IN THE BEGINNING
Opened on October 1, 1930, Hotel Settles was built by Will R. and Lillian Settles, following the discovery of oil on their ranch. Designed by architect David Castle, the building was constructed as a solid concrete, 15-story, 150-room hotel with a restaurant and a pharmacy.
At the time, it was the tallest building between El Paso and Ft. Worth. The Settles family owned the hotel for two years, but sold it when the Great Depression gripped the nation and their oil revenues diminished. The hotel went through several owners in the ensuing years.
A HUB FOR THE COMMUNITY
‘THE JUDGE’ ARRIVES
At one time the hotel was owned by John Birdwell, an early Big Spring settler, community leader and Texas Ranger. Mr. Birdwell was also the man who nicknamed historical resident Joseph Heneage Finch, the 7th Earl of Aylesford in Great Britain. After a rather scathing scandal in the royal court, the Earl decided to retire to the ends of the earth to drown his sorrows until his final days. In his mind, Big Spring was just the right place. He arrived at the hotel, proclaimed his royalty, and described the greatness of his royal friends. However, Mr. Birdwell interjected with, “You know, that just ain’t gonna fly around here. We’ll just call you ‘The Judge’.”
“The Judge” became quick friends with the locals, and spent many hours playing cards and drinking libations. Noted poet, journalist and literary critic James Fenton, writing about Finch’s significance to history as an example of the remittance men of the Old West, wrote, “On the United States frontier, where men were expected to be rugged individualists, these outcasts were generally not admired. Finch was an exception.”
Over the following years, the Settles Grill was frequented by numerous famous guests such as Elvis Presley, Lawrence Welk, and President Herbert Hoover, as well as Jerry Allison, Big Spring native and drummer for Buddy Holly and The Crickets.
SETTLES IN DECLINE
As the energy crisis of the 1970s came to an end, West Texas suffered from a very large oil bust. The effect on the local economy was staggering as business after business shut down. The historic Hotel Settles was unable to sustain operations as well as repairs to a building that was now more than 50 years old. Sadly, the hotel closed its doors in 1982.
Over the next 30 years, the property fell into further decline. Much of the original interior stone, wood and metal was removed by various owners, and the building was inhabited by pigeons. Fortunately, the hotel garnered much in the way of admiration and attention from the local community, and in the 1990s, a program was funded to purchase and replace most of the broken windows in the building. With each window costing more than $130, it was an astounding show of support for the hotel.
In 2006, G. Brint Ryan purchased the hotel. Ryan, who grew up in Big Spring, was determined to revitalize this aging landmark, and invested $30 million in its renovation. Under his guidance, the building was impeccably restored, and designed with the rich history of the area in mind. The original Grand Ballroom was fully refurbished, with meticulous detail given to its historic context. Other rooms were restored and given names in homage to their regional history. For instance, our T & P Meeting Room was named for the Texas & Pacific Railroad, critical to the growth of the community in its formative years. The Cosden Meeting Room recalls the importance of our local oil industry, the Birdwell Conference Room is in tribute to John Birdwell and the Judge’s Chambers are in homage of the legendary Judge.
Above the landing of the hotel’s grand staircase, you’ll find a portrait of Ryan’s mother, Virginia Ann Wilson Ryan, who inspired her son to do difficult tasks the right way. The Hotel Settles is living proof of this inspiration.
To view a photo album of historic photos, please visit the Hotel Settles Facebook page.