The Roots of Paris Hilton
Around the turn of the 20th Century, a boy would walk from his father’s mercantile store, which also served as a hotel, to the train depot (shown above), just a short distance away. This boy then carried the luggage of passengers newly arrived in San Antonio, New Mexico back to their rooms, which ran $2.50 a day and included meals. The boy met every train stopping in town, regardless of time or weather. In 1919, that boy, Conrad Hilton, now thirty-two years old, bought the Mobley Hotel in Cisco, Texas and thus began the Hilton Hotels chain. Paris Hilton is his great-granddaughter.
Below is a shot of some almost 100-year-old graffiti from inside the depot. Note the infinity sign/hat brim. Could it be the mark of the original train-hopping Bozo Texino?
San Antonio can trace its history back to 1629 and the founding of the San Antonio de Senecú Mission. The Apaches succeeded in destroying the mission in 1675 and for over 100 years the burnt remains of the village, which had been inhabited by Piro Indians for a mere 700 years prior, slowly decayed out on the plains, a caution to travelers on the nearby Camino Real. Now those ruins have been fully reclaimed by nature and the exact location of San Antonio de Senecú is unknown. On the other hand, the Crystal Palace, below, was once a dance hall and then a much more dilapidated (and photogenic) auto garage, but someone eventually decided to kinda fix it up.
Hispanic farmers from northern New Mexico established present-day San Antonio in 1820 and, when the Santa Fe Railroad arrived in 1880, the town shifted to be closer to the rails. While most of San Antonio’s 1,250 residents still raised livestock, made wine, or even kept bees, the railroad was soon extended 10 miles east to reach the coal mines of Carthage and Tokay. Stakes included a claim known as the Hilton Mine, owned by A.H. “Gus” Hilton, who used the money to found the A.H. Hilton Mercantile Store. Mr. Hilton’s son, Conrad, was born on Christmas Day, 1887.
For almost 50 years the mines paid out, the trains came and went, and stagecoaches ran between White Oaks, Fort Stanton, and Lincoln. However, by 1925, the mines were going bust and the railroad soon took up its tracks. Then two major floods in 1929 washed away a big chunk of the town and the surrounding farmland. WWII lured away most remaining young men and A.H. Hilton’s original mercantile burnt around the same time, which, incidentally, pretty much coincided with Conrad’s marriage to Zsa Zsa Gabor. However, Hilton’s wooden bar was saved and installed in the famous Owl Bar and Restaurant in 1945, where it is used to this day to support Tecate and green chile cheeseburgers. The Owl Bar itself was built by Brunswick Balke Collender Company. You might have used their bowling balls.
And that is largely where San Antonio is at today, except for the slight shift to the north, where most business is now conducted along U.S. 380. Not a true ghost town, you still won’t find any trains stopping at the marooned and badly listing depot. Of course, every ghost town aficionado hopes to discover something new, and, while it’s well-known that all that’s left of what could be considered the original Hilton Hotel is its foundation, located across from the old post office (now a restored private residence), I have been unable to find a single picture of the site anywhere. So, as is my wont, I took my own. In fact, I took two. The concrete shown here and below is all that remains of the birthplace of one of the greatest hotel chains in the world, without which Paris Hilton might be living in a trailer out in the Socorro County desert. However, the original ballroom floor from the hotel was reportedly installed in the Wool Warehouse building in Magdalena. It must’ve been part of a remodeling job as that place was built in 1913. Can anyone get me in to have a look?!
For those Paris Hilton fans wishing to tour the old ruins, I can be hired at a very reasonable price. Please wear sensible shoes and long pants and don’t expect much.
This post originally appeared on the City of Dust blog.