From Texas to New Mexico to California, folks are making it their mission to rejuvenate the places that represent their roots.
Editor's Note: Real Stories is a three-part series from our January 2020 design feature depicting real transformations of historic havens in the American West.
When the eccentric Swiss-German aeronaut Ernie Blake flew over the mountains of Northern New Mexico in the 1950s, he couldn’t have known the lasting influence he would impart upon the historic area. Today, more than 60 years after the World War II hero and Nazi interrogator carved runs out of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and founded the Swiss Alps-inspired Taos Ski Valley, his brainchild is going through a renaissance.
In the three-pointed star that is the 1,000-year-old Taos Pueblo, the Spanish Colonial town, and the slopes, Taos Ski Valley has long been known as a Northern New Mexico gem. Now it is renewing its vows to the area’s heritage with a grand vision of unification.
Bottling that alchemy is the new upscale Blake Hotel. A sugar-crusted Alpine wonderland on the outside and a rich, earthy tapestry on the inside, it weaves together a number of different elements. As the pièce de résistance of the multimillion-dollar revitalization of the ski valley’s core village and mountains, its statement is: We are not just Taos Ski Valley. We are Taos.
That declaration includes the Native American history, the gory Spanish missionary past, the nostalgic Bavarian charm, the après-ski party vibe, and a whimsical je ne sais quoi that could be attributed to Blake’s own ghost. It is all of these things and, magically, somehow more than the sum of its parts.
In the Blake, Jet Zarkadas and Jennifer Wilson of the Santa Fe-based Los Griegos Studio curated a colossal, off-kilter, yet pleasing and cohesive art collection. Blankets inspired by traditional Pueblo women’s garb in the foyer; a set of neon antlers in the bathroom; Hollywood starlet-inspired pop “ski girls” on one wall and rare, historic photographs of the Pueblo on others; a shadow box full of antique ski goggles; an enigmatic mixed media sculpture of “Little Jimmy.”
Everything in the hotel has a connection to the place.
“We wanted to tell a story,” Zarkadas says. “You could have a boutique art hotel anywhere in the world, but you can only have this hotel here.”
In an effort to represent, include, and be truthful, several pieces were offered for close scrutiny by the Pueblo. One photograph thought to represent a sacred kiva (a room where rituals are performed) was almost removed. But an anthropologist investigated the matter and determined the photo actually depicted a non-sacred storage facility, so the photograph was kept and the description rewritten.
Through this commitment to inclusion, a friendship was struck with the Pueblo: The Blake catered a party for the tribe and took payment not by check but in a member of the Pueblo’s bison herd — which their restaurant, 192, served to customers for the next six months. It was the Pueblo’s first trade with a nontribal member.
“It was important to the Pueblo, in the way we identified these selections, that we get all of it right,” Steven Rose, director of residential planning for Taos Ski Valley, says. “There were pieces we had to revise or give context to. There was one piece we decided not to display. That was important.”
“We don’t have art just to have art,” Eduardo Sampere, the hotel’s general manager, adds. “We want people to understand Taos and see the connections. We wanted to be what Taos already was — a place where people care for each other.”
More from our design feature
Photography: Courtesy Taos Ski Valley
From our January 2020 issue.