It is a busy Friday afternoon at the Echo Hotel. People are lined up to check out of their rooms, and other people are walking in to the restaurant. Behind the counter is Joe Nunez, hotel manager, keeping up with the flow of people coming in and out.
The hotel looks pretty much the same as when it first opened on Feb. 22, 1959. Fifty years later and the architecture and design have the same feeling. But signs of the times are also dominant, with computers, fax machines and printers now also taking their place in the lobby. An old phone booth displays what could easily now be a reminder of the old form of communication we once had. Near the entrance is an office for a travel agency and a barber, a place that in an era of hair salons and quick haircut shops is becoming a rarity.
Over the decades the hotel has hosted thousands of weddings, quinceaneras, banquets, meetings and parties for the community, as well as hosting many more weary travelers.
This year marks the hotel’s 50th anniversary, and owners of the Echo have shied away from a celebration. “This hotel shows the history of the city. It is a great accomplishment, but the reality of it, we just kept working to try and make this hotel the better,” said Barbara Reynolds.
Driving by 1903 S. Closner Blvd., the Echo Hotel is tucked far away from the main street. The current sign that stands out by the road still contains elements of the original flashing neon sign that stood there for decades. The Hotel Echo, as it was first called, was a three-year project and was completed on February 22, 1959, after two years of the community raising money, collections and much planning.
The hotel was built by the Edinburg Community Hotel Company, from which the hotel’s name was derived. In 1956, the ECHC formed a committee of citizens because they believed there was a need for a hotel in the city. “Getting the hotel started took a community effort,” said Steve Reynolds, who serves as president of the Echo Hotel. At the time, the committee went to the citizens of Edinburg and began to sell bonds worth $50 to $100, Reynolds said. The committee was able to raise $500,000 to begin the construction of the community hotel on 15 acres of land.
“There was nothing near and nothing like it south of San Antonio,” he said. “The hotel was air conditioned and each room had a television and a telephone. It was a very modern hotel at the time.”
In the end, the hotel had over 1,100 stock holders and construction took approximately 14 months for the 80-room hotel to be completed. The cabana rooms form the shape of a circle and nestled inside is the pool, chairs and tables for people that are staying there can visit and enjoy some time outdoors.
It took 120,000 bricks, 120 tons of lead stone, 575 tons of steel and 2,500 yards of concrete to finish the hotel. The brick, steel and concrete were fashioned into a building with 75,000 feet of floor space and 17,000 square yards of glass to fill the windows. An additional 48 rooms were built in the 1970s as part of an expansion.
Reynolds said the hotel at the time had a country club feeling and people coming to visit looked forward to visiting the hotel. But by 1989, Reynolds noticed a foreclosure notice in the newspaper. He said he couldn’t understand why the hotel had been foreclosed on, but knew he wanted to buy the hotel. After gathering his father and a few friends together to come up with the money to buy the hotel, he bid against the majority shareholder at the time — Joe Davis.
Reynolds said the announcement of the foreclosure brought on many spectators and when he won the bid, everyone erupted into applause. “When I bid and won,” said Reynolds, “the crowd cheered and everyone clapped. I think it’s because the people of Edinburg wanted the hotel to be owned by someone from Edinburg.”
The hotel has been loyal to its customers and so has a group of employees who all have been working there for over 40 years.
Irma Cardenas, 72, has been working at the Echo Hotel for 30 years. In 1968, she began working as the assistant bookkeeper. “We’ve all been here so many years, it feels like family,” she said. Cardenas has seen the hotel change in many ways over the past 30 years but says the environment and atmosphere have stayed the same. “We all get along; we all know each other like family.”
Amador “Blackie” Pecina, 66, began his career at the hotel at the early age of 18, right after high school in 1963. In the 46 years that he has worked at the Echo Hotel, he said serving people is what has kept him working there. Pecina said working at the hotel brings enjoyment. “I enjoy serving people, it makes me happy,” he said. “I have stayed here because the people I work with and meet everyday make this job fun.”
One employee who has been working at the hotel for almost as long as the hotel has been in operation is Chef Arnoldo Yanez, who in 1962 began his culinary career at the hotel. “I am here almost every day. I began working the kitchen and now I run the kitchen,” he said. Yanez said he is grateful he has been working at the hotel for 47 years.
High-spirited Aurora “Jo” Gonzalez, 76, has been a waitress at the hotel restaurant since 1980 and says she enjoys meeting new people every day as well as the regular customers who come in to eat. Like the rest of her colleagues, the everyday interaction with different people is what keeps her coming back to the job. “A lot of people that I have known have passed away, but I never meet a stranger,” she said.
Joe Nunez, hotel manager, began working as a night auditor at the hotel in 1981. “This job is enjoyable because work is different every day,” he said. “You never know what’s going to happen.”
Today, the hotel does not have the large number of local shareholders it once had. “The hotel is still community owned, it’s just a smaller group of people,” Reynolds said.