For Miguel and his brother Rodrigo, and for their Stanton House partner Martin, the goal—masterfully achieved—was to create an international space with Mexican tendencies, as opposed to the Tex-Mex offerings that visitors to the region so commonly encounter. The hotel lobby, for example, has a sculpture from Mexico City that depicts the international bridge border-crossing points—it lights up at night with bubbles and lines to depict the number of El Paso-Juarez crossings in real time—while a good deal of “cholo” art reflects the contemporary identities that come from straddling two cultures.
“You have all these borders here,” says Rodrigo of the wall that bisects the adjoining municipalities of El Paso, Texas, and Juarez, Mexico, “but in reality it’s not two cities, it’s one big region. And if you are able to tap into the unique cultural elements on both sides of the border and present the creative energy of each of these two communities, as we are striving to do, then you can create something that’s truly special.”
Miguel Fernandez: Well, to answer that, one has to first understand Mexico itself. When it comes to design and food and drink, the country has had many more outside influences than you might realize. For example, Mexico was once controlled by the French, and that period had a subtle but powerful effect on the culture. Visit places like Chihuahua or Monterey and you can see just how sophisticated, design-driven, and contemporary Mexico truly is. At Stanton House, we are trying to bring an elevated perspective of Mexican culture and doing this through French-influenced cuisine, through local and international art, and through contemporary design.
Rodrigo Fernandez: El Paso and Texas are a true cultural hub, but people who don’t know the area just think of sombreros and cowboy boots. We are so much more than that. We want to bring back what El Paso used to be. Yes, there are some of the Southwest elements you might expect, but by placing regional art next to celebrated international works at the hotel, by presenting a bold and fresh design scheme, and by introducing modern elements of Mexican, American, and European culture, we can challenge traditional perceptions of the area. In short, Stanton House contrasts greatly with what other people have done in El Paso. Yet, we are doing it by remaining true to the spirit, feel, and culture of El Paso and, by immediate extension, Juarez, too. The hotel is our way of saying, “This is what the region was but also what it can be.”
Martin Morgades: El Paso is a cultural mecca for Hispanic and Mexican-American culture. And Juarez naturally flavors and influences the region because the border is very fluid, with people going back and forth every day between the two cities—the two countries—living on one side, working on the other. The uninformed notion is that it’s a one-way street, that it’s just Mexicans coming to America, but 30 percent of our employees are American citizens who live in Juarez. Of course, the border has been in the news for a while now, and for all the wrong reasons. I once heard someone say, “The closer you are to the border, the more opportunity you see; the further away, the more threat you see.” Naturally, we see nothing but opportunity.
RF: When people visit the hotel, many say, “I never thought there’d be something like this in El Paso.” But that’s good! We are trying to broaden people’s expectations. And one of the most natural ways for us to do this is through art, since we are passionate collectors. In fact, when we first opened, people would come in, look around, and wonder what kind of business we were. They thought we were a museum, not a hotel!
MF: We’ve been collecting art for a while and we often bump into local artists who don’t have global recognition. Yet when we put their work in the hotel next to the work of celebrated international artists, people realize the extremely high level of talent that we have in the area. That’s why it’s so exciting for us to be able to use the hotel as a kind of showcase space. We can mix global, local, and regional artists throughout the property. And that’s what makes it so interesting—guests see a work by Damien Hirst next to an obscure piece of equal artistic intensity and they are astonished to learn that the obscure artist is from El Paso or Juarez. That’s what drives us.
RF: For example, we have a work by Paola Rascon, a painting that captures and enhances the subculture of Cholos, who are often discriminated against. The painting is done in an ironic Baroque style, and when people see it they stop and have all kinds of reaction. It is just not something you’d expect to find in a contemporary boutique hotel environment, but it announces to the world, “This is a big part of where we are in the world.” People may love it or hate, but either way it arouses strong feelings. And if we are able to create a true emotion, then I think we have done our job.
MM: We have one piece called “Shylights”, by Studiodrift, over the restaurant. The lights look like jellyfish, and they open, close, and illuminate according to different algorithms. It doesn’t matter who you are—a guest, a plumber here to work on something, whoever—when they come on, it stops people in their tracks. Everyone. It’s beautiful.
MF: Sometimes we keep them turned off to build tension, and people say to us, “Hey! How come the Shylights aren’t on?” They love them. The lights do a full dance at dinner and people literally wait for them to come on. It’s amazing.
MM: We also have a giant sculpture by Carlos Noriega Neuro that lights up in a way that reflects the amount of traffic crossing the U.S./Mexican border. The more traffic at the border, the higher the intensity of the light show on the sculpture. So, in many ways, the work becomes what you read into it. Like all good art.
RF: It’s an honor to be able to showcase great artists. But to be able to also help artists progress on the world stage, to see them develop and succeed, is priceless. And it’s special for the community.
RF: Well, yes, that’s true. We are highly committed to improving the quality of life in the region. For example, we are supporting the El Paso Children’s Museum. There’s a children’s museum in Juarez as well and we want to bridge that gap between to the two, show the overlap and the unique elements of the culture on both sides. To do this for kids can only add relevancy and vitality to the area, and improve the quality of life here.
MF: Of course, there are many unique and wonderful things about this area that we don’t promote—we simply just partake and enjoy! For example, the city of El Paso surrounds a state park with beautiful trails for both hiking and biking that are as good as you’ll find anywhere. There are old Southwest towns to visit, like Mesille, where Billy the Kid once stayed. Downtown El Paso is becoming a real hub and congregation area, with a new museum of art and a world-class science museum coming up. There’s a topnotch caddy-only golf course nearby, a Triple AAA baseball team, and a Premier Mexican League soccer team in Juarez. In fact, simply moving between the two cities is quite a unique experience.
MM: For me, just arriving here is incredible. There is a moment on the freeway, driving in, when you see the Franklin Mountains and it’s majestic. It takes your breath away.