As new funding is available to Downtown property owners and building tenants through the Community Development Block Grant Program, we are revisiting success stories that applied for the Façade Improvement Grant Program.
This week we spoke with property owner Joe Nebhan, owner of the recently renovated 500 Stanton Street building that is more notably the home of the Gardner Hotel on 311 E. Franklin Ave., but has other businesses like restaurant Pot Au Feu which specializes in International cuisine and several bars as well.
Speaking over coffee at Pot Au Feu, Joe recalls the experience, it’s challenges and the reasons why it was all worth it.
“I applied in the summer [of 2012] with plans to do a complete exterior renovation.” said, Joe. His journey was not as simple nor as linear. The classification of the building itself was challenged by the city. Brandishing a certificate signed by Mayor Jonathan Rogers bucked the challenge and 8 weeks later the Historical classification was honored.
History is a big deal to Joe as the building was purchased from William McMurray by Joe’s grandfather, Joseph George Nebhan in the 1930’s. The building was eventually passed on to him by his father John Nebhan who ran it as a retirement hotel soon after “cleaning house” and keeping only 6 of the total guests at the time in order to sustain a more positive atmosphere. Now run partially as a hostel and hotel the Gardner Hotel is known for the guests who stayed in it over the years, like John Dillinger the infamous bank robber. Dillinger was not arrested during his stay at the hotel because he broke no laws while in El Paso thus not bringing attention to himself but was later captured in Tuscon AZ after being recognized by Firefighters who saved his luggage during a hotel fire.
Over the years Joe has seen his share of both colorful guests and celebrities that have become as much a part of the history as the brick itself. Utilizing the Façade Improvement Program, Joe commenced the renovation of the exterior.
Even after having 9 very expensive ($900 each) windows broken though out the process, Joe saw it through to the end resulting in the window replacements that now open just like they did in the 1920’s complete with the underlying copper molding, new oak doors and new tile for both walls and floors.
In addition, Joe created a new entrance to the basement and the old entrance is now a fire escape. The glass above normal entrance height that skirts the building was replaced due to the original either being broken or covered previously. What could be preserved throughout the process was kept and the rest was painstakingly replaced with historically accurate materials.
When asked about his vision for the future of Downtown Joe expressed a need for residents that have expendable income. “What is missing is a community with expendable income that have good jobs provided by big business.” Joe has a definite vision for the block that his building inhabits with a couple of vacancies, most notably 500 Franklin (on the corner of Franklin and Stanton) which is for lease by Mr. Nebhan. “I would prefer to see a restaurant there that is not competing with the restaurants we already have.” Joe said. A diversified offering of restaurants might be a strong attraction for the multitude of expected foot traffic after the ballpark is completed.
Mr. Nebhan is participating in an El Paso History Summit at the Civic Center in March of 2014 to promote El Paso as a destination based on our unique history. A cause lead by Jackson Polk to attract Heritage Tourists, who follow and flock to historically rich destinations.
Preserving the history and infrastructure of our Downtown is a challenge but one that people like Joe Nebhan feel is worth undertaking. Programs like the Façade Improvement Program and the newly available Community Development Block Grant Program offered by the DMD which utilizes federal funding to help Downtown property owners not only improve the exterior of their building but also ADA compliance of the interiors.
For more information call 915.400.2294 ext 2 or e-mail LGranillo@elpasodmd.org