Updating a Picacho Avenue classic
By ALTA LeCOMPTE
Las Cruces Bulletin
A wrong has been righted on West Picacho Avenue, thanks to Larry Hall, the new owner of the Big Chile Inn.
His purchase came with a sign that spelled chile with an” “i” — attached to a wall surrounding what has been called the world’s largest chile. Hall has removed the sign — and also the wall.
“The first thing we did was knock the wall,” said front desk representative Belinda Breedlove. “People stop at least two or three times a day to take pictures.”
She said the big chile has made the list of top 10 most unusual sights in New Mexico.
The enormous chile sitting in front of the hotel was constructed around a wire frame by Disney engineers, Breedlove said. Researching the subject, she found progressive photos of the giant pepper being built.
History lingers at The Big Chile
Clint Eastwood reportedly stayed at the hotel in 1967while filming “Hang ‘Em High” nearby. At the time, the hotel was a Ramada Inn, Breedlove said.
In a handwritten account by a member of the film crew, Eastwood said it took him far longer than he anticipated to travel from California to Las Cruces because police kept stopping him. He said they were suspicious because his scruffy appearance seemed incongruent with the Ferrari he was driving.
The Clint Eastwood story and the record-holding chile are the motel’s chief claims to fame. But there’s more. Another reminder of the past is the Big Chile Inn’s VW bus.
“Larry told me when he came out here he fell in love with the hotel,” Breedlove said. “But he jokes he really bought a VW bus and a hotel came with it. We’re thinking about turning it into our shuttle — put a chile on top and drive around town. It would be great advertising.”
Breedlove said Hall is committed to preserving the past, while upgrading the aging motel to a comfortable home away from home for those passing through or staying for a season.
New look for a vintage hotel
The Big Chile consists of four buildings surrounding a landscaped courtyard with a pool, patio furniture and grills. Some of the buildings cater to shortstay guests, while others have kitchens and are better suited to weekly and monthly guests.
There are even some twobedroom units with full-sized stoves. Some of the hotel’s 100 rooms have been offline 10 years and will go back on line shortly, Breedlove said.
Hall is overseeing a remodel that began in the lobby and breakfast area and is extending to the rooms. The guest rooms are being treated to an updated décor with electrical upgrades, paint, flooring and new furniture.
Family business targets families
Breedlove said Hall owns hotels in Texas, California and Arizona. The Big Chile Inn is his first New Mexico venture.
“In the past he has bought hotels that basically were going under and fixed them up to create a safe environment for lower income people,” she said.
“We’re targeting weeklies here because this seems to be a good market. We’re hoping for families, retirees and work crews.”
She said international visitors who find The Big Chile online make up a surprising percentage of hotel guests.
Many are from Germany, she said.
Minding the ‘store’
Breedlove, from Aztec, NM, said she had worked in the hotel industry for 15 years, with Choice, Wyndham and Hilton prior to meeting the Hall family.
“It was just a fluke,” she said. “Some things just happen. I moved from Aztec to San Antonio and three days later I had a job with this company.”
With a choice between working in San Antonio and Las Cruces, she opted for Las Cruces, happy to return to New Mexico.
“I feel very fortunate. From the owner to his oldest son Gabriel Hall in El Cajon … to his youngest son John who comes in on weekends, it really is a family business,” she said. “I definitely have the feeling they stand behind their staff. Everyone is given a lot of autonomy. There’s no such thing as ‘It’s not my job’ in this company.”
Cosme Navarro manages the Las Cruces property.
“He is hands on,” Breedlove said. Alta LeCompte can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 575-343-7478.
The offending sign formerly hung on a wall at the Big Chile Inn. Below, the sign and the wall that blocked visitors’ view of the world’s biggest chile have been removed by the new owner of The Big Chile Inn.
BULLETIN PHOTOS BY ALTA LeCOMPTE