Spies prowled for secrets at this historic Santa Fe inn

La Fonda was a social and spying hub during the Manhattan Project

February 1, 2022

La Fonda Opt
Exterior of La Fonda lafondasantafe.com

This year marks the 100th anniversary of La Fonda, a famed hotel on the Santa Fe Plaza that was a hot spot for unwinding, schmoozing and spying during Project Y.

La Fonda was the antidote to Los Alamos’s remote and hardscrabble environment. When scientists and their spouses needed a quick getaway to refined environs, they would head down the hill for a drink in the beautiful inn. With flickering fireplaces, hand-carved beams and an abundance of New Mexican fine and decorative arts, La Fonda created the perfect atmosphere for escape, romance and stimulating conversation among some of the greatest scientific geniuses of the 20th century.

2020.12.48 La Ur 21 20593
A photo of biochemist Wright Langham dining with friends at Santa Fe's La Fonda. Sometimes known as "Mr. Plutonium," Langham served at the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory from 1944 to 1972.

In fact, because La Fonda was well known as the preferred place for gatherers to mix their drinking and thinking, it became a destination for covert operatives eavesdropping to overhear potential Project Y secrets spilled under the influence of alcohol. Both spies and undercover U.S. agents monitored the camaraderie at La Fonda, as did locals curious about the mysterious operations happening up in Los Alamos. Manipulating the situation, J. Robert Oppenheimer asked physicists Bob Serber and John Manley to take their wives to La Fonda and deliberately plant the rumor that Project Y’s big secret was the creation of electric rockets.

La Fonda is a must-see destination for any Manhattan Project enthusiast visiting New Mexico. To learn more about the history of La Fonda, click here.