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Culture / Travel

Mystical Marfa Gets Its First Full-Service Hotel

Distinctive Property Wows Many, Worries Others

BY // 05.05.16
photography Casey Dunn

Were he still living, Donald Judd would likely hang out at Marfa’s newly opened Hotel St. George. Angular and elegantly reductive — much like Judd’s sculpture — the hotel itself is a work of art, dressed in polished concrete, steel, and reclaimed wood and brick from the area.

It also pays homage to Marfa’s arts-steeped culture, which Judd helped establish in the 1970s. Hotel St. George showcases more than 300 works by two dozen artists with Marfa and Chinati Foundation connections, including Christopher Wool, Mark Flood, Jeff Elrod and Julian Schnabel.

The 55-room hotel sets a new standard of style for this remote West Texas town of 2,000 that has attracted such high-profile and diverse visitors as Anna Wintour, David Byrne, Wallace Shawn, Natalie Portman and Karl Rove. This is Marfa’s first full-service hotel, with a fine-dining restaurant, a private dining room, bar and lounge, and pool. It offers the kind of amenities travelers have come to expect in most cities, room service, terry-cloth robes, extra-large flat-screen TVs, but certainly not in a tiny town situated in the Chihuahuan Desert scrub-tree territory between Big Bend National Park and the Davis Mountains. A street-style taco stand keeps it real.

The property is owned by Tim Crowley, a Houston litigator who moved to Marfa in 1997. He assembled a top-flight team for the project, including architect Carlos Jiménez of Houston-based Carlos Jiménez Studio, who designed the hotel, and Alice Cottrell of Dallas-based Alice Cottrell Interior Design, who put the finishing touches on the interiors. Jeff Trigger (of Austin-based La Corsha Hospitality Group) is managing the property; he was previously with the Driskill Hotel in Austin and The Mansion on Turtle Creek in Dallas. Allison Jenkins, formerly of Aspen’s Ajax Tavern and Austin’s LaV restaurant, is the chef at the hotel’s French-inspired LaVenture restaurant.

The hotel was built on the 1887 footprint of the original Hotel Saint George, which was demolished and replaced in 1929 with a one-story retail building that Crowley had beautifully renovated, adding three floors to create his new hotel. It’s now Marfa’s tallest structure, unless you count the local water tower and Presidio County Courthouse.

“We were mindful of this change in scale, and we wanted the building’s mass to feel discreet, and its interior volumes to feel expansive,” says Jiménez, who provided the lobby and guest rooms with sweeping views of the Chinati mountains. One of the challenges of building in Marfa — aside from its desert location — was appeasing detractors who didn’t want to see the hotel built.

“There were unrealistic perceptions of a small constituency that believes that Marfa should remain untouched or strictly aligned to some vision of Donald Judd,” he says. “The charm of Marfa’s remoteness does not implicate that it should remain frozen in time; it needs periodic and inclusive infusions of people and projects to sustain its future.”

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Hotel St. George

The hotel could not have opened at a better time. Artist Robert Irwin’s much-anticipated 10,000-square-foot installation debuts in July, promising to lure even more visitors to the booming area, who previously made do with three small yet chicly Spartan, motels, including the Thunderbird.

Crowley hopes Hotel St. George will become a gathering spot for a mixed bag of folks, including ranchers and other locals, along with tourists on their way to national parks and art hipsters who converge in town to experience its remarkable arts community.

“The thing about Marfa is that you’re constantly interacting  with such a wide range of people who might be substantially older or younger than you, unlike in cities where people tend to congregate with people just like themselves,” he says. “You can have real relationships with real friends who might have grown up on a ranch nearby, and layer on top of that all the folks coming through town. It’s a very rich situation.”

The Marfa Book Company, which Crowley co-founded with Lynn Goode in 1999, has taken up residence on the first floor and doubles as an art, film, music and performance space.

The hotel will no doubt draw a see-and-be-seen crowd from outside Marfa, but it’s also an inclusive spot that locals had a hand in making and can embrace. “A lot of what’s on the first floor you won’t see anywhere else because it was made in Marfa,” Crowley says.

Mac White, the local welder who also builds horse trailers, constructed the massive front doors. The lobby’s magnificent mahogany check-in desk and steel lighting were created by Marfa artisan Joey Benton from Silla. Old was made new again with repurposed materials, such as wood from demolished buildings in the area, which were turned into restaurant and bar tables. The original longleaf pine roof was laid for dance floors in the event hall, and the lounge bar was crafted from 100-year-old, locally quarried black marble, reclaimed from a building façade. Custom furnishings mix with classic mid-century Alvar Alto Tank chairs and Arne Jacobsen floor lamps in the lobby. In the guest rooms and six suites, timeless Eames desk chairs and Artemide Tolemeo metal lamps contrast with soft sheepskin rugs, felt fabrics and teak wood tables.

Hotel St. George’s elevated style and fine dining have raised the bar in this high desert plains town, for sure. But don’t call it a luxury hotel, art hotel or any other label, because — like Marfa — Hotel St. George is in a league of its own. “It’s not like anything you’ve seen before,” Crowley says.

Rooms start at $165. 105 South Highland Avenue, Marfa, 432.729.3700. marfasaintgeorge.com.

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