The Inn of the Governors, well placed on the corner of West Alameda and Don Gaspar in Santa Fe, is an exception to the transient nature of life, and is exceptional in that this year it celebrates its 50th anniversary. It’s encouraging to know that every once in a while our endeavors come together, that we can get it so right––it passes the test of time.
Walking into the lobby is like walking into the living room of your dreams, furnished with big cushy chairs and beautiful rugs, and in the colder months there will be a snapping fire in the fireplace. Right around 4 p.m., you’ll find complimentary tea and sherry served. Can it get better than this? Maybe, if you have one of the rooms with its own fireplace.
I meet with General Manager Sam Gerberding, who’s been with the Inn for more than 10 years. This makes him “the new guy.” He’s wearing a crisp white shirt, a smart waistcoat and a bow tie. Sam is a very considerate person, he chooses his words with care, and even though he’s the boss, he shares a special camaraderie with his staff, much like extended family. We’re sitting on the patio of the Del Charro saloon. It has a western-style, cowboy sort of feel. “Miss Katie might show up at any minute,” says Sam, laughing, “and wrangle the crowd.”
“Jefferson Vander Wolk founded the Inn of the Governors in 1965,” he says, “and is still the owner [now as part of a general partnership].” He chose the name, “paying respect … to the governors of the different pueblos in the area.” When the Inn was first built, Sam admits, “it had a quiet couple of decades.” During those years it was “getting name recognition and building clientele.” But when the 1980s rolled around, he adds, “the Santa Fe market started to boom, and shifted to being nationally known. The place took off and Mr. Vander Wolk decided to increase the size of the Inn and create higher-end styles of rooms.” In every one of the 100 rooms, 34 of which have their own fireplaces, “comfortable” is the key word.
The Forge, predecessor to Del Charro, was according to Sam, “for a very long time one of downtown Santa Fe’s staple nightlife places. A bar where people could hang out.” The Inn also had a cabaret downstairs (the space is now executive offices), with music, entertainment and, on occasion, theatre. “I can’t tell you how many people say they used to come here when it was The Forge,” says Sam. He recounts a very sweet story. “I had a couple come, I think they were 65 or so, and ask if we could go downstairs [into what was the cabaret]. Keeping track of some of the things like stairs and concrete posts that have not changed, they were able to find the place where they had their first kiss. That moment lead to them becoming a couple and eventually getting married, and there they were so many years later in my basement, telling me that’s where they kissed.”
Sam is pleased to say, “My problems are born out of good things. I have the right problems to have. Del Charro is so busy that finding the time to fix something in the kitchen like a plumbing line is a major issue because I don’t have dead times to close. Refinishing the floor in the saloon area is a nearly impossible feat.” I’ve noticed that every time I walk by the place it’s hopping, and I comment if Sam had the nerve to close Del Charro, he’d have rioting in the streets. “Precisely!” he adds.
Now in its 12th year, Del Charro hits all the right notes for visitors and locals alike. When the weather turns warm, the patio and all the windows in the saloon open up. The lively ambiance flows out onto the street and oftentimes there’s a line waiting to get in. They serve up simple bar fare—burgers, sandwiches and salads, all very reasonably priced—as well as a full list of classic and specialty margaritas, cocktails and beers on tap. You can mix with the crowd or just hang out, either way for not much dosh, which is nice.
I ask Sam how the Inn is different from other lodgings in Santa Fe. “First and foremost,” he says, “is our philosophy with our staff, and as a result, the way the staff interacts with our guests. We work very hard in this hotel to come from a place of dignity and respect with the staff, in a very genuine way. We work as a team.” Underscoring this, he adds, “I have the good fortune, when I get a call from the front desk … ‘Sam I have a guest that would like to talk with you,’ and I ask what is it regarding and they say they don’t know … honestly, eight out of 10 times it’s, ‘I just wanted to meet you and tell you how much I appreciate your staff.’”
Sam comments on some of the changes he’s seen in the City Different. “Santa Fe is still trying to establish its relationship to tourism on the whole,” he says, “and how to link to national and international markets. [The city] recognizes the abundant outdoor activities, and the geographic elements—that’s something that’s changing, not physically, but our view of our self. ‘It’s not just a place to shop, but wow!, we can go hiking, fishing, camping … and then hit Santa Fe.’” As the city is growing, Sam observes, “in some of the hotels there’s less of a hometown feel. It’s not to dismiss they’re amazing and beautiful, but one of the things that separates us is we’re very homey, comfortable.” Coming to work in the morning is, for Sam, “like coming to my grandmother’s house, I feel safe and comfortable … and that’s very much my effort here.”
Sam has some “exciting dreams” for the future, but mums the word at this point. “Really though,” he says, “we’re building on what we already do. Our approach is in recognizing our success is built on what we already are. I don’t want to do anything too fancy [so] I don’t have anything glamorous to tell you.” He laughs. “We’re not going to add a new wing … put Jacuzzis in every room.”
Two of Sam’s staff, Mary Sandoval in housekeeping and Dave Lucero, chief engineer, have been with the Inn for 40 years. Actually, Mary claims seniority on Dave by one month. “Mary is now our lobby attendant,” says Sam. “She takes great pride in making sure everything is clean and the lobby is kept nice.” Her care is apparent. The lobby positively sparkles. Sam continues, “Dave has been here so long, I can only honor and respect his opinion about things. He cares so much about the place, and we’ve worked together long enough we’re like two brothers.” These two I’ve seen in action and indeed, they are like brothers, poking a bit of fun at one another and mixing some laughs into getting the job done.
Unfortunately I do not have the chance to meet Mary, but I do catch up with Dave. “I came in as a porter,” he says. “I was working as a cook at The Compound. I came here and they wanted me to cook, but I didn’t want to anymore, so I took the job as porter.” From the outset, Dave found he could take care of his cleaning duties with time to spare, so he was given maintenance and repair jobs. “We started upgrading into the 20th century,” says Dave, rolling his eyes, “and then the 21st century.” I ask Dave how he feels about working at the Inn. “It’s great! I’ve had other opportunities, but I wanted to stay. I like it here.” Even after all these years he finds his work interesting. “Throughout the years,” he says, “just opening things up, and ‘oh wow!’ Just recently I learned something new [repairing a leaking underground pipe], something I had never known about.”
We drift into conversation about the Santa Fe of 40, 50 years ago, and the changes to downtown. So many places easily thought of as here to stay … the Pontiac dealership? Now shops. The Gulf station? Now a restaurant … But The Inn of the Governors? Still with us, tried and true.
Inn of the Governors is located at 101 West Alameda Street in Santa Fe. 505.982.4333. innofthegovernors.com.
Check out the Inn’s 50th Anniversary Package at: http://www.innofthegovernors.com/santa-fe-hotel-deals/#50, where along with other perks, a generous portion of the proceeds will go to one of four Santa Fe non-profits.
Story by Gordon Bunker