Belvada Hotel: Building History One Room at a Time
Tonopah’s Belvada Hotel marks a luxurious opening after being shuttered for 35 years.
BY MEGG MUELLER
Way back in days of yore there was this legendary building in a historic mining town that begged to be visited. It stood sentinel, high in the desert hills, doors shuttered for decades, with its secrets locked forever inside. It once housed the riches of miners, the homes of families, and eventually, their faded memories. I can barely recall when I first learned of this forgotten treasure…it’s been so many years now. I believe it was 2018, if memory serves.
The lure of the Belvada Hotel in Tonopah is so encompassing, I swear it’s made time pass more slowly than normal. In April 2018, during a convention of rural tourism partners held in Tonopah, we were given a sneak peak of the recently purchased, just-getting-repairs-underway building and already I was smitten.
BACK IN THE DAY
The grand structure—which sits kitty-corner from town’s other grand structure, The Mizpah Hotel—was completed in 1906 and the State Bank and Trust Co. became the first occupant in 1907. Thanks to a large, unsecured investment that went badly however, the bank closed its doors just four months later.
In 1908, the swanky Nevada Club Saloon opened its doors in a portion of the building, while the First National Bank of Nevada took over the previous bank’s quarters. Until the 1930s, the building housed numerous retail operations, including a barber shop in the basement that was dubbed “One of the most luxurious tonsorial establishments between Denver and San Francisco.” Once the Depression hit, Tonopah saw many businesses close and the building that housed that fine barber shop went dark.
The late 1970s saw a resurgence of Tonopah’s mining operations when molybdenum—used in steel alloys—was discovered nearby and the town boomed once again. The empty bank building was recast as the Belvada Apartments, but just a decade later, the boom went bust as it so often does and in 1985, the Belvada shut its doors again. It would be 35 years before they reopened.
There were valiant attempts to bring the building back to life, including one from the Town of Tonopah itself. It purchased the building in 2013, secured a few grants for some exterior restoration and interior assessment, all with the hopes of using it to house the convention center, public library, town offices, and commercial office space, but the plan just didn’t come to fruition.
The building remained empty and in a state of decay that was about to determine its fate forever. An appraisal of the building showed its value at a negative $170,000; it had to be renovated or torn down, but who would purchase such a challenge? Look no further than Fred and Nancy Cline, chief cheerleaders of Tonopah’s revitalization.
ONE MORE TIME
In 2011, the Clines revamped and reopened The Mizpah Hotel, which had sat empty for a decade. California natives, Nancy discovered deep Nevada roots when she learned her uncle was a prospector who came to Tonopah in 1900 and owned a saloon, while her grandmother was the postmistress of Goldfield. The Clines now have their hearts squarely lodged in Nevada.
“Tonopah literally represents an opportunity for us to honor our heritage, as well as the heritage of Nevada,” Nancy says. “I have learned so much about the tenacity and perseverance of the generation that came west in search of gold and a better life.”
The challenge of reopening a 1906 hotel was a lot, but The Mizpah is today incredibly popular and has been a success by all accounts. When the City of Tonopah offered the Clines the Belvada building for $1, with a caveat or two about its restoration, Fred and Nancy had their reservations but it was an opportunity to continue the renovation of Tonopah to its former grandeur. They said yes.
The Belvada was designed by the same architect—George E. Holesworth—that designed The Mizpah, the Goldfield Hotel, and the John S. Cook Bank in Rhyolite. The Belvada, Mizpah, and Goldfield Hotel are all on the National Register of Historic Places. The Belvada was built with a Neo-classical influence, and retained many of its original features, albeit in very run down condition when the Clines signed on.
First order of business was basically stripping the interior down to the studs. I was fortunate enough to take a tour of the building during this process; in May 2018, Associate Editor Eric Cachinero and I headed back to Tonopah to take a tour of the coming property from the Cline’s eldest son, Ramsey. Ramsey is the man-on-the-ground in Tonopah, opening the Mizpah Club next to the hotel, and he was also instrumental in the Old Brewery Hostel the Clines opened adjacent to The Mizpah.
Ramsey shared the future plans for the Belvada with us, as we gingerly walked the original staircase, and skirted workmen as they took down the rotting walls and pulled up the failing floors. The original elevator was still there, but not quite ready for use, so as we moved along the five floors, Ramsey painted a mental picture of the building’s future. Each floor would have just 10 rooms, some potentially apartments depending on what the market required, he told us. The building would have to be basically rebuilt, with new subfloors and new walls. Then Nancy would step in and choose carpeting, drapes, and bedding. The first floor would someday house a coffee shop, elegant retail spaces, and a meeting area large enough for weddings and conferences. The basement, Ramsey continued, would one day be home to a speakeasy, potentially called the Boiler Room, a nod to the building’s original boiler which still exists in one piece. The basement can be accessed from the street, via a slightly hidden stairway down and there are glass tiles in the sidewalk that provide a very cool ambiance. I could see the rich furnishings Ramsey spoke of, the cozy dark bar that would serve premium cocktails in a hushed but lively environment. I couldn’t wait.
Work on the hotel has continued since our visit in 2018, with a few delays here and there as most construction projects have. The pandemic posed a few hiccups as well, such as delays in the almost entirely U.S.-sourced items Nancy found to decorate the property, but by the time this issue is on newsstands, the property will be ready for visitors. Eric and I were invited to be the first guests of the property in late November 2020, and needless to say, we jumped at
A SIGHT FOR SORE EYES
We drive to Tonopah to meet with John McCormick, the general manager of The Mizpah, who is heavily assisting the Clines with the Belvada’s renovations. John leads us into the lobby of the new hotel, and all I can do is gasp. The windows are still covered with brown paper (curious onlookers have been a slight distraction) but the pressed metal ceilings, sumptuous furnishings, beautiful flooring, and rich, elegant feel has me ready to sit and bask in some early-1900s glory. But that will have to wait.
The newly-refurbished elevator beckons, and John directs us to the fifth floor. As we step into the landing, historical photos of Tonopah greet us, as does the warmth of the décor. John notes that Nancy is the mastermind behind the Belvada’s warm, elegant feel, saying her choices are felt on every item, down to the choice of Italian espresso makers and labels for the toiletries. Nancy has managed to make the hotel feel luxurious without feeling stuffy or haughty. The 40 rooms are decorated in rich shades of gold, wine, and blue, each with intricate bathroom tiling. The rooms include suites, double queens, and even some with kitchenettes for those looking for a longer stay. Nancy admits later over dinner that she and Fred wondered if the town needed two luxury hotels, and says if it is a better fit, there are some rooms ready to be converted to apartments. They are committed to the town’s success, not just their hotels.
We wander the floors with John, checking out each type of room available, noting the refinished elevator, grand staircase that is now richly carpeted while the beautiful wood balustrades gleam in the light. The spacious, well-lit hallways harken back to an earlier time, when every inch of space wasn’t crammed with a tiny room or closet; the Belvada invites deep breaths with its visual elegance and careful appointments.
At the aforementioned dinner at The Mizpah’s Pittman Café, Fred and Nancy talk about the challenge of taking on the project, which was unlike The Mizpah in that the Belvada never was used as a hotel, not to mention the number of years it sat in disrepair. When $1 sale price comes up, I note what a bargain they got. They agree, but also mention that in order to bring the hotel up to code and safety standards, not to mention their exacting design and decorating requirements, the hotel has taken about $3 million dollars to renovate, and as yet, the speakeasy of Ramsey’s dreams is not yet complete. They hope that will be open in the spring. Adjacent the gorgeous lobby there will be a coffee shop, featuring various coffee drinks, pastries, and sandwiches, and on the other end of the building, the once-famous Nevada Club has been beautifully redone as a meeting space.
For me, I look forward to my night’s stay and I’m not disappointed. The rooms are comfortable and beautiful. I want for nothing as I look out over the town, and think of the people who once stood in this window before me. My bed is soft, with luxurious bedding, and with all the amenities, from flatscreen TV to ample charging stations, perfect lighting and a spotless bathroom, I know I’m luckier than most as I revel in my surroundings.
The task of taking on the Belvada is not one the Clines had planned for, but as I watch the two of them rearrange pillows in the lobby just so, or speak of details so seemingly minute other hoteliers would simply overlook them, you can see that this has become another labor of love for the couple. The experience they hope to give their customers can be felt in every corner of the Belvada, and it extends to the experience they hope people have when they visit Tonopah. The views of the historic mining park, the other 1900s buildings on the main street, and the small-town hospitality you experience wherever you go, all speak to the tangible dream of Tonopah’s revitalization. The Clines know this, and as they work to open their second hotel in their adopted state, I hope they feel proud of their efforts and maybe just a little sorry for the dilemma I now face. I am a huge fan of The Mizpah and now the Belvada has stolen my heart. Where will I stay when I come to town?