indian trader, bought the hotel despite its deteriorating condition and restored it to its original luster. Today, the hotel is once again a popular stop for Route 66 travelers who can stay in rooms named for the movie stars who were guests before them.
El Rancho was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1988, and is a must-see if you’re traveling along Route 66 in New Mexico.
Gallup, where the hotel is located, makes the experience worthwhile with many trading posts that sell hand-made Indian jewelry, rugs and blankets.
You can find out more by visiting El Rancho Hotel.
More photographs of movie stars at the El Rancho Hotel.