The El Portal Hotel: History, Fact and Fiction

16 09 2008

• Swedish immigrant leaves his legacy in Raton
• Dorothy Parker got married here
• There may or may not be a ghost

Writer, poet and fascinating New York socialite Dorothy Parker was married at the El Portal Hotel on June 18, 1934. It’s an interesting story, almost all of it confirmed. (See below.) Still unconfirmed is that a ghost (likely not Parker’s) roams the unfinished third floor of this massive 76,000-square-foot building.

Every so often a guest or resident will swear they heard something “upstairs.” Usually in the middle of the night. Often there are workers on the third floor, fixing, cleaning or moving stuff around, but that’s only during the day. At night the door leading to the third-floor stairs is locked.

Scraping, bumping, rattling. Stay here long enough, and you might hear it, too. But then old buildings tend to creak and settle and make unusual noises. Especially at night, when it’s dark and quiet and nobody’s around.

As to Dorothy Parker, you can read the whole story from the Dorothy Parker Society of her trip from Denver (218 miles north) into New Mexico to get married. For years, hotel owners Andy and Vera Holman had heard rumors that Parker had married her friend Alan Campbell in the hotel, but nobody could confirm it. The Holmans even got a hold of a copy of the original marriage certificate, proving, at least, that Parker was married in Colfax County.

If you don’t know who Dorothy Parker was, go here for the Wikipedia article.

THE HISTORY OF THE EL PORTAL

Ghosts (maybe) and Dorothy Parker (definitely) are just two things that, for whatever reason, wound up at the El Portal Hotel. Mainly it’s regular tourists who come here, and for good reason. As more and more cookie-cutter hotels and motels spring up along New Mexico highways, more and more travelers appreciate the days-gone-by look and diverse architectural flavor of the historic hotel.

Meet Hugo Seaberg, immigrant, visionary, forward-thinker

The design of the three-story giant, which encompasses an entire city block on Third Street and Park Avenue, is anything but routine. In fact, its very charm lies in the disparity of styles within its multiple wings and sections, built in stages by Swedish immigrant, Hugo Seaberg.

Depressed by the dismal state of the Swedish economy, Seaberg sailed to America in 1888, spending a month in Chicago and then moving on to Springer, N.M. (27 miles south of Raton), where he studied law and performed various odd jobs. Determined to find prosperity, Seaberg moved to Raton in 1903, and with loans and capital he had accumulated, he bought the property where he would build his hotel.

Within a year, he was running an ad:

Twelve large, steam-heated rooms, suitable for dwelling purposes, will be rented singly or in suites, or all to one person for purposes of fitting up for ‘roomers.’ Modern improvements. Ready for occupation in about two months.”

In 1905, the Hotel Seaberg was expanded to two stories with 24 rooms. A café, which Seaberg touted as equal to the best the country had to offer, was added shortly after.

By 1907, the hotel boasted 100 rooms, with telephones. Further additions were tacked on, beginning in 1910.

In a 1968 thesis entitled “Hugo Seaberg, New Mexican Capitalist, 1869-1945” and presented to the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at the University of Denver, Meldon Preusser writes that the hotel “was to become recognized throughout New Mexico as one of the territory’s finest hotels and which handsomely promoted the growth of Raton and contributed to the prominence of its proprietor.”

Hard times come through Raton

The Great Depression of the 1930s wreaked economic havoc across the country, and Raton was not immune to its effects. In 1937, Seaberg lost the hotel to foreclosure. The property and all its furnishings were assessed at over $297,000 but sold at auction for just $72,000. The hotel’s new owners renamed it El Portal, or “The Gateway.”

The ensuing years have seen numerous owners struggle with expansion and the upkeep of Raton’s largest hotel and one of the city’s largest commercial structures. Yet even as the hotel stretched to 400 rooms, few alterations were made to the original design that whisks visitors away to an era when grandiosity was the order of the day.

The same yesterday and today

An expansive parlor with high ceilings, richly upholstered settees and armchairs and a fireplace reminiscent of those that blaze in mountain ski lodges sits to the right of the main entrance off Third Street.

Vintage black-and-white photographs of La Mesa Park horse-racing track in its heyday along with original oil paintings and prints adorn the walls of the lobby, which opens into the hotel-owned Park Avenue Café. A wide sectional staircase takes guests to the second and third floors.

Long hallways covered in regal violet carpeting and lit by chandeliers lead to rooms with oak tables, 100-year-old dressers, claw-foot tubs and antique armories. Passing from wing to wing, where some corridors are bright and airy, others dark and foreboding, it’s easy to forget you’re still in the same hotel.

After buying the hotel in 1997, owners Andy and Vera Holman have fed about $200,000 a year into upkeep and renovation.

“We’ve been renovating since the moment we bought it, and we’re still renovating,” Vera Holman said. “It’s a challenge keeping up with a facility this size.”

Since the 1930s, many rooms have been converted into apartments. Large sections in the back are used for storage. Along the Park Avenue side of the hotel, five shops are rented for commercial purposes.

But 24 hotel rooms, full of the colors and textures of an era long-since passed, are always ready for travelers looking for something other than the generic sameness found in so many “modern” hotels.

The unfinished third floor, currently, is reserved for whatever causes the scraping, bumping and rattling.

The El Portal Hotel is at 101 N. Third St. The phone number is (888) 362-7345 or in Raton (505) 445-3631. Visit the website here.








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