On a summer afternoon in the not-too-distant future, a tourist—or local—might be strolling through the northern chunk of Albuquerque’s Old Town and catch a glimpse of a building that appears new and tall and sharply distinctive amongst the darker adobe all around. The five-story building’s clean exterior masonry lines exude centuries of staying power, the pale stone still feeling natural, despite the urban setting. This is Hotel Chaco, the first new hotel built in Old Town in over 40 years and a from-the-ground up project by Heritage Hotels and Resorts, a New Mexico company founded in 2005. The hotel’s marriage of new building techniques with old cultural sensibilities is like nothing the state has ever seen.
Heritage is endeavoring to tell a New Mexico story—ancient or modern—with each of its properties thus far, all the while supporting the culture and communities behind those stories. Each of Heritage’s 10 (soon to be 11) properties follows the pattern: a story from New Mexico history plus a community partner to share the growth. For example, Albuquerque’s Nativo Lodge features gorgeous art installations in public spaces as well as guest rooms with several Native artists’ work, from paintings to sculptures to street art murals, brightening the stay of lucky travelers placed in one of those rooms. By staying at the Nativo Lodge, each guest supports the Southwest Association for American Indian Arts (SWAIA) through Heritage’s Community Partnerships program.
Another story of our state’s legacy is told in Las Cruces at the Hotel Encanto with design and atmosphere reflecting elements of Spanish and Mexican colonial history, with that hotel’s Community Partnership benefits flowing to the Rio Grande Theatre. The local support continues around Las Cruces with recommended day trips to historic Old Mesilla and nearby hiking trails in the Organ Mountains. Until Hotel Chaco, all of Heritage’s hotels were acquired, then renovated, to fit the chosen theme. The Hotel St. Francis in Santa Fe went through the same process several years back.
Back in Old Town, Hotel Chaco’s brand new construction means the cultural salute can and will be incorporated directly into every surface and square foot of the building. It begins with the design itself by the architectural firm Gensler, well-known for ultra-modern projects all over the world. For this special Albuquerque site, the architects spent time at the original Chaco ruins to soak up the natural feel and gather ideas for materials and layout. This leads to the building materials: pale stone masonry and wooden accents like those that would have been used centuries ago, designed for our modern standards of low environmental impact and maximum solar gain. The southern walls will feature deeply recessed windows to protect from excess heat in guest rooms, while the northern side flips that idea around with big windows that let in the low winter sun.
Like the ancient site, the axis of the building is astronomically aligned along both solar and lunar pathways. Though this hotel is not intended to have the same cultural importance to New Mexicans as the original site, which was used primarily for seasonal festivals and significant annual religious gatherings, the alignment with natural patterns is still hoped to lend a sense of natural belonging to the place and to anyone spending time on site. Think of homes or public spaces that just “feel special” when you’re in them, as if the space itself was singular, uncommon—that’s what Hotel Chaco hopes to evoke once completed.
The new design also grants Heritage the luxury of throwing out the usual lodging conventions when thinking about how to interact with guests, starting with how visitors enter the building. At many luxury hotels, the front entrance immediately deposits the guest into a massive and opulently appointed lobby, typically to hint at the level of resources available to pamper the traveler. At Hotel Chaco, however, visitors will have to first step back in time, walking through a passageway full of natural sounds that serves as both physical and spiritual demarcation between the urban exterior and the true lobby area. That lobby is two stories high, inspired by ancient kiva spaces where groups would gather for ceremony and seasonal celebrations. Beyond the lobby, landscaping evoking rainfall and garden areas will further the sense of being in nature.
This will not be a massive hotel: just 118 rooms and a gradually-receding five-story façade to mirror the same stepped-back upper floors of any ancient pueblo building. It will share a few spaces with Heritage’s neighboring Hotel Albuquerque, such as the pool and ballrooms, saving resources and time as the project nears completion over the next year or so. The rooftop will feature an open gathering space, and a Native foods restaurant is also in the works. Even the interior furnishings have a traditional touch, with the color palette drawing from the wools of traditional Navajo weavers. Décor is still being finalized but Native artwork, weavings and sculptures are all likely candidates for the interior spaces of the building.
Hotel Chaco’s presence is a hopeful development for Old Town and the neighboring up-and-coming Sawmill neighborhood. Sawmill’s general boundaries are Rio Grande Boulevard, Mountain Road, 12th Street and I-40, though some locals concentrate their definition on the northeastern quarter of that expanse, east of 18th Street and north of Bellamah. Here, new lofts, apartments and condos are quickly filling in the former dirt lots and attracting new residents from all over town. Recently, restaurants have begun to swing open their doors, like Ponderosa Brewing on Bellamah near 18th Street. Currently, visitors to Old Town have few incentives to keep walking toward Sawmill, past Mountain Road and the New Mexico Museum of Natural History. Hotel Chaco’s gaze-worthy design, historical elements and future retail corridor would be the perfect bridge for pedestrian traffic flow both to and from the cozy neighborhood. Furthering this draw are plans by local developers (including the CEO of Heritage) to renovate other existing Sawmill warehouse space into retail, restaurant and art corridors within the next year.
Many years ago I visited the Chaco Culture National Historical Park with a few friends. I recall spending all day wandering the ruins, feeling calm, feeling curious. When recently brushing up on my Chaco Canyon knowledge, I recalled the ancient roadways radiating out from the site. They were likely corridors for pilgrims to visit the well-known destination, but their straight lines and wide thoroughfares again show off the attention to detail possessed by the Anasazi peoples who built the site. In Old Town, there are radiating roads, such as Mountain Road, Rio Grande and Central Avenue, but they pre-date the Hotel Chaco building by centuries. Nonetheless, it is the hope of Heritage and the whole Old Town neighborhood that those thoroughfares will bring travelers from all parts of the country to this merger of old with new. Once guests soak up their own impressions of the uniqueness of the hotel, I hope they find time for a trip out to the inspiration of it all, Chaco Canyon.
Story by Andrea Feucht