The Castle, originally known as the Montezuma Hotel, was designed by noted Chicago architects John Root and Daniel Burnham for the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad, which had built a spur from Las Vegas to Montezuma in 1882. The Queen-Anne-style hotel, which was completed that same year, was the first building in New Mexico with electric lights. After a fire in 1884, the hotel was rebuilt the next year. There was a second fire in 1885, and in 1886 the third and final Montezuma Castle opened.
The resort hotel, with its proximity to the Montezuma Hot Springs, was a popular destination for travelers making the crossing from east to west and back. The 90,000-square-foot Castle housed a casino, an 11-lane bowling alley, a stage, a dance floor, stained glass from Europe, a Steinway piano brought in by train, and a staff hired away from the best hotels in New York, Chicago, and St. Louis. Guests included Theodore Roosevelt, Rutherford B. Hayes, Ulysses S. Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman, Jesse James, and Emperor Hirohito of Japan.
The Castle closed in 1903 and was sold to the YMCA for $1. It subsequently belonged to the Baptist Church, as the site of its Montezuma College, and the Catholic Church, which ran a seminary for Mexican priests from 1937 through 1972. Once the Catholic Church closed down its seminary, the Castle became easy prey for vandals and vagrants, and the building was raided for everything from chunks of stained glass to wood to a brass chandelier. Time and weather further hastened the Montezuma Castle’s decline. In 1981 the Armand Hammer Foundation bought the property and located the American campus of the United World College there.
In 1997, the National Trust for Historic Preservation recognized the Castle as one of America’s most endangered historic places. The White House Millennium Council named it one of “America’s Treasures,” making it the first property west of the Mississippi to receive that honor.
In 2000-2001, the landmark underwent a $10.5 million renovation, transforming it into an international center with student and faculty housing, dining facilities, offices and a student social center. The Castle also hosts the Bartos Institute for Constructive Engagement of Conflict. Much of the building’s magnificent interior and exterior architectural and decorative features were restored and retained, including its stained-glass windows and ornately carved ash ceilings and fireplaces. Modern treasures and amenities were added, including two eight-foot glass chandeliers designed specifically for the Castle’s enormous new dining room (formerly its ballroom) by artist Dale Chihuly.
Pictures and information were provided by United World College
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