La Fonda on the Plaza & La Plazuela

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Hauntings are caused by angry words, weak resolve, revenge, murder and brutal deaths.


The words “La Fonda” means Inn in Spanish, and it is the only hotel located on the historical Santa Fe Plaza; that has long been the center of activity. The hotel has had several names since its beginning: “the Exchange Hotel”, “The Fonda”, “The U.S. Hotel” and the “La Fonda Americana”.

The outside and inside definitely has a high-end Spanish/ New Mexican flair in decor; simple yet elegant. Inside this upscale hotel, the wood-beamed huge ceilings and the glorious tile, fireplace and furniture to match all work together artistically in the lobby. There are staircases going up to the second and third floor.

There are one hundred seventy two rooms and suites in this three story hotel. “Each guest room offers a different experience, featuring a plush bed adorned with a hand-painted headboard as well as handcrafted furnishings and original artwork.” Many rooms offer glorious view of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis Assisi, giving the feeling of being back in another historic era. Other rooms have views of the Loretto Chapel and the mountains adding a relaxing aura to the guest’s stay here.

La Fonda On the Plaza also has a glorious spa, including Massage. Their website make this experience most enticing. “Experience the luxury of La Fonda on the Plaza through enticing massage and body treatments offered at the hotel. Created exceptional massage & body therapies that provide an express pass to relaxation, combining an array of treatments to create the most soothing experience.”

Located off the main lobby is the hotel’s restaurant, La PLazuela, located in the center of La Fonda On the Plaza. In 1922, it originally started out as the hotel’s open courtyard, but it was inclosed in 1976. On the website, they proudly state, “Fresh and flavorful, La Plazuela takes an innovative approach to New Mexican cuisine, cooking up traditional recipes with an enticing new twist.” They describe the interior decor as well, saying, “wrought-iron chandelier and lofty foliage, all encircled by hand-painted windows, evoking the style of the Southwest.”




“Location, Location, Location.” Since the Spaniards founded Santa Fe in 1607, there has always been an inn or fonda on this strategic corner property located right in the center of town, the Santa Fe Plaza. The hotel has had several names since its beginning:”the Exchange Hotel”, “The Fonda”, “The U.S. Hotel” and the “La Fonda Americana”.

The adobe building, called La Fonda was the center of hospitality and loved by its guests and townspeople from its very beginning. It was a popular place to stay for travelers, explorers, soldiers, gold seekers, gamblers and politicians throughout the 19th century; enduring adventures through the Mexican/American War, the Civil War, the coming of the railroads and the New Mexico becoming a state in the United States of America. Through it all, it became a beloved Santa Fe Landmark, with its 46-55 rooms, bar, and entertainment area.

The original adobe building at some point was the town court house. The convicted were hung in the lobby they say.

Throughout the years, the hotel went through positive improvements and declines into a fixer-upper opportunity as well, but the location kept an inn on this spot. It was rebuilt and remodeled throughout its history, to make it a productive property that mostly made money.

William and Mary Donoho, operated the place from 1833 to 1837. By the time 1846 rolled around the hotel was described as a dive, not well ran. It kept financially alive by its saloon, gambling hall and hapless travelers who didn’t know any better; this being the only inn in town. At this time, the entrance to the hotel lobby was on the corner, with an inside door leading to the saloon. There was a long inside courtyard in the middle of the building, with a high fenced in corral in the back for horses. Respectable folks would of stayed clear.

In 1848, the hotel received some new energy when it was sold to new owners, who changed the hotel’s name to The U.S. Hotel. The gambling hall continued to be a strong source of income; drawing in U.S. Military personnel, professional gamblers and visitors willing to try their luck.

In 1867 the hotel was sold again and became The Exchange Hotel. By 1900, it was again a real fixer-upper opportunity.Part of it was a butcher shop to make ends meet.

By 1922, the beloved La Fonda’s structure needed to be replaced; being over 300 years old and too far gone to repair. A new, beautiful upgraded structure, designed by architects Mary Elizabeth, Jane Colter & John Gaw Meem was built using “authentic hand-carved beams, stained Glass skylights, terra-cotta tile, hammered tin chandeliers and a 25 ft cathedral ceiling; creating a new romantic aura that wasn’t there before. It became a dazzling beautiful, upscale hotel with gracious hospitality that caught the eye of the Atchison, Topeka Santa Fe Railway suits who bought La Fonda in 1925. The La Fonda was expanded to have 156 rooms to take care of the tourists arriving to see the Indian detours

La Fonda was then leased to a Fred Harvey, and became a Harvey House, being near the railroad station. Harvey Houses existed all along the railroad stops for many years. It continued to be a hotel with high standards, fine dining and excellent service by the well-trained Harvey Girls who lived on-site.

This La Fonda Harvey House lasted until 1968, when it was bought by a local Santa Fe businessman, Sam Ballen and his wife, Ethel. They added the Lumpkins Ballroom on the second floor in 1990. In 1998, they expanded again and constructed the La Terraza banquet room and 14 luxury rooms and suites on the third floor.

They owned La Fonda until 2014. They decided to sell LA Fonda to their close, trusted friends; Jennifer Kimball and Philip Wise, and his company, Cienda Partners which has left La Fonda On the Plaza in very good hands indeed!



The spirits who stay here are not a happy lot, but still enjoy the beauty of La Fonda On the Plaza, which may help them to forget for a moment what happened to end their lives.

Spirits who attach to the land where they died, will stay even if the original structure is torn down. They can just move into the new structure that is built on this land. A few spirits who are residents of the current La Fonda, met their death in the 19th Century La Fonda structure.

Sometimes spirits have regrets about their own behavior or the behavior of others that led to their deaths; leaving them restless or angry at themselves.

One fateful day in 1867, the Honorable John P. Slough got into a heated argument in old 19th Century Exchange Hotel lobby with a Captain Rynerson, member of the Territorial Legislature of Dona Ana County. It ended with the Honorable John P. Slough being fatally shot after the good judge insulted Captain Rynerson. Rynerson was tried in court but found to be innocent.

Being murdered in the heat of emotion/hatred can cause restless spirits. Victims can’t accept their deaths when they were looking forward to their life with others. A young bride on her honeymoon was murdered by a vengeful ex-boyfriend.

Adultery is a dangerous business that often leads to murder in moments of uncontrolled distress, betrayal and anger.

A Santa Fe politician walked in on his wife and a man amorously involved in a lover’s embrace in bed. The politician killed the man. The politician was hung from a tree in the then open courtyard that is now an enclosed restaurant, La Plazuela; located off the La Fonda Hotel Lobby.

People who are executed by a bad hanging; slowly strangling to death, can haunt the place of their death, especially if they suffered from quick street justice or thought they received too harsh a penalty. When the adobe building was a court house, many convicted people were hung in the lobby space.

A cowboy from Texas on a mission of vengeance for the death of his friend in the hotel bar, came in and shot two people before he was stopped. They hung him from a tree, either behind the La Fonda Inn or in a tree in the plaza.

The politician who murdered his wife’s lover was hung from a tree either in the hotel’s back yard or in the then open courtyard that is now an enclosed restaurant, La Plazuela; located off the La Fonda Hotel Lobby.

Spirits who ended their own lives often find that they are still upset and haven’t found peace; perhaps afraid to go to the other side. Sometimes they feel compelled to relive their suicide.

The gambling hall that once was here and the bar have been the source of bad experiences and many lost their fortunes, and tried to escape their financial woes by killing themselves. One such person, a salesman who partied too hardy and gambled away his employer’s money, was filled with remorse and guilt, and jumped into the courtyard’s well to drown himself.

A couple on their honeymoon met disaster here, when the groom had too much to drink and got in a fight. He was shot in the back while going up the staircase to his room. His bride shot herself on the staircase.



Many spirits who reside here, who enjoy watching the living eat and drink, like to appear during the evening dining experience in the main dining room and the third-floor restaurant.

Spirit of Judge Honorable John P. Slough

His restless spirit, who must be haunting the land, has moved into La Fonda On the Plaza.

This spirit is seen and heard, wearing his long black coat pacing the halls, stairways and the lobby. Perhaps he regrets his argument with the hothead who shot him.

Spirit of the enraged husband

hung from a tree in the courtyard, or perhaps the lobby area.

He may like to stay in his old room or the lobby, or keep the suicidal spirit company in the courtyard dining room.

Spirit of Suicidal Salesman

His visual apparition hangs around the old courtyard (now the restaurant where he died), and is compelled to repeat his suicide by disappearing into the floor where the courtyard well once existed.

Some say that the well was where the fountain was installed.

Though the fountain has been taken out, there is still a remaining pic of the well foundation still in the courtyard restaurant.

Spirit of Murdered Bride

perhaps reliving her wedding and reception at this hotel; morning her own death and interrupted new life with her beloved because of a vengeful ex-suitor.

She wistfully likes to still enjoy the beautiful Bridal Suite; 510.

She also is seen in the lobby, using the elevator and the basement.

Spirit of the Suicidal Bride

She has been spotted on the stairs, reliving the horrifying moment of her beloved collapsing and dying.

Spirit of Cowboy

Apparently, he enjoys being in the hotel bar, between 2 am and 3 am, and finds ways to let the living know he is there, a friendly presence.

Spirit of a bartender from the past

Keeps the cowboy company.


Most Probably so! A lot of death and tragedy has happened on this property.

La Fonda on the Plaza is head and shoulders above the original inns that were built here. I can see why spirits would be drawn back to enjoy the beauty of the place.

Staff and guests who had personal experiences know that the hotel is haunted. They know what they saw and heard. Two brides had disastrous experiences, death penalties have been carried out here, and people have been murdered on this property. YIKES!

A paranormal investigator caught a lot of evidence in his 2nd floor guest room.

However, SGHA paranormal group have some doubts on some of the claims, saying that sone claims do qualify as just being urban legend; perhaps started by staff.

Their research claims that there never was a well in the courtyard, but others have taken pictures of the old well foundation still in the floor. They also could not find anything in the old newspapers on some of the other deaths, like the remorseful gambler. However, many people who lost at gambling would kill themselves. Perhaps these deaths were not newsworthy. Sometimes the staff witnesses back out of what was reported, claiming it was misreported; perhaps regretting sharing their experience.

SGHA did say that probably the good judge is still there but question how people can identify him by his long black coat?

You can read their PDF for yourself. However, they very well may be wrong. It wouldn’t be the first time paranormal investigators think they have debunked hauntings but were mistaken, or claimed the place wasn’t haunted because they didn’t catch any hard evidence.

Perhaps, more investigators will do their own private investigations and provide more hard evidence.



100 E San Francisco Street,
Santa Fe, NM 87501

La Fonda On the Plaza can be found on the historic Santa Fe Plaza, on the corner of San Francisco Street and Washington Street, in the heart of historic Santa Fe.


  • La Fonda On the Plaza

Our Haunted Paranormal Stories are Written by Julie Carr

Our Photos are copyrighted by Tom Carr

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