Forgotten But Not Lost
Like many explorers, I found the Kuhn Hotel by accident. Located in the Historic Railroad District of Belen, New Mexico, the Kuhn Hotel sits hidden away behind the underpass on the secret end of a dead end street.
I was walking back to my car after photographing the various old buildings on Becker Ave. and I saw what I thought was an abandoned house at the end of the road. When I got down there, I couldn't believe it was a huge old abandoned hotel, so close to home, and I never knew about it!
The Kuhn Hotel is so close to the overpass that it is not possible to get a straight shot of the front of the building without the bridge being in it. It's not a good idea, but I think one could probably jump from the overpass onto the roof of the Kuhn.
In continuation, after I published my blog post about the Historic Railroad District of Belen, New Mexico, I was contacted by a local historian named Jim Sloan who wanted to tell me about the fundraising efforts currently underway to restore the Kuhn Hotel before it's too late. More about that in a bit.
A Landmark Of Belen For 114 Years
The Kuhn Hotel was built by Ruth Kuhn in 1906. This hotel was the first building to have a public bathroom and it is the only surviving two story adobe structure in Belen.
As the story goes, once upon a time there was a woman named Ruth who married an unreliable guy by the name of Louis Kuhn. The Kuhn family, which included Ruth, Louis and their three children moved to New Mexico in the mid 1800's. Traveling by covered wagon, the family entered the territory (New Mexico did not become a state until 1912) by way of Tucumcari and settled in the south valley of Albuquerque. During this time Ruth ran the family farm while Louis worked as a blacksmith. This arrangement might sound nice but life and times were hard and all was not well. Louis skipped out on the family leaving Ruth alone with the children. Despite this, Ruth gave him one more chance and the couple reunited and moved to Baxter, Texas where Ruth ran a boarding house and Louis planned his exit strategy. The couple split again and this time it was permanent. Ruth moved back to New Mexico and, perhaps hoping to capitalize on the bustling railroad industry, settled in Belen. Ruth worked in a restaurant and later owned a bakery. The venture was so successful that in 1906 she was able to expand her enterprise, likely financed by the First National Bank Of Belen, and she built the Kuhn Hotel which would cater primarily to railroad personnel.
While chatting with current owner of the Kuhn Hotel, Joan Artiaga, she told me that Ruth ran a tight ship and would tolerate no funny business of any kind, but especially not of the drunk and disorderly variety. The hotel was a sanctuary for railroad personnel to get some rest and Ruth insisted on keeping the place quiet. There was a grandfather clock (with the chines turned off, of course) in the lobby and it was so quiet in the hotel that the ticking of the clock could be heard throughout the long hallways.
As the story goes, when Ruth's estranged husband heard of her success he magically reappeared once again and wanted to make amends. Ruth told him he could have one photo taken out front with his kids and then he could hit the road. Not that it particularly matters one way or the other but Mr. Kuhn doesn't seem like the kind of guy who would've had his own camera in the early 1900's which begs the question, who's camera was used to take the picture? While it is impossible to speculate, the alleged photo probably would've been taken on the porch pictured below.
A Long Decline
Born in Pennsylvania in 1862, Ruth Kuhn was a child of the Civil War. By 1929, Ruth had come a long way from her humble beginnings. She had moved all the way across the country and become one of the first successful business women in Valencia County but at the age of 67 she was ready to retire. Ruth found a buyer for the Kuhn Hotel and moved in with her daughter, Stella, and son-in-law, Andrew W. Hinkle. The family lived together on N. 2nd Street in Albuquerque until 1940 when Ruth suffered a stroke and passed away.
It seems that Ruth bowed out just in time, or perhaps it was a lack of her personal touch that signaled the beginning of the end but things were just never the same after the hotel changed hands. A relic of times gone by and a victim of the Great Depression and city planning in the name of progress, the Kuhn Hotel has been in a state of slow but steady decline since the 1930's.
The Kuhn Hotel has been bought and sold several times and actually housed many different types of businesses over the years including a portrait photographer's atelier, a studio for piano lessons and office space for a quack doctor offering "surgeries without the use of knives".
Of the many subsequent owners, the one that directly ties into the hotel's present circumstance is Oliver Blais who purchased the hotel around 1962 and, recognizing that the name Kuhn carried with it some raciest connotations, changed the name to the City Hotel.
Oliver Blais is the maternal grandfather of the current owner, Joan Artiaga, and upon learning this I had wrongly assumed that Joan had inherited the property. Actually, the story is a little stranger than that.
Oliver Blais was indeed the owner of the hotel in the 1960's but his tenure was cut short by a bizarre accident. Joan told me that during the ten years that her grandfather owned the Kuhn Hotel he would also play the roll of town Santa Claus. On December 4, 1971, during the Belen Christmas parade, Oliver was dressed up as Santa and riding on top of a fire engine. At some point during the parade the driver of the truck saw smoke in the distance and, forgetting that Santa was still in the back, he went pedal-to-the-metal to get to the fire. Unfortunately, Santa was not secured in the truck and, with the sudden acceleration, he fell out and suffered severe trauma when his head hit the pavement. Oliver Blais survived for seven months but eventually died from his injuries which also cost him tens of thousands of dollars. Prior to his death, Blais had sued both the Belen fire department and the Chamber of Commerce, which ran the parade. Seeking restitution for his medical bills, loss of wages and pain and suffering in the amount of $71,000, Blais lost his case in state district court.
At the time of his death, Oliver was still making payments on the Kuhn and so ownership reverted back to the bank. The current owner, Oliver Blais's granddaughter, Joan Artiaga purchased the 24 unit hotel in 2003 with plans to turn it into an artist co-op. She was able to make some renovations but the work was stalled for several years when her husband fell ill and died.
In the meantime, the Kuhn Hotel has been incessantly plagued by vandals. Hoodlums with nothing better to do than intentionally cause destruction to other people's property have waged an unending attack on the now-abandoned Kuhn Hotel and addressing the damage they have caused has consumed nearly all of Joan's funding and left her in a disheartened state of mind.
To add insult to injury, the city of Belen is now imposing steep fines on owners of what it considers to be derelict buildings. No offers to help out, of course, just fines to further drain the resources of a property owner trying her best to deal with the situation.
Joan's goal is to fix up the building enough so that someone will purchase it and complete the restoration. She's had a couple offers from people who would like to purchase the property and tear down the building but Joan would very much like to see the original structure survive.
Some Guests Have Never Checked Out
While the Kuhn Hotel has been closed for many years, it seems that some guests have never left. Current owner, Joan Artiaga, reports the presence of at least four spirits inhabiting the property. One is just a misty cloud appearing at the top of the stairs but another has appeared as a full bodied apparition on multiple occasions. The spirit, whom Joan refers to as Henry, is reported to be well dressed and cheerful and strongly resembles a man seen in an old photograph of people at the hotel.
Henry seems to appreciate Joan's efforts to take care of the property and has been known to leave her gifts such as coins as jewelry.
In a particularly notable occurrence of paranormal activity, the Belen police responded to a report of an intruder in the early morning hours. They searched the hotel with their guns drawn until finally cornering the trespasser on the balcony. With no escape route, the intruder simply disappeared, leaving the officers with no explanation for what had occurred. When Joan showed them the photo of Henry, the officers confirmed that the man in the photo was the same man they had cornered on balcony.
The ensuing publicity attracted the attention of various paranormal groups who have since conducted numerous investigations at the property and, while "ghost hunting" usually ramps up paranormal activity, it seems that these spirits have either crossed over or have just grown weary of the frequent interruptions and have ceased their activity all together.
Help Save The Kuhn Hotel
As I mentioned earlier, after publishing my blog post about the Historic Railroad District of Belen, I was contacted by a historian named Jim Sloan. He told me about his fund raising efforts and I asked if I could help by photographing the property and writing a more in-depth piece about it. Jim arranged for me to meet Joan and to photograph the inside of the hotel.
As you can see from the photos, the Kuhn Hotel is in need of significant repair work. The number one priority is the roof but there are certainly other issues to be addressed as well. This historic property served an important function in the Hub City for many years and it seems sad and a little unfair that the official "Historic Railroad District" is basically Becker Ave. while the Kuhn sits just around the corner out of sight and out of mind. I can't help but think of what an amazing historic property this place would be with a little love and restoration.
If you would like to see the Kuhn Hotel restored and preserved for future generations to come, please consider making a contribution to the Kuhn Hotel Go Fund Me Page. Every dollar helps!
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I am DeAnna Vincent, fine art and portrait photographer in Los Lunas, New Mexico. These are the photos from my everyday adventures.