The two-story solid brick building that stands today at 235 Lake Street is not the original Santa Fe Hotel, although it is located on the same site. The building housing the first Santa Fe was constructed there in 1913 for a man named A.J. Clark, and its second floor served as a hotel under various names including the Colombo Hotel before becoming the Santa Fe Hotel in the mid-1920s. Lake Street at the time was filled with small hotels, which all enjoyed close proximity to Reno’s train depot, one block north on Commercial Row.
Basque immigrant Jean Pierre Etcheberry, already successful in the sheep business, took over the hotel lease in 1931. Etcheberry had arrived in the United States in 1910 and, along with his wife Marie, owned and operated the hotel until his death in 1943, when Marie took on Martin Esain as a partner. Under their management, the Santa Fe promised Basque immigrants traveling to the new country a friendly place to meet, a familiar language, a cozy bed, and a hearty traditional dinner. There were even lockers in the basement for sheepherders to store their possessions.
A terrible fire swept along Lake Street on August 15, 1948, damaging many buildings including the Santa Fe. Five people were killed in the fire, including three firefighters, one of whom was Frank Hobson, chief of the Sparks fire department. The old Santa Fe Hotel was condemned by the city and Esain, by now the sole owner, constructed a new hotel building in 1949, with commercial and restaurant spaces on the ground floor, including a barber shop, and 22 rooms above. Esain’s nephew, Joseph Zubillaga, and Zubillaga’s sisters Aurelie and Anita, helped their uncle run the Santa Fe over the next decades, taking over its operation when Esain died in 1966.
The new Santa Fe Hotel continued to serve the community, including many local sheepherders and Basques, until the 1960s, when the immigration of Basque people sharply declined. Bill Harrah and Harrah’s Casino attempted to acquire the hotel and the land many times but the owners of the Santa Fe were not interested. All the other businesses near the Santa Fe did sell to Harrah, however, so Harrah’s Casino was simply built around the old hotel. Very few Basque hotels still exist today, but the Santa Fe has continued to provide Basque-style family dining and preserve elements of the rich local Basque culture for generations.