You know how when you meet someone new and you’re just instantly taken by how smart and successful and creative and fun to be around they are. That’s how I felt when I met Jennifer Kimball a few months ago. Kimball is the chairman of the board of the La Fonda on the Plaza hotel in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and I was lucky enough to spend some time with her while a guest of the hotel back in February.
When we met, Kimball had just finished overseeing a major renovation of the hotel, and she spoke so knowledgeably and passionately about every little detail of the renovation that it gave me an even deeper appreciation of the historic property, which opened way back in 1922, after residents got together and raised $200,000 to finance its construction.
“The result is the biggest thing Santa Fe or any other town its size has ever done,” the editor of the local newspaper wrote at the time, proclaiming that the hotel would ensure “the steady growth and prosperity of the city.”
Kimball too knows the value of the hotel to the city, and to anyone who stays there, and refused to cut corners when it came time to make changes. “It probably would have been cheaper to tear it down and start from scratch,” says readily admits, but she knew maintaining the integrity and character of the original structure was the wise and right thing to do. “New buildings are new opportunities,” says Kimball, “but existing buildings, and in particular historic ones, tell our stories.”
Take, for instance, the handful of elaborate hand-painted headboards, light fixtures, and miscellaneous furniture pieces designed by Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter, the hotel’s original architect (a contemporary of Frank Lloyd Wright), that still decorate the guestrooms and hallways. Or the original concrete floors that have been painstakingly redone rather than being ripped up or carpeted over.
These latest updates to the hotel, which followed an overhaul of the La Plazuela at La Fonda dining room in 2009, affected 165 of the hotel’s 179 guestrooms and suites, and included new energy-efficient windows, state-of-the-art temperature controls, upgraded plumbing and electric systems, new stucco on the exterior of the hotel, and an expansion of the rooftop bar.
And apparently they’re not done yet. “There’s more to do in the next few years,” says Kimball of the planned upgrades to the lobby and public areas.
I guess I’ll just have to make a return visit to see how it turns out. Hopefully the delightful Jennifer Kimball will be around once again to fill me in on all the details.
For more information or to book a room at La Fonda on the Plaza, located on the square in downtown Santa Fe, visit www.lafondasantafe.com.