Tourism in the mountain west got a boost in 1930 with the opening of two nearly identical sister hotels designed by famed El Paso architect Henry C. Trost. Hotel Paisano in Marfa and Hotel El Capitan in Van Horn embodied elegant Spanish baroque style for decades. In the 1950s, the Paisano even housed actors James Dean, Elizabeth Taylor, and Rock Hudson during the filming of the now-classic movie Giant. By the early 2000s, though, the Paisano lay abandoned, and El Capitan was a bank. Then native West Texans Joe and Lanna Duncan bought the venerable lodgings and spent years restoring them. Today the Paisano boasts 41 well-appointed rooms, and El Capitan 38. Both offer stylish restaurants, bars, and gift boutiques. For the Duncans, it was déjà vu all over again.
A decade earlier, the couple had left their Dallas careers and returned home to Fort Davis where Joe’s family ran the 1880s Hotel Limpia and Lanna’s family operated the 1930s Stone Village Tourist Camp. Joe and Lanna bought the Limpia in 1991 and later the Stone Village and, with advice from other historic hotel operators, revitalized the lodgings. They also converted several historic adobe homes to guest cottages. The Duncans later sold their Fort Davis properties (except for three guest houses) but still call the town home.
Their preservation work earned them the 2011 Clara Driscoll Award from Preservation Texas, plus the 2012 Phoenix Award for conservation and preservation from the Society of American Travel Writers.
“Historic preservation requires foresight and imagination,” Joe explains. “But the payoff in tourism is big,” adds Lanna. “It’s fun and rewarding to make historic places beautiful again.”
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