Casa del Gavilan, one of the earliest examples of a residence in the Pueblo Revival style in New Mexico, changed hands several times before it was purchased in 1994 by an owners’ group seeking to protect, restore and revive the property. The group now consists of 13 members, each of whom had an association with the Philmont Scout Ranch that entirely surrounds the “House of the Hawk.” Dave Emery, a commercial photographer and majority owner, oversees the management of this National Historic Register-listed bed and breakfast near Cimarron.
Why a group of strangers would want to buy a rundown house is a good question! For us, it was like buying a little part of a national park. But we quickly found out we were in way over our heads! The house needed a lot more repair than we anticipated. As with most everyone who has bought a bed and breakfast, that’s not a new story. Without any real experience, we operated on a wing and a prayer, all the time keeping the inn open to guests.
Casa del Gavilan, dating from 1911-12, used to be part of UU Bar Ranch. In the early 1990s, the family decided to split off parcels, including the Casa property. At the time, no one really understood the historic importance of the house, and it wasn’t in the best condition. When Philmont didn’t express interest, our group banded together to protect it from developers and preserve the natural beauty of the place. And rebuild the bed and breakfast business that had “gone to seed.”
We did a major overhaul on the heating system, drilled a new well, added natural gas and brought in fiber optic for high-speed internet – all in the name of upgrading the accommodations for the comfort of our guests. There was a ton of decorating to do, too. You need a lot of artwork for a 10,000 square foot property. The exterior work was largely cosmetic, though – it’s still the same place that guests have loved for years. Many of them cut us lots of slack in the early years because they’d been coming to the property so long that they loved being there in whatever condition it was in. If anything, we’ve all – owners and guests – developed a deeper appreciation for the architecture of the time period.
In the process of our renovations, we started researching the history of the property. There wasn’t much there, and much of what we were told by previous owners or guests was all wrong. The Historical Encyclopedia of New Mexico, Volume I published in 1945 by Ellis Arthur Davis, mentioned the original owner, John Nairn, had the house built in 1911 in a style paying homage to the culture of the Southwest. That kicked off a fascinating process of discovering more about the Casa – like a mention in the Cimarron News & Cimarron Citizen from July 1911 that discusses the unusual-for-the-time architecture, “an exact duplicate of an old Indian Pueblo.”
The inn is now listed on the New Mexico Registry of Cultural Properties and the National Register of Historic Places, designations of which we are all very proud. We think the Nairns would be delighted that what started as a family home where they invited artists and writers from far and wide to enjoy their elegant hospitality, still welcomes guests who appreciate the majestic beauty that is New Mexico.
We have come a long way in restoring the house and building the business over the past almost three decades. What’s sustained all of us this long is the appreciation that guests have shown the property. Whenever there just seemed like too much work and not enough time or money, we’d crack open the guest comment books. Reading the comments and seeing the gratitude and appreciation for the property as a retreat is what has sustained us over the years. In fact, many of our guests consider the Casa del Gavilan their very favorite place to visit.
Because it’s certainly not about the money. It’s the history here that we’re preserving that has been really meaningful for us.