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Partners want to return Hotel Ritchey to pre-pandemic feel
One of downtown’s few remaining wood-framed structures, the Hotel Ritchey survived two massive fires in the early days of Alpine’s settlement. Now known as a saloon, it stands on the bustling corner of 5th and Murphy streets — an “icon” according to one of its new owners, David Keller.
He and Anne Calaway purchased the property last fall. Concerned about the property’s fate, they decided that together they could continue the meticulous restoration championed by a previous owner, Mattie Matthaei, a close friend of Keller’s.
Matthaei crowd-sourced much of her efforts and worked as funding allowed “to provide a casual, community-oriented space for social interaction in a friendly, inclusive environment,” according to a 2017 Facebook post that foretold a wine and coffee bar and eatery.
Matthaei’s ambitions for the historic site were realized. The Ritchey became a gathering place with food and drinks, but the COVID-19 pandemic was hard to overcome, and despite efforts to adapt as a grocery store, she auctioned the property before the structure could be completed.
“We were concerned the Ritchey was going to be torn down and we didn’t want to see that happen,” said Keller. “It’s one of the very last railroad hotels still in existence in Texas.” Shipping pens were located directly across Murphy Street to the north.
The hotel was first a two-room residence, built in 1886. The front portion, or the bar room when Matthaei was the owner, was added in 1908, and a back building was added in 1910, said Keller. There were about 14 rooms on the second story at its peak in the 1940’s. They were small with a single bed and perhaps a chair or dresser. “These were blue collar accommodations,” he said.
Years of neglect and sometimes complete abandonment left the hotel stripped of character and in disrepair. Charles Maxwell, an Alpine local, tried his hand at rehabilitation and Keller credits him for much of the adobe preservation on the property.
“Our priority right now is to get it structurally sound.” - David Keller
Keller and Calaway are focused on finishing the work that Matthaei started. They’ve enlisted the expertise of MUDLAB Marfa, an architectural firm that specializes in the restoration and efficiency of adobe structures.
“There are structural problems,” said Keller. “The good news is that they can be engineered away.”
Of particular concern is the south-facing wall. Adobe bricks settle over time, and drainage and pooling rainwater are particularly troublesome — older adobe structures don’t normally have gutters. The issues have caused the south wall to pull outward from the building, which has also tugged on the second floor and the roof.
The permit and plans have been approved by the City of Alpine, according to Permit Technician Jessica Boorse.
“It’s really going faster than we thought,” said Keller. The same adobe crew which has been working in the last several years to restore structures in Big Bend National Park actually started at the Ritchey a couple of years ago. They were happy to return and finish.
“They always hoped they would be back,” said Keller.
Once the south wall is sound, work will begin on the second floor and on the trusses for the roof.
Keller and Calaway want the Ritchey to have the same feel as it did pre-pandemic — tied to the quiet, historic nature of the neighborhood. They still envision a saloon and gathering place “preserved and protected in perpetuity for the people of Alpine,” said Keller.
However, the pair doesn’t want to run a business from the hotel. They want to lease it to an operator, and they’re on the hunt. The partners said they’re holding tight to choosing one who can be licensed to provide a full bar and good food.
While construction may be finished before that choice is made, Calaway said they plan to host a few events to present the space to the community.
“We need someone to come to us with a business model and a proposal,” said Calaway. “It has to be just right because, you know, the Ritchey was never the queen of the ball, it was always the barmaid.”