NO MATTER HOW OFTEN I’m on the Santa Fe Plaza, La Fonda seems to call out to me. “Let’s go in,” I’ll say. Not for dinner or drinks (though both are worth the stop, especially at the rooftop Bell Tower Bar), but just to look around, feel the energy of the lobby, steep in the 100-year-old history.

Every time I visit, I find something new to appreciate, whether it’s the 460 hand-painted glass windows encircling La Plazuela dining room, the Arnold Rönnebeck-designed bas-relief fireplace (which graces this month’s cover), or one of the many artworks that adorn the walls. While it’s easy to be captivated by the towering 1922 Gerald Cassidy painting of a Matachines dancer in the lobby, my latest fixation has been a series of skateboard decks painted by contemporary artists Tony Abeyta, George Alexander, David Naranjo, and others.   

“It’s a constant challenge,” La Fonda board chair Jenny Kimball told Senior Editor Molly Boyle for this month’s “Hotels with History” cover story. “How do you make a grand old hotel that’s still contemporary?”

But striking that balance between historic charm and modern appeal is what makes many of New Mexico’s grand hotels, lodges, and inns so special. Bullet holes and green chile smash burgers. Conrad Hilton opulence and Fred Harvey mystique.

Even if you’re not spending the night, it’s worth the trip to Las Vegas to check out the 1882 Plaza Hotel and 1898 Castañeda Hotel, or a stop at El Rancho Hotel in Gallup to see where the stars of yesteryear slept, dined, and made merry.

“People go to these classic structures because they’re meaningful,” says Allan Affeldt, who revitalized the Plaza and Castañeda. “They were the center of the town. It’s where everything happened: weddings, funerals, business meetings.”

It’s heartening to know that folks like Affeldt cherish these places and have devoted themselves to continuing their legacies. Yet their revivals also emphasize what we’ve lost—like the Alvarado Hotel in Albuquerque’s Rail Yards—and why it’s important to find ways to reinvigorate those spaces vital to our heritage (see “Rail Yards Renaissance”).

Yes, as Jenny Kimball reminds us, it’s a challenge, but it’s also one very much worth accepting.