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The finest stone hotel on the desert is restored—yet again—to its former glory.
Photo: Jim Galli
If you were living in Tonopah in 1908, 1980, 1996, or August 2011, you likely share this in common—you took part in a grand-opening celebration of the Mizpah Hotel. But how can a hotel open four different times?
To understand the topsy-turvy history of the hotel, which very much mirrors the boom-and-bust nature of the town itself, is to gain insight into how “the finest stone hotel on the desert” (as it was promoted in its early days) has gone through 10 ownerships in its 105-year history. In fact, even its age is up for debate—was it built in 1907 or 1908?
In reality, the Mizpah Hotel story begins in 1905, further confusing the issue. The current hotel is actually made up of two buildings. The Brougher-Govan Block, connected to the north side of the Mizpah Hotel, was constructed in 1905 and is still labeled as such to remind residents and visitors. Three influential Tonopah citizens—State Senator Wilson Brougher, his brother Calvin Brougher, and Robert Govan—who owned the Tonopah Lumber Company, financed The Annex, as the three-story Brougher-Govan Block building was originally known.
The Annex was an important business center in early Tonopah, housing the offices of Tonopah Banking Corporation and Ramus Brokerage Company and serving as a hotel. Lawyers, real estate brokers, and employees of mining investment firms also conducted business in what was for a short time the largest building in town, constructed of native granite. The hotel portion of the business was prospering to such a degree that, in early 1907, four Nevada investors decided that the market was prime for a dedicated five-story hotel with the finest accommodations of the day.
Calvin Brougher, Govan, George Wingfield, and U.S. Senator George S. Nixon financed the hotel at a cost of more than $200,000 (equivalent to more than $4.5 million today). Construction plans for the Mizpah Hotel meant that the Mizpah Saloon & Grill, which occupied the space next to The Annex since early 1901, had to find a new home in Tonopah.
As soon as the notorious Nevada weather allowed it in 1907, contractor George W. Holesworth and his crew quickly and efficiently raised the brick and granite walls of the Mizpah, and it was projected that one of the West’s most luxurious hotels would be open by early 1908. Then economic hysteria intervened. The Panic of 1907, brought on by a national banking crisis, hit in the fall and brought the Silver State’s mining boom to a screeching halt. Also, money previously committed to the Mizpah was utilized to help rebuild San Francisco after the devastating 1906 earthquake. Through the winter of 1907-08, the building sat in a state of flux with its windows boarded up, as so often has been the case in the hotel’s tumultuous, yet enduring, past.
As luck would have it, the general depression recovered by mid-1908, and Wingfield was instrumental in resuming construction of the hotel that summer. Citizens again grew eager for the hotel’s opening, as they witnessed dazzling oak furnishings and fancy fixtures entering the building, while enormous plate glass windows decorated the exterior. The hotel became a pillar of pride for the mining town that had grown to a population of 10,000.
By mid-autumn, Wingfield and company were ready to introduce the five-story masterpiece to the world in decadent fashion. On November 17, 1908, roughly 5,000 people celebrated the grand opening. A reporter for the Tonopah Daily Bonanza did not disappoint in interjecting a bit of editorial hyperbole that was common in newspapers of the day:
Suites, single rooms, rooms for private business meetings, baths, lavatories, steam, hot and cold water and electric and gas service, all are complete. …An electric elevator runs from the basement to the garret, and should the guest desire, he can stroll into the office, state that he wants to be fed, bathed, and put into bed, and all these things will be attended to for him. The Mizpah is a credit to Tonopah, and it eminently deserves a patronage which will enable it to maintain…the high standard of excellence upon which it starts. Good luck to the Mizpah.
For the next decade or so, Tonopah prospered as one of America’s top silver-producing regions. Under Govan’s leadership, so did the Mizpah. Dignitaries, politicians—generally anyone deemed important by society’s standards—traveled by the droves to Tonopah so they could boast that they had stayed at the Mizpah. By the early 1920s, however, the prosperous mines of Esmeralda and Nye Counties dried up, and the Mizpah saw its first significant decline in business and prestige.
The Middle Years
The Mizpah Hotel changed hands a number of times from the 1920s through the mid-1970s. Different leases, purchases, and ownership agreements characterized a challenging 50-year period for the hotel, which mirrored Tonopah’s own struggle to stay relevant. With automobiles becoming the primary source of transportation, coupled with the growth of Lake Tahoe, Las Vegas, and Reno as gaming and tourist destinations, Tonopah largely survived given its unique position as the halfway point on the long drive from Las Vegas to Reno.
There were a couple significant milestones for the hotel during these years. On October 1, 1956, new owners Myron Stahl and Les E. Short erected a brilliant neon sign, a symbol for a promising new era for the hotel. The hotel eventually expanded its casino and cocktail lounge. The hope was short-lived, however, as a Philadelphia group seized control of the building in 1963. By 1966, the Mizpah was closed for business for the first time in its almost 60-year history.
Frank Scott to the Rescue
In 1976, Las Vegas hotelier Frank Scott took on the imposing challenge of restoring a battered Mizpah Hotel. Over the next few years, Scott invested millions to revitalize Tonopah’s shining star. In fact, Scott purchased much of the furniture guests see today at the Mizpah—albeit reupholstered by the current owners. In February 1980, Governor Robert List was among those there to celebrate Scott’s accomplishment of revitalizing and reopening the Mizpah.
The Mizpah’s brilliance, enjoyed in its heyday of the early 1900s, had indeed come full circle. A 1982 issue of Nevada Magazine declared: “A marvel of restoration has transformed this formerly decaying historic relic into the grandest hotel for 100 miles in any direction.”
You can probably guess how Scott’s chapter ends, though. By 1984, Bill Allison and Bert Basolis became the latest in a long line of Mizpah owners. After a subsequent closing, then another grand reopening on a much smaller scale in 1996, the hotel closed in 2000 and would spend its 100th year just as it did its first—boarded up and facing an uncertain future.
The Clines Usher in a New Era
Nancy Cline’s Tonopah roots can be traced to early 1900, when her great uncle, Harry Ramsey, arrived in the “Queen of the Silver Camps.” He was joined a few years later by his sister, Emma (Cline’s grandmother). Ramsey amassed a fortune buying and selling silver mines and ran a popular saloon in town. Emma became postmistress of nearby Goldfield, a title she held for several years. “A street named Ramsey reminds me that my relatives were, in fact, a big part of the community,” Cline recently told the Tonopah Times-Bonanza.
And now, less than a year after Nancy and her husband, Fred, purchased the Mizpah Hotel for $200,000—coincidentally the same as it cost to build originally—the Clines have also become important figures in the community. After mostly cosmetic upgrades such as carpet and wallpaper, plus modern additions such as flat-screen TVs, Mizpah Hotel officially reopened for business late last year. “With 47 rooms, two restaurants, a casino, two saloons, and a couple of friendly ghosts, the Mizpah is both journey and destination,” reads the official website.
Just like former governor List did 21 years prior, Governor Brian Sandoval was there to cut the ribbon when the Mizpah celebrated a soft opening on August 27, 2011. About a hundred onlookers spilled onto Main Street to share in Sandoval’s optimistic sentiment. “This is symbolic of the fact that Nevada’s best days are ahead of us,” Sandoval said. “This means the world, and this is going to reverberate across the State of Nevada.” The Clines and six of their seven children were cheered consistently by the adoring crowd, many of whom enthusiastically dined with the Clines and spent the night in the hotel, even when the air-conditioning system wasn’t yet fully operational.
Let’s hope for the Clines, who also own Cline Cellars Winery and Jacuzzi Family Winery in Sonoma, California, that this is not a case of history repeating itself. Just as that excitable reporter wrote in 1908, and just like Guy Rocha concluded his story more than 70 years later in the Las Vegas Review-Journal: Good luck to the Mizpah.
Special thanks to former Nevada State Archivist Guy Rocha and Eva La Rue, curator at Tonopah’s Central Nevada Museum.
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HOW WAS YOUR STAY?
The following comments are from Mizpah Hotel’s Facebook page, facebook.com/mizpahhotel.
“We had an awesome stay in the Mizpah. Thanks. The Pittman Room has excellent food and service. We’ll be sure to come back when the Dempsey Room
Deborah Ann Ahern-Perchetti
“It is so nice to have a gourmet restaurant in Tonopah. Thank you, Fred and Nancy.”
“I had dinner in the Dempsey Room. The food was delicious, and the service was prompt and friendly! The Mizpah was beautiful inside! I felt like I went back in time 100 years. Great job! Tonopah is a destination now. Not just a stop on the way to Reno or Vegas. Thank you!”