The current owner, Joe Nebhan (son of John Nebhan), began working odd jobs around the hotel when he was 8. He took over management of the hotel in 1981 and soon realized that the Gardner could not continue operating as a retirement hotel and so he began to operate the El Paso hotel as an El Paso hostel and hotel on Feb. 9, 1984. Hostels offer dormitory-style rooms at reasonable prices and are primarily used by young and international travelers.
To this day Gardner still operates as a hotel in half of its rooms. The other half operates as El Paso International Hostel, with up to four bunk beds per room and a shared bath in which Men stay on the second floor and women on the third. The Gardner is the only hostel in El Paso and one of about 10 hostels in Texas. It was rated in 1996 by American Youth Hostels as the best in the country.
In the early 1990’s, Nebhan made a striking discovery. As he was cleaning the opalescent glass in front he noticed a glint of copper. After a thorough cleaning, a copper trimming was revealed. Nebhan decided to take things further and found that oak was hiding beneath eight layers of paint at the building’s entrance. This inspired Nebhan to redo the hotel and bring it back to its roots… The front desk was replaced by a style that would have been used in the 1920’s. The skylights were uncovered and the blocked windows were replaced with stained glass and a telephone switchboard from the 1930’s is now on display in the hotel’s lobby. He tried to restore the hotel to its original appearance as much as possible.
The oldest public phone in the area sits against the wall along with 1920’s-era artwork that adorns the wall. The hotel’s original elevator with a collapsible door still runs guests to the upper floors and much of the original hotel is still intact today. To those zooming past the hotel at 311 E. Franklin as they enter Interstate 10, the Gardner Hotel of El Paso is much more than just another old building that lines the road. It’s history.