Greening What Hilton Built
Inside the Makeover of Albuquerque's Last Landmark Hotel
By Arnold Berke | Online Only | Mar. 8, 2010
Albuquerque has been hard on its historic hotels. In 1970, after a wrenching battle, the magnificent mission-style Alvarado (1902) was torn down. The city lost the Franciscan (1923), an exotic Spanish-Pueblo ziggurat, in 1972, and El Fidel (1932) now houses office condos.
But the last of these downtown landmarks, the old Hilton, has been given a new—and green—lease on life as the Hotel Andaluz.
Conrad Hilton (Paris' great-grandfather) opened the hotel in 1939 as a tribute to the southwestern spirit of his native New Mexico. Dallas architect Anton Korn infused it with Hispanic and Native American flourishes—from a two-story arcaded lobby decked out in stucco, tile, wrought iron, and wood to murals by local artists on pioneer and Indian themes. By contrast, Korn designed the 10-story exterior as a sleek, almost modernist, rendition of the old Territorial Style, accented only by brick roof copings. A block from famous Route 66, the Hilton was the tallest structure in the state.
For years, the hotel was a social and political hub, its famous visitors ranging from actress Zsa Zsa Gabor, Hilton's wife during the early 1940s, to future president John F. Kennedy, who spoke there at a 1957 Democratic fundraiser. "It was always known as Albuquerque's living room, where people would gather to share what was occurring in the city and the area," says Paul O'Dowd, general manager of the Andaluz, which debuted last October.
After downtown began declining in the 1960s, the hotel endured a series of new owners and renovations (shrinking the lobby to one floor was the most drastic). But in 1984, the hotel reopened as La Posada de Albuquerque, with much of its lost atmosphere returned. In 2005, local developer Gary Goodman bought the building, vowing to preserve its historical charm while making it a model of sustainability. "I got caught up in a moment of passion," says Goodman, CEO of Goodman Realty Group. "They were auctioning it off, and I was the only one from Albuquerque there. I said, what will happen to this last, really irreplaceable hotel, a big part of the city's history, if it gets out of local hands? So I bought it."
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The new name refers to the Spanish region of Andalucia, with its Moorish roots, which inspired Goodman's makeover, including the "casbah" lounging nooks tucked behind the lobby arches. Playing into the theme are historic elements like the lobby's red-tiled floor and dark-wood ceiling and trim. Four lobby murals also survive. One, depicting Acoma hoop dancers, is slated for restoration. The storefronts and entrances, including historic marquees and lighting, were kept, and a rooftop lounge, Ibiza, reclaims Hilton's old sun terrace, closed since the 1950s.
Green goals ruled. "Every hotel in our portfolio follows certain green initiatives," says Jeff McIntyre, a partner in Gemstone Hotels and Resorts, which operates the Andaluz. "But this was planned from the ground up with a vision of being as green as possible." More than 75 percent of demolition debris was diverted from the landfill. (Cast-iron tubs and sinks were given to a community college in Tucumcari, N. M., whose fine-arts students have been converting them to sculpture.) Other materials were reused, including non-historic beams that live on as public restroom countertops. The renovation—a candidate for LEED gold certification—also used paints, carpeting, and adhesives low in volatile organic compounds.
Rooftop solar panels generate 60 percent of the hotel's hot water, augmenting new high-efficiency boilers. Rainwater will be sent to 2,500-gallon cisterns, for watering both street trees and indoor plants. Occupancy sensors ration heating, cooling, and lighting in the 107 guestrooms, and LED and fluorescent lighting prevails. In addition, dual-flush toilets and low-flow faucets should save 100,000 gallons of water per year.
Another innovation is a center on the mezzanine level designed to lure guests to the city's arts venues and museums. Touch-screen monitors provide information, and guests can print out maps, itineraries, calendars, and even tickets to museums and performances. "It's doing just what we envisioned," says Goodman Realty's Darin Sand, who directs the center and headed the green renovation. "People might not have visited, for example, the National Hispanic Cultural Center if they didn't have their display case here."
City revenue bonds, federal preservation tax credits, and new market tax credits helped finance the $30 million re-do, which set aside 20 percent of its hotel jobs for Native Americans. The project has infused considerable capital into downtown, which is enjoying a comeback thanks to developments like this, three nearby housing complexes that open this month, and conversion of a 1926 hospital into the Hotel Parq Central, which will open in the fall. "The Andaluz has already reaped rewards," says Goodman. "We've brought in conferences that had never been to Albuquerque. And if not for the fact that it's a historic renovation, and that it's a green one, we wouldn't have gotten that business."
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