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Call is out to find new stay for historic hotel

Jeff Munson, Nevada Appeal News Service

One glance at the outside of the East Fork Hotel in Gardnerville may mean some people may dismiss it as an old, abandoned building.

Birds have found permanent nesting spots on the roof, windows are boarded up and pieces of the building’s pseudo-brick structure have begun to fall off after years of neglect and exposure to the elements.

Inside, however, is history and architecture, old furniture and scores of memories that at least one of the two remaining owners of the East Fork hopes someone will some day restore.

The owners of Gardnerville’s oldest building, located at Highway 395 and Gilman Avenue, are seeking proposals from people who would like to restore and use the property.

“Momma took such good care of this place,” said East Fork co-owner Nita Summers, referring to her mother, Gorgonia Borda, who operated the East Fork until her death in 1981.

Closed for 20 years, the East Fork Hotel was built in Gardnerville by brothers George and Charley Brown in 1893.

In 1921, French-Basque sheepherder Raymond Borda and his wife, Gorgonia, also French-Basque, bought the building and operated it as a boarding house and tavern until Gorgonia died in 1981.

Along with several hotels and bars in Gardnerville, the East Fork was at one time a lively haunt for area sheepherders, regional travelers and drifters. Liquor flowed freely at the East Fork bar, which also hosted nightly poker games.

Raymond died in 1950 and Gorgonia took over the business, raising seven children in the hotel.

Nita, the last living sibling of the Borda family, recalled how her mother managed to take care of the hotel, cooking and cleaning for her family and hotel guests while her father spent his days at a sheep ranch near Dayton.

Raymond would come home nearly every night to spend time with the family, but it was Gorgonia who kept everyone, including the Basque sheepherders, in line.

“She may not have had a good education, but she worked like a dog,” Nita said. “We’d have all kinds of men come and stay with us. They were either traveling through or had come down from the hills.”

The hotel has nine upstairs rooms, each equipped with a bed, dresser, a table and chair. Old ashtrays and dusty Bibles still sit neatly on the bed stands.

In the back of the hotel is a two-story structure that Nita refers to as “the cellar” where food was stored and freshly killed lamb was hung to chill.

Hotel guests, mostly Basque sheepherders, would eat meals with the family, though there was no formal restaurant.

“If the men came in time for dinner, dad said they were welcome to what we had,” Nita said. “Momma would take in lots of people. It’s the way things were in those days.”

Hotel guests paid the Bordas $2 a night lodging. They had their own rooms, and shared one bathroom with the rest of the house, including the family.

It wasn’t until all of her children left home that Gorgonia built a separate restroom in the living quarters.

Guests at the East Fork usually spent their nights playing cards in the East Fork bar or at other taverns that lined the streets of Gardnerville.

“They’d come in, sometimes late. Sometimes I’d hear momma get up. She wasn’t too fond of the rowdy types,” Nita said.

Everything was left as it was when Gorgonia died. In the living quarters, where the family stayed, furniture sits untouched and the beds are still made.

On the walls are framed pieces of western art, crucifixes, rosary beads and framed pictures of Jesus Christ.

But time and neglect is apparent. The floors that once shined like mirrors are now saturated in dust and grime. Cobwebs occupy much of the woodwork and the dank smell is what one would imagine from a hotel abandoned for 20 years.

Besides birds, other elements have taken roost in the hotel. Probably more than a few vagrants have broken in, slept on the beds and have taken nips out of old liquor bottles left behind when the bar burned in 1981.

The reason the building was abandoned and left in disrepair is complicated.

Nita, the last surviving member of the Borda family, was willed the property along with her now-deceased sister. Nita’s brother in-law, Ed Corda, is also an owner of the property.

Simply, the family has had disagreements on what should be done with the East Fork Hotel.

Seeing the hotel has become something of an eyesore, Gardnerville officials stepped in to see if they could mediate some of the family squabbles.

Gardnerville Town Manager Jim Park and Carson Valley Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Suzanne Rosevold serve as intermediaries to see the building is preserved and new tenants found.

Had they not stepped in, there was a possibility it would have been torn down, Nita said.

“Momma would have never wanted it that way,” Nita said. “There is so much here that it would be a shame to bring it down.”

Since the search began for a new tenant last week, several people have made inquiries, Park said.

While the responsibility of cleaning and fixing up the place will rest largely with the new tenants, the possibilities are endless in what can be done with the property, Park said.

It could be restored as a hotel and bar or restaurant. And upstairs and downstairs rooms are large enough to hold offices, he said.

“There is a lot of opportunity here for someone looking to make something back on a long-term investment,” Park said. “We see this as a place of history and hope an individual or a group of investors will bring it back to what it once was.”

For information, contact Park at (775)782-7134 or Rosevold at (775) 782-8144 or log onto the Web site: http://www.eastforkhotel.com.