BELEN — It might not be a registered historic building, but the Kuhn Hotel in Belen is a landmark many will remember.
After decades of planning and fighting for the two-story, terron building, owner Joan Artiaga has given up and will allow the demolition of the building — but on her own terms.
“I don’t want to fight anymore. I don’t have the fight in me anymore,” Artiaga told the News-Bulletin during a telephone interview on Monday. “I want to move forward and enjoy life. I want to be joyful, peaceful and positive. I’m really sick and I need to focus on getting well.”
The building has stood on First Street for 117 years. The condition of the building has increasingly deteriorated over the last 20 or so years, and the city has taken notice.
Vidal Torres, the director of the city’s Community Preservation Department, reported he had been working on this case since 2020. He told the governing body the current condition of the hotel includes a bowing of the roof. He also said the police and fire departments have been called to the property on numerous occasions for everything from vandalism to medical issues.
In June, the city council approved a resolution to demolish the old hotel and four other buildings — two homes, an old bakery and an old carriage house once owned by the Becker family — on the property. The resolution also allowed more time for the potential buyers of the property to return and present their plans for renovating the hotel.
According to Artiaga, the potential buyers, Dave and Julia Parton, told her a few days ago they couldn’t “make the numbers work” and wouldn’t be able to buy the hotel as is.
“It was going to cost them way too much money,” Artiaga said of the proposed renovation of the hotel. “The other buildings, vandals got into them and broke every single window and kicked down the door. The bakery is completely demolished inside. They kicked in all the doors and window in the adobe house.”
The Partons, owners of Stepping Stones Investment Properties, told the city council last month they were still looking at the costs and waiting on whether potential investors would help.
Last month, Dave Parton estimated the Kuhn Hotel would cost between $1.3 to $1.7 million to renovate, including at least $100,000 to replace the roof. He said if everything fell into place, such as investors and price quotes, he would be looking at renovating the building to include 13 studio apartments and three, one-bedroom apartments.
In a letter sent to the city of Belen on Monday, Artiaga wrote, “After a lot of prayer and agonizing deliberation, I have decided not to fight your resolve to demolish the Kuhn Hotel and adjacent buildings. I have tried so hard to save them because I believe that they are important to the history of Belen and because I have my entire life savings tied up in that property. I had hoped to keep it in the family.”
“Though the Kuhn Hotel’s demolition may bid farewell to a historical icon, we look forward to witnessing the creative vision and thoughtful plans of the new property owners, as they write a new chapter for this cherished site,” said Belen Mayor Robert Noblin.
Artiaga, who had wanted to renovate the hotel into an art studio, said instead of permitting the city to demolish the buildings, which would come with a lien and court costs, the former Valencia County clerk will do it on her own.
After salvaging what she can from the hotel and other buildings, Artiaga will then sell the property to the Partons. She will then use some of the proceeds of the sale to pay for the demolition.
“I can’t keep up with the building and fight off the criminals and deal with the city — I just can’t. It’s too much,” Artiaga said. “I tried and I feel like I failed. I feel like a let a lot of people down — including myself.”
Artiaga bought the Kuhn Hotel, which was owned by her grandfather at one time, in 2003. She said she’s disappointed she couldn’t save the building, but is more upset what some members of the community have done to it.
“They went in and they flipped over my grandpa’s table and destroyed it,” she said. “We redid all the cabinets in the kitchen and they’re destroyed as well.
“I am so sad that it’s come to this,” she said. “The stress is so high when I drive around the corner wondering if there’s people in there trashing things. It’s relentless.”
Artiaga said while she’s devastated to have to make the decision, she realizes it’s the best decision for her at this time.
“It’s an end of an era for the Kuhn Hotel and for Belen,” she said. “It’s a humongous loss for the city.”
Kuhn Hotel history
According to a 2020 La Historia del Rio Abajo article by historian Richard Melzer, Ruth Kuhn and her husband, Louis, and young son, Louis Jr., traveling by covered wagon, settled in Albuquerque’s South Valley by 1885. Ruth ran the family farm while Louis worked as a blacksmith.
All went well until Louis suddenly left, abandoning Ruth and her four children. The couple reconciled and moved to Baxter, Texas. All did not go well, and the Kuhns separated once more.
Returning to New Mexico, Ruth settled in Belen, where she worked at and eventually owned a bakery and restaurant.
She apparently managed to save enough money to invest in a hotel. Bertha Rutz, a German nanny who had cared for the Becker children, ran the Belen Hotel for nearly 50 years.
Businessman and banker John Becker may well have financed the Kuhn Hotel because he recognized Ruth’s business skills and realized that Belen needed more than one hotel to keep up with the new railroad demands.
By 1913, the Belen city directory listed Ruth as a provider of room and board. By World War I, her business was well-established in a two-story hotel built on 5-foot deep footings and with 3-foot wide adobe walls.
Clara Garcia is the editor and publisher of the Valencia County News-Bulletin.
She is a native of the city of Belen, beginning her journalism career at the News-Bulletin in 1998 as the crime and courts reporter. During her time at the paper, Clara has won numerous awards for her writing, photography and typography and design both from the National Newspaper Association and the New Mexico Press Association.