EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – Standing as a reminder of the downtown’s rich history, the Gardner Hotel and Hostel is the oldest operating hotel in El Paso.
Joe Nebhan, owner of the hotel that’s been in his family for generations, remembers seeing Downtown El Paso change over the years.
“It used to look like New York city. I mean, the streets were so crowded with shoppers and everything,” recalled Nebhan.
The hotel was originally opened in 1922 by Preston Gardner, an attorney from Missouri and a member of the Ku Klux Klan, who ran for mayor of El Paso, but lost to Richard Dudley.
Nebhan’s grandfathe bought the hotel in mid 1940’s and it has been in his family ever since.
Nebhan remembers coming to the hotel since he was 8 years old, then learning the trade from his father and finally taking over in 1981.
“I remember the characters that lived here, they were really nice, very unique,” Nebhan said remembering all the people who had stayed and even lived at the hotel.
One of the more infamous guests was a known gangster John Dillinger who stayed at the hotel in 1933, just days before he was arrested in Tucson, AZ.
The Gardner was also ran as a residential hotel. One of their most notable residents was a Pulitzer Award winner Cormac McCarthy, writer of No Country for Old Men, that was turned into an Academy Award winning film.
“The hotel was mentioned in several of [McCarthy’s] books by its name, the Gardner Hotel. He lived here for several years on and off,” said Nebhan.
The Gardner is also the first and still the only hostel in town since 1984.
In 2015 the hotel was featured in “Hotel Impossible” TV show. That was the year when Nebhan stepped down and handed the keys to his daughter Stephanie Nebhan.
“In 1981 I stepped on the curb and saw a little glint of gold , it was a wedding band. I picked it up and thought – this is a good omen,” he said.
He put the ring onto his keychain, and had it up until he handed the keys over to his daughter in 2015.
“I told her – you are now married to the hotel. My staff used to tell me the hotel was my mistress,” Nebhan recalled.
As the years went by, Nebhan noticed the vibrancy of the Downtown area waned down.
“I saw so many beautiful buildings get destroyed, the hotels, the apartments,” said Nebhan,”when I was a child, there must have been 30 hotels like the Gardner in town, we’re the only ones left.”
He believes Downtown needs more businesses to be opened to bring it back to its old glory.
With his daughter Stephanie, he said, the hotel is getting many bookings, with some locals deciding to visit for a “staycation,” as well.
“I didn’t really appreciate it then as much as I do now. The flavor of El Paso, that made it what it is today,” said Nebhan.