The Hotel El Capitan, built by Charles Bassett of El Paso, opened its doors in July of 1930. The hotel was designed by famed architect Henry C. Trost and built by the McKee Construction Company of El Paso. The crossroads of the forth coming Carlsbad Caverns, Guadalupe Mountains and Big Bend National Parks,the building operated as a hotel until the late 1960’s when Interstate 10 opened and a majority of the traffic bypassed the popular landmark.
In 2007 Lanna and Joe Duncan of Fort Davis purchased the El Capitan building from the Van Horn State Bank with the plan to convert it back to a hotel. The building is essentially the identical floor plan of its sister hotel The Hotel Paisano in Marfa. It was one of the five Gateway Hotels in a chain built by Charles Bassett in Eastern New Mexico and West Texas. The other three hotels were the Hildago, in Lordsburg, New Mexico, The La Caverna, in Carlsbad, New Mexico and The Gateway Hotel in downtown El Paso, Texas. Besides The El Capitan, The Paisano and The Gateway Hotel in El Paso are still open today. Bassett built the hotels in an attempt to encourage tourism within 200 miles of El Paso. Renowned architect Henry C. Trost was responsible for the design of over 550 buildings from California to Texas during the early 1900's until his death in 1933. He studied architecture under Louis Sullivan in Chicago and was influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright.
The 26,000 square foot Hotel El Capitan, typical of most Trost buildings, has a lobby with unique European tile on the floors, stairwells with finely crafted wrought iron banisters and exposed Spanish vigas lining the fourteen feet ceilings. Nearly all of the buildings in downtown El Paso constructed between 1910 and 1933 were designed by Trost.
The El Capitan has fifty-two rooms, twelve of which have French doors that open to private exterior balconies or patios overlooking a central Courtyard with a fountain centered in the midst of palm and olive trees. In the 1970's, every bathroom in the building had been removed when the hotel was converted to a bank. With the new renovation, all rooms have been completely restored with private baths featuring black and white hexagon tile and Kohler fixtures.
An elevator has also been added that serves a 3,000 square foot basement, lobby, mezzanine, second floor and roof top. The Eagles Nest is a room adjacent to the roof top elevator that is named in respect to the Van Horn Eagles high school mascot. Also on the roof is a new exact replica of the original red neon sign that stands twenty five feet high. Each of the Gateway hotels had these signs to act as a beacon for travelers coming into town.
An attraction to the hotel is the new El Capitan Dining Room and Gopher Hole Bar. The bar opens at 5pm and dinner starts at 6pm. The Gopher Hole was originally located in the basement where the old passageway turns resembled that of a gopher hole. Many of the town’s social gatherings took place in the Gopher Hole.
If you ask Duncan what was the most interesting aspect of rebuilding El Capitan, he says "finding the secret passageways of the building". For security measures when the bank moved in, they closed the old passageways, several staircases, about 50 linear yards of underground tunnels and a small room. He says during renovations, they started pulling 1970’s paneling off the walls and found all sorts of passageways that nobody new anything about. The only artifacts found from the original hotel were some vintage monogrammed Hotel Capitan dishes and 1930’s beer cans.
Once again The Hotel El Capitan is becoming a destination for travelers in far West Texas.