Atomic Heritage Foundation

In partnership with the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

La Fonda on the Plaza

La Fonda on the Plaza

La Fonda on the Plaza today

La Fonda’s History

La Fonda on the Plaza. Photo courtesy of La Fonda.

The Watering Hole

  • La Fonda’s History

    La Fonda's History

    [Thanks to La Fonda on the Plaza for providing the hotel photographs for these vignettes.]

    There has been a hotel on the site of La Fonda on the Plaza since the 1600s. Jenny Kimball, La Fonda’s Chairman of the Board, explains the construction of the current hotel in the 1920s.

    Narrator: Jenny Kimball, Chairman of the Board of La Fonda on the Plaza, describes the hotel’s rich history.

    Jenny Kimball: This is the oldest hotel site in the country. There’s been a hotel here since the 1600s.

    This building that we’re sitting in was built in the early twenties. It went under very quickly in a year or two. Then the Harveys bought it, the Harvey hotel chain.

    They hired an architect named Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter. She’s probably best known for doing a lot of the buildings at the Grand Canyon, like Hopi House and the Desert Watchtower and most of the buildings at the edge of the Grand Canyon. She did that for the Harvey Hotel. They brought her here, and she worked with John Gaw Meem, who is kind of the father of Santa Fe Style in Santa Fe, to renovate and add on to the hotel. That was in the mid-twenties.

    La Fonda has kind of always been the place to meet, and it still is. I think that’s why a lot of the scientists from the Manhattan Project came here. Where else are you going to go drink and eat and let loose from all the pressure they were under up on the Hill?

  • The Watering Hole

    The Watering Hole

    [Thanks to La Fonda on the Plaza for providing the hotel photographs for these vignettes.]

    The historic La Fonda on the Plaza hotel was a gathering place for Manhattan Project scientists and workers.

    Narrator: Author Jennet Conant describes why the La Fonda hotel was an oasis for Manhattan Project scientists and their families.

    Jennet Conant: Wonderful classic hotels in small towns are much more than hotels. They are the meeting spot. They’re the heartbeat of town. It’s where everybody important does business, has meetings, has conferences in their ballrooms. It’s where everybody important stays when they’re in town.

    They’re well-known watering holes. It’s where you go to get all the information and the gossip. They are really the center of the town. La Fonda was that already before the scientists started coming. But once they started coming, this was where they all stayed before they went up the Hill. It was this little oasis of civilization, of amenities, of a bathtub, hot water, and a good meal. The very words “La Fonda” had a magical quality to them. When they’d really gotten fed up, the physicists would arrange passes, and they and their wives would come to Santa Fe for two or three days and just check into the La Fonda and try to recover.

    Narrator: J. Robert Oppenheimer remembered how visits to Santa Fe gave him a much-needed respite from the stress of Los Alamos.

    J. Robert Oppenheimer: Once every two or three months, we would spend Saturday night in Santa Fe and feel somewhat more human.

    Narrator: Manhattan Project veterans Stanley Hall and Edward Doty recall dancing and drinking at La Fonda.

    Stanley Hall: I’d go dancing there, almost every weekend. I’d get a room at the La Fonda and they’d have a live band, and the room would fill up.

    Edward Doty: We’d go down once a month on Saturday afternoon and get into the La Fonda bar and have a couple of drinks. I suppose we were watched carefully by FBI or somebody, but I never noticed that. Didn’t bother me anyway, or wouldn’t have. We’d come back and go back to work.

Quick Fact:
La Fonda on the Plaza is a historic hotel in Santa Fe, NM. During the Manhattan Project, scientists and their partners would come to the hotel to eat, drink, and dance.