Stepping inside the lobby of the Gardner Hotel and El Paso International Hostel, guests are transported from busy Downtown streets to a place that is reminiscent of another era. Its marble staircase leads to rooms that have seen countless guests.
The hotel was opened in 1922 by Preston E. Gardner, a lawyer who in 1923 ran for mayor of El Paso and lost to Richard M. Dudley, after whom Dudley Field is named. The Gardner Hotel was originally intended to be a five-story 100-room hotel, but when construction costs went $50,000 over budget and only three floors had been completed, Gardner stopped building. Because of fears of fire in the 1920s, the Gardner was constructed entirely of steel making the hotel almost completely fire proof.
Gardner Hotel has a lot of history but most notably, on Jan. 9, 1934, bank robber John Dillinger and two members of his gang checked into the Gardner Hotel. Dillinger signed the name John D. Ball on the registry and stayed in room 221. But because Dillinger didn’t break any laws during his stay, the El Paso Sharif’s Department did not arrest him. Dillinger checked out a few days later but was captured Jan. 25, 1934, in Tucson after being recognized by firefighters who had saved his heavy luggage from a burning hotel there.
Gardner sold the hotel to William McMurray in the 1930s. But as Mr. McMurray got older, the El Paso hotel was sold to Joseph George Nebhan. After Joseph Nebhan gave the hotel to his son, John Nebhan, all but six guests were thrown out and all but a maid, a janitor and a clerk were fired and it was run as a retirement hotel from 1962-1983.