Betty J. Slade
I recently visited Clovis, New Mexico. People ask me, “Why do you go to Clovis?” I always reply, “My best friend lives there and I love being with her. Clovis also has become my friend.”
I met my friend in Albuquerque. She walked into my gallery the first month I had opened. It was 1990. She started moving things around, renaming my paintings and shaking things up. We had an instant friendship. She helped me during those years in the gallery. We found we had many things in common.
My friend moved back to her hometown of Clovis, New Mexico a few years after that. She was born and raised there and I visited her town for the first time in the early 90’s. She showed me around and we drove on the old original brick street of downtown Clovis. The buildings were haunting with grave clothes draped about them. Without paint or upkeep the empty storefronts breathed death.
She asked me what I thought of her little town. I replied, “To me Clovis looks like an old dying man. Over his slumped aged body he wears an old dirty tattered coat. The fierce wind grabs for his coat and he just keeps pulling it tighter. Bracing the cold, barely able to walk, he is going nowhere.”
I continued, “How can you stand the never-ceasing wind? You are alive and you are used to moving forward; doesn’t it bother you to be here in Clovis?”
Her reply was, “I know nothing else. I don’t think about the wind. It’s my home and my history and my family lives here.”
As a fluke, I recently received an E-mail detailing the account of Hotel Clovis. It was the jewel of southeastern, New Mexico. Hotel Clovis was constructed in the days of the Great Depression and opened its elegant doors on October 20, 1931. The architect, Robert Merrill, combined an art-deco exterior ornamentation with Southwestern Indian styling inside and a great deal of interior tile work. It had 114 rooms each with a modern bathroom with hot and cold running water, a telephone, and an overstuffed Murphy bed. It housed the first elevator in southeastern New Mexico and the opulent hotel had a ballroom that welcomed Louis Armstrong, Glen Miller, Tommy Dorsey and Hank Williams. The building sported the record of being the tallest building between Dallas, Texas and Albuquerque, New Mexico as well.
Yes, it was the progress of that day. Many stories came out of that hotel. Ronald Reagan waited in the lobby for his train and a local cowboy named Jeff Goode rode his horse through the lobby one night into the ballroom. He jumped off his horse, punched a man waltzing with his wife.
The life blood of the hotel dried up and it was holding on by a thread when the Santa Fe Railroad discontinued carrying passengers to Clovis.
I write these words for the older people of Clovis whom I have met. In my many trips to Clovis, they have endeared themselves to me. They hold memories of Clovis close to their hearts, embracing change as they wake to a new day in Clovis.
Recently I went back to Clovis; the old man has regained his life. He has squared his shoulders. He has thrown off that dirty old coat and spiffed up. At a time when the rest of the country has hunger pangs, people are moving to Clovis and Clovis is breathing life again.
New buildings are going up, old houses are being grabbed up, remodeled and there is a spring in the old man’s step. He is jumping up and clicking his heels. He is singing “Happy days are here again”. That old lion’s wind seems to be tamed with a full stomach.”
Everything is alive except for that grand mistress of Clovis. Hotel Clovis pulled her shades shut and it seems she can’t raise her once proud head. My friend told her story. It’s a story few know. It was a good lesson for those involved and my friend remembers the night the lights went out in Hotel Clovis.
“Some years ago, my friend and her friends planned a Church Fund Raising Event at the Hotel Clovis ballroom. They had planned for two hundred people; the hotel was catering the banquet and preparations were made. My friend scurried around bringing in great elaborate decorations, including white ironed table clothes for tables that covered the ballroom floor. Others brought candles and made flowers for tree branches.
The plan was to show a video clip on the front wall. This is where things started to go south. The main wall needed painted and my friend made arrangements to paint it. Her husband warned her, “Don’t do it.” She didn’t ask the hotel owner for permission. It didn’t enter her head, it needed to be done and she called in the guys to paint it.
The owner came into the room, saw it, and in anger ordered them to leave Clovis Hotel.
“NOW!” the owner ordered.
There was no explanation from the owner. My friend offered everything and anything to make it right. “My son is a painter,” She begged, “We will paint the whole ballroom, even the hallway. There is only two hours before our banquet. We have two hundred people coming,”
The answer was still “No!” No apology would make it better. They left behind all the decorations, white ironed table clothes and everything else that was prepared for the evening.
After a lot of hustle bustle, sweat and concern, my friend and her group called different businesses to step in the last minute. The event was moved and their guests were directed to a different location. Other establishments in Clovis catered the event. One of the many benefits of living in Clovis USAmerica is that the people rallied around to make the evening a huge success.
The then freshly painted wall remains as the reason for the closing of the grandest lady in Clovis whose petticoats swished to the big bands of the forties and thrown off for rock and roll of the fifties. The hotel remains closed as of today.
It saddens my friend that soon after they were told to leave the premises, the owner passed away.
That was and is still the question today, “Why?”
The lesson learned that night when the proud mistress of Clovis stood bold and defiant came to the end of herself.
I quote my friend’s words, “I learned a hard lesson. I learned that I am not always right. Just because something does not look pleasing to me does not give me the right to change it. As I write this a scripture comes to mind. ‘And again the people of God did what seemed right in their own eyes.’
Have I learned this lesson completely? To my shame I have to say, ‘No.’ I still want to change things when it is not my place to do it. Today, I am very aware of what I was doing. That evening I was not, I simply wanted to make things look prettier for those who would be attending the event.
It is too late to say, ‘I’m sorry to the then owner,’ so I’ll simply say, ‘Lord give me the wisdom to accept that which I can not change.’”
The Hotel Clovis still stands as a monument of things of the past which can not be changed. A new day has dawned for Clovis; and the stories of the old dying man and his mistress fade into history. New life, a new breath and new ways of doing things have come to Clovis.
The old store fronts now display pretty things, new awnings move gently by the winds of Clovis. Even an old wooden bench in front of Lorraine’s Attic is sporting a new paint job.
New businesses have thrown opened their doors, it is called progress.
There will come a day when the young blood will step over the lines in foolishness and they will write their stories on the face of Clovis also. They might even insist, “Tear that old hotel down. It’s an eyesore, wipe off the night’s makeup, take off her soiled party dress, we are better that that. We want progress.”
The people who remember the parties in the grand ballroom, who danced the night away, and even those who found their sweethearts at the Hotel Clovis, all have their stories to tell. They still hold sweet memories of the bright faced mistress, who stood tall in the heart of Clovis, New Mexico and whose fame dazzled the locals and the guests passing through.
It is saying goodnight to the old man and his mistress and good morning to a bright-eyed Clovis.
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