GALLATIN GATEWAY — Doors to the historic Gallatin Gateway Inn were padlocked and marked with signs Monday stating that the inn is closed until further notice.
The signs and locks were all that greeted employees arriving for work Sunday. Several hours later, a note was posted on the inn’s Facebook page that said, “Thank you to all the employees that have worked with us through the years, for all the good times. We are so sorry about all our fun time coming to an end. Thank you again!!” The inn’s website was down.
“It was quite surprising yesterday to everybody that it closed,” said Rob Niebuhr, who worked at the inn as a bartender, server and manager until last November.
While the reasons for the unexpected closure are unknown — owners of the inn did not respond to requests for comment Monday — the owners, Charles and Bonnie White, have had financial trouble since moving to Montana to buy the inn. The troubles were documented in a lawsuit filed in 2010 between the couple and Rocky Mountain Bank, which gave them a loan to purchase the inn.
The two moved to Montana from Las Vegas in the mid-2000s to pursue their dream of retiring to Montana to run a bed and breakfast, according to the lawsuit. The couple worked out an agreement to buy the Gallatin Gateway Inn for $2.5 million.
They had trouble securing financing from Rocky Mountain Bank, however, and pushed back the closing date three times as a result. The couple claimed in a lawsuit brought by the bank that lenders at the bank misled them, causing the Whites to have to “(begin) operating the business using credit cards,” racking up “substantial credit card and other debt” before they were able to get a $2 million loan in 2008, according to the suit. The Whites later defaulted on the loan.
The lawsuit was settled out of court in October 2011.
Employees whom Niebuhr spoke with over the weekend told him that the closing was unannounced and caught them off-guard. Comments below the inn’s Facebook post suggest that people who had made reservations at the hotel and restaurant were not notified, either.
Aside from the padlock and sign, the inn appeared ready to open in the Monday morning light. A sign inside the lobby by the hotel restaurant announced the inn’s 85th anniversary and upcoming events, including Valentine’s Day and the Gallatin Valley Circle of Compassion’s Mountains of Courage Conference, which is a full-day event at the inn scheduled for Feb. 23.
“It’s sad to see the place close. I hope somebody can take it over and really make a good run at it,” Niebuhr said.
Teresa Ax, owner of the Rockin’ TJ Ranch, said she was contacted by at least one bride looking to re-book a summer wedding. She’s looking into accommodating weddings that had been booked at the inn, and possibly those who had reservations at the inn for Valentine’s Day.
The Spanish-style Gallatin Gateway Inn was built in 1927 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was constructed to bring passengers on the “Milwaukee Road” — a stretch of railroad lines connecting the West Coast with the Great Lakes — to the Gallatin Valley to visit Yellowstone National Park, according to the Montana state government’s travel site and the Milwaukee Road Historical Association.
Jason Bacaj may be reached at email@example.com or 582-2635.