For the longest time we’d heard about a grand, wild west hotel in Gallup that was the place for movie production crews to stay while filming in the gorgeous and rugged surrounding Southwestern locations. So on our last trip through Northwestern New Mexico, we stopped in to find it unchanged from the 1930s and 50s when hundreds of movie stars brushed off the dust and kicked off their spurs after a long day of filming.
It was built in 1936 by Joe Massaglia for R.E. “Griff” Griffith, brother of the famous movie director D.W. Griffith. The grand opening was in 1937 and it quickly booked up as a base for movie productions. The employees were trained by the famous Fred Harvey Company hotel and restaurant chain to provide excellent service for their celebrated guests.
A large, rambling building with ashlar stonework, flagstone with brick accents and crisp white painted columns, the style is rustic elegance. The front wooden doors are heavy and so textured they looked to be made of old wild west wagon boards. Note the wagon wheel windows (pictured).
Walking into this landmark was like stepping into a movie set.
The main entry opens into a gorgeous, rustic lobby with heavy, carved wooden beams, dark wood furniture, Navajo rugs hanging from the balcony, deer trophies and steer horns hanging from the columns, with stained glass and stamped tin lights.
At the rear of the lobby is a large walk-in fireplace made of brick and random stonework. On each side, wooden stairways curve up to the second floor balcony that encircles the first floor, with sitting areas, western artwork and framed autographed photos of their notable guests.
The hotel’s restaurant continues to serve American and New Mexican cuisine including The John Wayne Burger, tamales, fajitas, tacos and the Ronald Reagan Burger with side of jelly beans. The 49er lounge has an impressive selection of tequilas and is known for Errol Flynn’s habit of riding his horse into the bar when he wanted a drink.
Gallup is also known as the “Indian Capital of the World“, for its location in the heart of Native American lands, and the presence of Navajo, Zuni, Hopi and other tribes. One-third of the city’s population has Native American roots. Gallup’s nickname references the huge impact of the Native American Cultures found in and around Gallup.
Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the El Rancho Hotel is on the Trails of the Ancients Byway, one of the designated New Mexico Scenic Byways, and is a popular stop for Route 66 travelers.
It’s easy to see how actors and directors were inspired by the atmosphere of El Rancho as they portrayed western characters and directed iconic western films. Thanks to the owners who have kept it well maintained and restored through the years, we can experience the “charm of yesterday,” take a walk back in time and stay in rooms that once accommodated Humphrey Bogart, Katherine Hepburn, James Cagney, Lucille Ball, Joan Crawford, Kirk Douglas, Gregory Peck, Burt Lancaster, and Doris Day, to name just a few. Your own Hollywood away from home, in the Southwest!
Wishing you Happy Discoveries!
Amy & Mr.D