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Hotel to the Stars Now Attracts Movie Fans

  • Tang Ximing

"The Hallelujah Trail" by acclaimed director John Sturges was filmed here in Gallup in 1965. Its stars, Burt Lancaster and Lee Remick, were among the dozens of actors listed in the El Rancho Hotel's register during its heyday more than half a century ago.

The brother of movie magnet D. W. Griffith built the hotel in 1937. Its current owner, Armand Ortega bought the run-down El Rancho in 1986 and restored the hotel to its former elegance. "I used to come and sit down there on the couch, look at the place, and think someday, I want to build something like this for my mother."

Faithful to the original design, the two-story brick and stone hotel is adorned with autographed photos of movie stars, Navajo rugs, and wooden staircases.

Seventy-year-old Barbara Stanley worked at the hotel when she was a teenager. "Many of them came here, and as you can see in the pictures on the wall, no star's picture is on these walls unless they have been in this building. So, it's not where they just bought the pictures and hung them up. This one is John Wayne; his nickname was 'The Duke.' I sat and had coffee with him every morning because he thought I was really funny. He was very political, and he had a lot of political ideas, but I was very opinionated, as even a 13-year-old. He thought I was very funny. Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn were one of Hollywood's big romances. He was married and she was never married, but he was very Catholic and he never left his wife."

Former president and actor Ronald Reagan slept in a room at the hotel while making films near Gallup. And many other rooms are named for the stars that stayed here. Ortega says this sense of history attracts guests from around the world. "They come from all over. They come from all over the United States. They come from Japan, some from China, a lot of them from Italy, France, Germany, and Australia because it's different. You see, it is not a modern hotel, and there's history. That's why they want to stay at an historical hotel."

Today, the era of Hollywood westerns is just a memory and most of their stars are gone. But this old, rustic hotel is a monument to Hollywood's Golden Age, a time that, like its films, has long since faded into the sunset.