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Charles Ilfeld Building
The Charles Ilfeld Building records both Las Vegas’s place as a booming mercantile center in the late nineteenth century and the role of German-Jewish immigrants in developing Las Vegas as one of New Mexico’s three main urban centers at the turn of the century.
In 1865 Charles Ilfeld immigrated to Santa Fe from Homburg vor der Höhe in Germany. He soon moved on, first to Taos, and then to Las Vegas, where he and his partner, Adolph Letcher, opened the “Letcher and Ilfeld, General Merchandise" building on the Plaza in 1867. After purchasing Letcher’s share of the business in 1874, Ilfeld established his independent mercantile firm, The Charles Ilfeld Company. In 1882, he commissioned a new building, three bays wide and three stories tall, next to the Plaza Hotel on the plaza’s north side. Ilfeld’s Great Emporium opened in January 1883 and sold groceries, liquors, hardware, saddlery, furnishings, and carpets, with a second floor dedicated to wholesale dry goods, millinery, and dressmaking.
As the railroad made the surrounding agricultural and ranching communities more accessible to commerce, Ilfeld’s company transitioned entirely from retail to wholesale. In 1890–1891, the building was enlarged with five additional bays designed by the Missouri architect, H.W. Kirchner. Both building phases were in the same Italianate Style, with street level piers, bracketed hood windows, corner quoins, and projecting bracketed cornices. The structure combines sandstone walls and brownstone details with columns and beams of cast iron and plate glass display windows on the ground floor. The architecture was cosmopolitan and modern in its combination of historical references with industrially produced materials.
In the early twentieth century, the Charles Ilfeld Company suffered from the general stagnation of Las Vegas, and the Ilfeld family increasingly focused its economic interests on the rival urban centers of Santa Fe and Albuquerque.
In 2009, the Ilfeld Building was purchased by the Plaza Partnership Limited and restored as an addition to the adjacent Plaza Hotel. The Ilfeld Ballroom features a restored grand staircase, hanging chandeliers, Corinthian-style pillars, and a view onto the Las Vegas Plaza. In 2014, the Charles Ilfeld Ballroom and adjoining Plaza Hotel were purchased for remodeling by Allan Affeldt and Tina Mion.
The Ilfeld Ballroom is open to the public through the Plaza Hotel.
Ivers, Louise Harris and John P. Conron. “Charles Ilfeld Building,” New Mexico State Register of Cultural Properties Registration Form. Santa Fe, NM, New Mexico Historic Preservation Division, 1974.
McCachren, Michael, “Las Vegas Plaza Historic District,” San Miguel County, New Mexico. National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, 1974. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C.
Parish, William J. The Charles Ilfeld Company: A Study of the Rise and Decline of Mercantile Capitalism in New Mexico. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1961.
Perrigo, Lynn I., “Las Vegas Plaza,” San Miguel County, New Mexico. National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, 1972. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C.
Pevsner, Nikolaus. The Sources of Modern Architecture and Design. New York: Oxford University Press, 1968.
Stiny, Andy. “Montezuma Castle, other Las Vegas buildings now open for tours.” Albuquerque Journal, February 20, 2015.
Threinen, Ellen. Architecture and Preservation in Las Vegas: A Study of Six Districts. Las Vegas: Design Review Board, City of Las Vegas, New Mexico, 1977.
Truneh, Sophia. “The Ilfelds: A Family Story of Jewish Pioneers in New Mexico.” Southwest Jewish History 3, no. 2 (Winter 1995).
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