For the second year, the Foundation has sponsored the Architecture and Children Program in New Mexico’s schools. This year, NMAF is helping fund supplies and other needs for the design education program at Albuquerque’s Mark Twain Elementary School, grades 2-5. This program is also sponsored by the School Zone Institute and the American Institute of […]
This is a big deal.
Antoine Predock has donated his archives, home and studio property to the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. The University’s Center for Southwest Research will manage the archives including detailed models of many of Predock’s architectural projects. His studio and residence will provide studio space and learning opportunities for UNM’s Architectural School students.
The University will raise funds for upgrades and some renovation to the property in Albuquerque.
I’m more of a preservationist than an architect and exist on the periphery of architects and architecture but even I know this is a world-class gift from a world-class architect. Well played, Antoine.
* * *
I’ve not added much to this series on old hotels lately. It’s not for lack of trying — I’ve been out traveling but not finding anything good to write about. A lot of the “good” old places have been demolished or else my schedule didn’t make it easy to stay at the few promising places that I passed on my journeys. I’ve been trying out a few 1950s era motels but there isn’t much to write about.
I recently had an opportunity to stay over in Las Cruces, New Mexico, after dropping my daughter off at the opulent Amtrak station in Deming where she caught the train to New Orleans. “Never again on that route”, she says emphatically. That’s her story to tell but I’ll just say that it ended with a very long bus ride. Everyone has a story to tell about Amtrak and now she has hers.
My experience in Las Cruces was much more enjoyable. I had only driven through Las Cruces once coming back from Big Bend National Park in Texas a few years back. I don’t even think I stopped for gas so I didn’t know much about the place. It’s about a four hour drive from there to home so I was probably in a hurry. This time I was on a more casual schedule — the train didn’t even stop at Deming until around 1 PM so I covered the hour-long drive east to Las Cruces that afternoon. The drive was uneventful and I pulled into a rest area on a hill just west of town to get my bearings. I was greeted by a giant Roadrunner and a panoramic view of the city laid out in the Mesilla valley with the Organ Mountains in the background. Las Cruces is New Mexico’s second largest city which is an impressive statistic until you realize there are only two-million people in the entire state.
New Mexico’s towns and cities are often a mix of old and new (sometimes very old) and Las Cruces conforms to that pattern. The community of Messila, a short distance to the south, preserves much of the area’s adobe architecture as well as the Basilica of San Albino on the town plaza. I took an unexpected detour into Mesilla on my way into Las Cruces and enjoyed walking around the plaza and the local shops and cantinas. It was a weekend and the annual Indian Market was taking place on the plaza with local Indian arts and crafts offered for sale. There was music and a nice crowd enjoying the day.
Las Cruces came to life just after the Mexican War in 1849, being originally laid out by the military. The railroad was enthusiastically greeted when the first train arrived in 1881. Why Amtrak doesn’t stop in Las Cruces now, at a real depot, is one of the inscrutable mysteries of modern passenger rail service in America. The city became the home of New Mexico State University around 1890. Like a lot of places, the city center fell victim to urban renewal in the 1960s, including the impressive St. Genevieve church, dating back to the 1850s. It seems that recovering from urban renewal has been slower than planned. I guess I’m yammering on about Las Cruces because I’ve never been there and the place is worth a visit…not just for the city but for what you will discover in the general area.
Lundeen Inn of the Arts
When I went looking for an historic hotel in Las Cruces I was surprised not to find much. There are a number of the usual interstate highway motel chains. There’s a possibly elderly hotel/resort, Hotel Encanto, that seemed a little Disney-esque based on what I could discover. I kept looking until I found the Lundeen Inn of the Arts. It doesn’t just pop out when you are looking…you have to be patient.
It doesn’t actually pop out at you when you arrive, either. It is a combination art gallery and inn located in a large Spanish/Mediterranean styled home behind a wall on South Alameda Blvd. I passed it up and had to turn around and make a slower pass before I found it. Be patient…it is worth the effort.
Jerry and Linda Lundeen transformed a couple of century-old houses into this inviting and very memorable inn. Jerry was a prominent architect in Las Cruces and well known in New Mexico. Jerry died a few years ago but Linda keeps the Inn and the concept of art mixed with hospitality going. They lived here together for fifty years and most of what you see is Jerry’s handwork…clearly a labor of love. The Inn once had eighteen rooms but now has maybe half that as the adjoining building has been converted to condominiums.
This is sort of a rambling place that reveals itself to you as you go deeper into the interior. There’s a human scale to it — no gaping maw of a grand hotel lobby — your introduction is much more subtle. There are multiple levels, stairways and corridors, and hidden spaces. The entry is tucked into an alcove between the two main structures. There’s a small entry foyer and registration desk with the main gallery space extending behind and down a level. Linda was busy in the back when I arrived so it took a few minutes to find her and get checked in. After a short introduction and conversation she decided that I should stay in the Georgia O’Keeffe Room upstairs at the end of the balcony. The rooms feature artwork by New Mexico’s artists and there were a few of O’Keeffe’s prints on the wall in my room.
The room was comfortable and included a day bed for as many as three room guests. There was a nice reading area in an alcove and plenty of books supplied if you haven’t remembered to bring your own. I love places like this that provide a small library of books in the guest rooms. I’m seeing it more and more in the historic hotels. It’s a nice and thoughtful touch. This is a century-old building but it was rock solid. The floors were not squeaking at every step; it was quiet; the bathroom was comfortable though not a fancy recreational venue; and, there were sufficient electrical outlets for all of my plug-ins. It seems that as I get older I get more dependent on battery chargers and plug-ins. The in-house internet service worked fine. I slept well in the comfortable bed. I did not visit other guest rooms but mine was very nice.
As I mentioned, my room was at the end of the balcony. It overlooked the large, two-story great room and dining area. Guests would be served coffee and a sit-down breakfast there each morning. Linda’s daughter does the cooking and probably most of the heavy lifting as far as running the place but Linda is the “Lady of the Manor”, so to speak. She is a welcoming and gracious hostess who knows every inch of the place and has stories to tell. She will gladly sit and chat for a while and provide recommendations on where to eat or what to see. Linda grew up in Albuquerque, attended “Old Main” high school and frequented the famous Alvarado Hotel, probably the grandest Harvey House establishment along the Santa Fe line — sadly demolished in the 1970. She has a few stories to tell and I enjoy listening.
There was at least one movie filmed here at the inn and it has had its share of celebrity guests over the years. Guests are free to wander. There are a couple public rooms as well as the gallery space to explore. The back yard includes a small outdoor chapel. I suppose you could get married here.
That evening I took Linda’s advice and ate supper at the Double Eagle. This was another of Jerry Lundeen’s architectural projects; an impressive transformation of an old adobe hacienda-style structure into a restaurant on the plaza in Mesilla. The food was good and it was a pleasant evening. The Green Chile Won-tons were good as was the Tres Leches Cake.
The next morning the guests, all five of us…plus Linda, gathered for coffee and conversation. I hadn’t met any other guests — hadn’t seen any — until then. One was a librarian whose husband was a retired English professor and volunteer at a nearby National Monument. One was visiting from Albuquerque and in the process of purchasing a condo. One was a writer from New York City gathering material for a writing project. Our breakfast was sausage and French Toast with fresh fruit and plenty of the best coffee I had on the trip. Conversation lingered over the table well into mid-day. There were two topics of conversation that were not allowed under Linda’s house rules: politics and religion. That was a welcome relief — not talking politics for several hours with interesting people was a treat. We forget sometimes that there are other things to talk about. Finally, at about eleven o’clock, we realized the day was getting away from us and we all went our separate ways.
There are a couple small, polite, dogs that reside at the inn. They made their appearance in the morning and patrolled the back yard for a while. They made a quick visit to the group of guests and then were gone.
I think it is fair to say that the Lundeen Inn of the Arts is not for everybody. When I travel I meet people who probably would not be comfortable with the casual intimacy of the place. There are some folks who would rather enjoy staying at a more modern Hampton Inn or a Comfort Inn out by the interstate. If a person has serious mobility issues, it could be a little challenging to get around in the Inn — there are several levels and stairways…call ahead first. The same advice holds if you have a special diet.
As you can tell, I liked the place and would stay there again when in Las Cruces. The price of the room was under $100 — less than some of the chain motels by the highway.
New Mexico State University
On my way out of Las Cruces I made a side visit to the campus of New Mexico State University. I was interested in the architecture. I had heard that Hentry Trost, famous in the southwest, was the architect for the older campus buildings built around 1909. When I got on the campus, which was nearly deserted, I was puzzled at the mix of new and old buildings as well as old buildings with new and larger annexes. It was a nice campus but nothing much seemed to stand out from the right era. Perhaps there has been some modernization efforts. There’s no ivy-covered walls but mostly crisp clean lines that carry on a modified Mission-style of architecture. In the southwest, bright sunlight and shadow offer the ornamentation on some of the more simple architectural styles.
Organ Mountains — Desert Peaks National Monument
The Trump Administration is wanting to redefine a number of National Monuments that were designated during the Obama Administration. New Mexico has two targeted monuments including the Organ Mountains — Desert Peaks National Monument located near Las Cruces. I drove up into the Organ Mountains to get a look for myself.
The monument is in four different parcels with unique features in each one. I just had time to visit one area. The view to the east from the Organ Mountains looks out over the White Sands Missile Range and in the far distance you can see White Sands National Monument, maybe 40 miles away.
I’m not sure why the Trump Administration would want to tinker with the size, boundaries, or purpose of the National Monument unless there was a political motivation or some business interests pushing the issue. We don’t need another golf course here.
* * *
The New Mexico Architectural Foundation’s annual tour took place on Saturday, October 28th, and focused on the work of Henry Trost and the architecture firm of Trost and Trost. The tour was a well attended…we had a bus load of architecture fans happy to see the inside and out of several of Albuquerque’s iconic buildings. That included a peek into several residential loft spaces in the First National Bank and “Old Main” buildings. The tour started with an informative lecture by NMAF member and architect Channell “Chan” Graham, one of the founders of the Albuquerque Conservation Association (TACA). This being the Foundation’s thirtieth anniversary year, we celebrated with a champagne toast and anniversary cake in the “Old Main” courtyard.
Henry Trost and his firm had a lasting impact on the city of Albuquerque. Beginning around 1910 and continuing for several decades, the Trost and Trost architectural firm helped transform Albuquerque into modern city from it’s beginnings as a ranching, rail, and sleepy regional commercial town. The population in 1910 was just barely over 11,000 but the place was waking up. The university had been established twenty years before and the Santa Fe Railroad had invested a great deal in developing the rail yards and the depot and then opened the massive Alvarado Hotel in 1902. New Mexico became a state in 1912 and still had elements of the wild west. It had been part of Mexico just 65 years earlier…in living memory. Much of the town’s early town life centered around Old Town, largely made up of adobe buildings and homes dating back into the early 1800s. The creation of the rail depot in 1880 eventually moved most of the commercial activity to New Town, about two miles away but the town had a split personality. Commercial and banking activity was moving to New Town but the courthouse remained in Old Town into the 1920s.
The new buildings and development in New Town in the early 1900s helped create the modern city that we have today. The following summary offers just a few photographic snippets of some of the Trost buildings visited during the tour.
Occidental Life Building (1917)
First National Bank Building (1922)
Sunshine Building (1924)
“Old Main” Albuquerque Highs School (1914)
Berthold Spitz House (1910)
Rosenwald Building (1920)
The First National Bank Building and the “Old Main” High School have been repurposed to include modern lofts for sale or rent. The Sunshine Building, the city’s first movie theater, still serves as a theater venue for rock concerts or other events. There is plenty of office and retail space still in use in the commercial buildings. The Berthold Spitz House, now restored close to the original design, still commands attention on the corner of Marquette and Tenth Streets. Frank Lloyd Wright, when observing the house on a tour of Albuquerque, reportedly said “Well, somebody in this town has taste”. Yes, Frank, we know.
* * *
On June 7, 1981 our small family gathered to celebrate my parent’s fortieth anniversary. We chose the Goldenrod Showboat, a St. Louis landmark located at the foot of the levee on the Mississippi riverfront. It was memorable and raucous night. Almost every visit to the Goldenrod was a treat. It was a bawdy sort of place that harked back to the glory days of ragtime music, dim lights, free-flowing liquor, and melodrama theater where the audience hissed the villain and heckled the actors. It was permanently moored but still afloat (since 1909) and was subject to the whims of the river. It would move up and down the cobblestone levee as the river rose or fell. It would sway slightly when a large towboat pushed a string of barges up the river. Our family had a little bit of a connection to the old floating theater: my Aunt, my Mom’s sister, was the wardrobe mistress and sewed and repaired the actors’ costumes and occasionally dabbled in scenery fixes. We visited the Goldenrod most years and my Aunt and Mom would share stories of the actors who once performed on the stage. It was an impressive list including Bob Hope. Red Skelton got his start on the Goldenrod. Edna Ferber was at least partially inspired by the Goldenrod for her novel Show Boat.
As I recall, looking back over 37 years, we had a wonderful time listening to the St. Louis Ragtimers playing in the Salon before we went into the theater for a table on the floor in front of the stage. I remember my Dad giving my Mom a necklace with a single ruby as an anniversary present. That was a rare event – they were quietly devoted to each other and not prone to buying gifts of that sort. Although I don’t recall what play we saw that night the whole evening was etched on my memory. Only eight years later we would be putting them in a nursing home – coincidentally, and sadly, on their forty-eighth anniversary date.
The Goldenrod began life as a mobile floating theater in 1909, joining about twenty other showboats that brought culture and entertainment, or what passed for it, to small and large communities all along the nations rivers. If you have ever read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn you might be familiar with the concept. It had been going on for decades through the 1800s and was apparently profitable enough to continue well into the 20th century. The Goldenrod was, essentially, a glorified barge. It never had its own steam boiler, paddlewheel, or any means of propulsion. It was always moved by being pushed up or down the river by a separate stern wheel steamboat. The two ships would be locked together to withstand the river current and then move on to the next mooring. Sometime in the 1930s the Goldenrod pulled up at the St. Louis riverfront and stayed. In a few years it had become part of the fabric of the city.
The Goldenrod had a long run on the levee. It had some mishaps – the Mississippi River is a constant and powerful force tugging at the boats moored on the river. It saw a lot of ships come and go. Through the early years the SS St. Paul and the SS President would leave the levee on daily passenger excursions up and down the river.
In 1940 the new SS Admiral became the premier excursion steamer, holding as many as 4,000 passengers. The Admiral sported a modern streamlined Art Deco design that stood out from the old gingerbread steamboat appearance.
I spent several summer days cruising on the Admiral in my youth and it was a popular date-night destination. Bob Kuban and the In Men performed in the Admiral’s ballroom – a one-hit-wonder musical group. Meanwhile, the Goldenrod would still draw a crowd but it was harder to compete with everything else that was going on. The St. Louis Cardinals were packing people in at the new downtown stadium. Gaslight Square and Laclede’s Landing surged as entertainment venues for a while. The Goldenrod hung on. It caught fire one night in the 1960’s and much of the theater section was gutted. It recovered and was restored and reopened and people came back. The Goldenrod hosted the National Ragtime Festival for several years during this period and was frequented by some well-known ragtime and jazz performers. It carved out a special niche for itself in the music scene for several years.
Finally, time and the river and increased competition caught up with the Goldenrod. It wasn’t cheap mooring at prime riverfront real estate and the ship was showing its age. It was sold to the city of St. Charles in 1989 and repositioned on the Missouri River on the city’s riverfront, about a half-hour west of St. Louis. The ship was refurbished and reopened as the Goldenrod, doing much the same as it did for decades in front of St. Louis. The old ship ran aground in 2002 when the level of the Missouri River dropped drastically. Ironically, when the river level dropped other old steamboat wrecks began to poke up out of the mud and murky water – almost beckoning to the old boat. Damage to the Goldenrod was serious and the city couldn’t find money for repairs. They decided to sell it but there were no buyers. Eventually a group came forward with plans to move the Goldenrod and restore it but even those plans fell through. The boat was quietly relocated to Kampsville, Illinois, moored on the Illinois river. Things went sour. There were court cases and lack of funds – the Goldenrod crumbled away. We heard periodic reports about the old boat. It was going to come back – or it was sinking into the mud. It got a reputation for being haunted so various TV ghost hunters descended on the old boat, creeping around in the dark listening for voices or tell-tale knocks or noises. That was not the kind of performance the old boat was designed for. It seemed like an insult.
There was no coming back. There would be no restoration. It seems that very little was done – or could be done – to bring her back.
The Goldenrod was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and some effort was made to salvage parts of the boat’s interior furnishings and decorations for some future museum exhibition. The most recent news item was a notation in Preservation, by the National Trust for Historic Preservation which listed the Goldenrod as a “lost” landmark. That’s what prompted these old memories.
Scott Joplin and Mark Twain were both alive when the Goldenrod started her career on the river. Joplin’s ragtime music echoed through the hall and the salon of the old ship up to the end. Mark Twain’s brand of humor was no stranger to the old theater stage. Bob Hope, Red Skelton, and vaudeville song and dance performers all graced the stage and inhabited the hallways and actors’ cabins on board the old boat.
None of the original showboats are left. Almost all the old steamboats are gone or sit rotting in the mud at some forgotten mooring. They say the SS President is beached and has fallen into ruin. Even the SS Admiral ended her life as a faded old casino and then sold for scrap. Some old wrecks, like the steamship Arabia, have been found buried under river bottom cornfields and mined for mid-1800s artifacts for museums or for collectors. The Goldenrod had a long life compared to other riverboats but it is still hard to see the end come as it did…forgotten in some debris-filled mud bank.
The photographs are all from the internet sources. Sadly, I don’t have any photos of the old boat. The link shown below is a YouTube video of the St. Louis Ragtimers performing Deep Ellum Blues in the Goldenrod Salon sometime in 1981, a few weeks or days from that visit for my parent’s fortieth anniversary.
Enjoy these old places while you can. We are losing a lot of our history.
* * *
The New Mexico Architectural Foundation (NMAF) is celebrating its 30th anniversary and focusing attention on Albuquerque architecture during this year’s annual tour. The tour will spotlight several downtown buildings designed by the Trost and Trost architectural firm and the architect Henry C. Trost. Trost’s firm was based in El Paso but had a major influence across the southwestern United States. Henry Trost’s Hotel Paisano, in Marfa, Texas, was featured in one of my earlier “In Praise of Old Hotels” series blog posts. Trost and Trost designed a number of buildings in Albuquerque that still exist including the “Old Main” High School and the easily recognized Occidental Life Building. Details on the tours are here: https://newmexicoarchitecturalfoundation.org/2017/09/25/2017tour-trost/
The built environment in New Mexico is, in general, is a low-rise environment. It has been largely dominated by the natural beauty and the impressive landscape more than the human-scale buildings. The Albuquerque skyline is no exception. The Sandia Mountains are the most eye catching and demanding feature – it is hard to compete with towering mountains. The earliest residents of New Mexico revered the landscape and became part of it. Even today’s pueblos seem to be embedded into the natural surroundings.
The city government issued an RFP this year for a new high-rise building in downtown Albuquerque which, if constructed, will be the tallest building in the state. Whether we need a new high-rise building in Albuquerque is open to discussion, I guess, given other civic priorities. We will have to wait and see what happens.
This blog post is a quick, hit and miss sort of foxtrot through some of Albuquerque’s architecture, both historical and modern. The city of Albuquerque grew from around 11,000 population in 1910 to about 560,000 at present. That is a tremendous growth in population and size in just over 100 years. With a population as small as 11,000 there really isn’t much of a historical legacy of architecture throughout the city. It was once a farming and sheep-herding community and there were small clusters and hamlets and historical neighborhoods at key locations in what eventually became the city. The Spanish colonial town plaza in Old Town was at the city’s original core.
Although Indian populations lived in and around the Albuquerque area for thousands of years, the first Spanish presence came in the 1540s with the Coronado expedition. The earliest Spanish colonial settlers arrived in northern New Mexico in the 1590s. Santa Fe was established in 1610 and Albuquerque was settled in 1706 by settlers moving south from the Bernalillo settlement. The oldest existing building in the Albuquerque area lies fifteen miles to the south at the San Agustin del la Isleta Mission church at Isleta Pueblo, built in 1622.
The Barelas neighborhood in Albuquerque dates to about the 1660s and was at the site of a river crossing on the Camino Real de Tierra Adentro which connected Mexico City to Santa Fe and the San Juan Pueblo (now Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo). When Alburquerque was established (that pesky first ‘r’ was dropped sometime later) the town plaza was the focus of civic, religious and commercial activity. The oldest documented building in the city is probably the church of San Felipe de Neri located on the plaza and dating to 1793.
The other buildings around the plaza are mostly from the Mexican period (after 1821) or later in the 1800s. The Casa Armijo, a residence built sometime in the mid-1800s, became La Placita Dining Rooms in 1935. Casa de Ruiz, now the Church Street Café, has the reputation of being the oldest residence in the city.
The Old Town served as Albuquerque’s main center until the arrival of the Santa Fe Railway in 1880. The railroad established a depot, rail yards, and maintenance buildings about two miles east of Old Town and the center of commercial activity moved to the depot area, called New Town, leaving Old Town largely intact for the next century. That first relocation of the city center and the patchwork of early settlement is, perhaps, a hint at the way the city has developed in a dispersed pattern over the decades.
Several neighborhoods grew up around the rail yards and maintenance shops. Albuquerque transitioned from a farming and herding community into a railroad town. The rail yard buildings are mostly unused today and began to fall into disrepair until some recent rehabilitation started turning the site into a market and entertainment venue.
Things were looking pretty good for Albuquerque. The railroad invested a lot of money in their installation and provided new jobs for a growing population. Albuquerque became known as a place with a healthy dry climate and an industry of sorts grew up providing recuperative housing and treatment for respiratory patients. There were seventeen sanatoriums built in Albuquerque where “Lungers” could seek “the cure”. It also became sort of a cottage industry and some private homes were also retro-fitted out with spaces for Lungers. There are still older houses in town with an airy “penthouse” addition with windows an all sides to allow free air circulation.
Americans were riding the rails and Albuquerque was an important stop. In 1902 “the greatest railroad hotel in existence” was opened by Fred Harvey: the Alvarado Hotel. Harvey House hotels were largely partnered with the Santa Fe Railroad and one could eat or stay in a Harvey House hotel at almost every major Santa Fe stop. They served as both passenger railway stations and comfortable hotels. Mary Colter, the architect of most of the iconic buildings at the Grand Canyon, was the interior designer…her first gig with Fred Harvey. She stayed on to design many of his company’s hotels and was a big proponent of the Southwestern Pueblo Revival style.
The Alvarado was built in a grand Southwestern/California Mission Revival style. Native American art and crafts were on display everywhere and especially in the wing of the hotel were items were sold to eager tourists. In many cases this was the first exposure for many travelers to Native American art. Local Indian artisans were on hand to meet the trains and sell their work…as they still are today.
Passenger rail service dwindled away after WW-2 and the Alvarado Hotel fell on hard times. Maintenance of such a large and mostly empty building was too much. Finally, in 1970, the beautiful hotel was demolished and converted into a dirt parking lot. What remained as a passenger station burned down in 1993. After 2000 the city began constructing the Alvarado Transportation Center on the site as a combination city transit depot, bus station and Amtrak station. The architects reached back and used some of the features of the old Alvarado Hotel in the design of the new structure. It appears reminiscent of the old hotel but serves a more modern purpose. Surprisingly, there are a couple small structures that remain from the old hotel…a telegraph office and a freight office on the south end of the property.
This was the southwest and southwestern architecture was king for many decades. Spanish Colonial Revival, Pueblo Revival and Territorial style design can be seen throughout the city. The perennial dry climate and occasional gusty winds coming off the desert or through the canyons made flat roofs most common. The high elevation sun made shade an important asset so portals and loggia/porches were popular features. Historically, the old buildings were constructed of adobe mud bricks plastered with a sticky mud every few years. The affect was similar in appearance to stucco so stucco became a popular and common finishing material on newer construction. From a distance, the earth tones of stucco homes with flat roofs blends in with the colors of the desert and just becomes part of the landscape.
It was clear that the southwestern United States had an essential and unique architectural flavor. Even government buildings built at this time reflected the southwestern style. An example is the Old Post Office and Federal Building in downtown Albuquerque (now repurposed as a charter high school).
The Pueblo Revival style became popular in the early 20th century largely through the work of John Gaw Meem, an architect based in Santa Fe. Meem arrived in Santa Fe in 1920 initially for “the cure”. He was diagnosed with tuberculosis while in Brazil and entered a local sanatorium where he lived off and on for several years. Meem became increasingly interested in architecture and local efforts to preserve the historic and pre-historic adobe structures in New Mexico. He was trained as a civil engineer and had little formal training in architecture but in 1924 he started an architectural partnership with a fellow patient while living at the sanatorium. Meem eventually was hired to renovate the La Fonda hotel on the Santa Fe plaza. The hotel had been built in the early 1920s in “Santa Fe Style” which was essentially Pueblo Revival. The La Fonda was acquired as a Harvey House hotel in 1925 and renovation started with Mary Colter in charge of interior design and Meem tackling the exterior. The building stands today as a prime example of Pueblo Revival architecture, both inside and out
Meem had other projects during this period including restoration of adobe churches dating back to the 1600s. In Albuquerque, he designed the Los Poblanos ranch residence and other buildings. Meem became the official architect of the University of New Mexico in 1933 and remained in that position until his 1956 retirement. During that time the University buildings were generally designed, or redesigned, in the Pueblo Revival style. Most notable is probably the Zimmerman Library building but other structures on campus or associated with the University also fall into that style. The visitor center at Kuaua pueblo (Coronado Historic Site) is a Meem building.
Zimmerman Library – UNM
While Santa Fe largely embraced the Pueblo Revival style, Albuquerque had a broader vision of what urban southwestern architecture could be about. Pueblo Revival was not the only show in town…although it held a huge influence. The architectural firm of Trost and Trost (featured in the 2017 NMAF tour) was founded by Henry C. Trost in El Paso in 1903.Trost had a much wider range of styles including Art Deco, Prairie Style, Southwestern/Mission, and even Asian Bhutanese. Trost built the first reinforced concrete building in Albuquerque, the 1910 Rosenwald Department Store building which still stands at Fourth and Central in downtown Albuquerque. The building is something of a fusion of styles, including Southwestern and Modernism, and doesn’t appear to be 107 years old. In 1917, Trost designed the Occidental Life Building in a Venetian Revival style. The gleaming white building stands out as architectural landmark in downtown Albuquerque. The Trost and Trost firm had an enduring impact on Albuquerque’s architecture and the streetscape in the city’s core
The fusion of styles that developed in Albuquerque probably hit its most flamboyant peak once the city became a major stop on Route 66. Central Avenue, once named Railroad Avenue, became the main east-west axis of the city after the passenger railroad business dropped off and Americans took to the highway. It was already an important street leading out east to the University of New Mexico campus and new developments at Nob Hill. There were several early routes that the “Mother Road” took through New Mexico but it finally settled down on Central Avenue as it went through Albuquerque. The city greeted the incoming guests with open arms and a fantastic array of neon-lighted motels.
The style was often Cowboy and Indian Kitsch but was certainly exuberant. Many, probably most, of those Route 66 motels have been demolished or closed down. A couple are converted into residential cluster housing. The motel trade moved on to Comfort Inn, Motel 6 or Holiday Inn Express – dullsville. There are still several of the old Mother Road hotels if you look for them. Sadly, the Aztec Motel was pulled down in 2011.
As long as Mom and Dad and the kids were enjoying the sights in Albuquerque they could take in a movie. The KiMo Theater was built in 1927 in an amazing fusion of Art Deco and Pueblo Revival styles. This was the heyday of classic theater building all across the country and the downtown KiMo Theater certainly rises to the challenge. There is probably no other structure in America that goes all out in the marriage of the two styles both on the exterior and the interior.
The KiMo wasn’t alone – the Hyiand Theater sits further out Central Avenue closer to all the motels and tourist dollars.
Central Avenue is still a popular place for tourists, university students and locals to eat and unwind. There are a few diners and restaurants and a growing number of micro-breweries and brew pub taprooms. The Route 66 diner is an icon of the Streamlined Neon-Diner style if there is such a thing
Kelly’s is a great example of adaptive re-use of a sprawling Texaco station that probably served millions of tourists in it’s former life. It now is a popular spot for craft beer, burgers and people watching.
A few blocks north off Central Avenue, near the corner of Lomas and Eubank, sits the Owl Café, designed and constructed in sort of a fusion of Mid-Century Modern with an Owl Effigy style of architecture…Albu-Quirky style, maybe.
There are still lots of Pueblo Revival and Southwest Revival buildings going up but many have a different twist or a fusion with other styles. There are whole subdivisions of Pueblo Tuscan Revival homes going up on the outer reaches of the city. The use of stucco as an exterior surface is still popular on commercial and residential buildings.
There seems to be a willingness in Albuquerque to try new things and new styles. Here are a few fairly recent buildings that come to mind:
Atrisco Heritage Academy High School
Patrick J Baca Library
Central New Mexico Community College – West Campus
Aperture Center – Mesa del Sol
Isleta Pueblo Tribal Services Complex
National Hispanic Cultural Center
Casa Guadalupe Franciscan Friary West Mesa
Indian Pueblo Cultural Center
We have come full circle. Architecture in New Mexico and Albuquerque began a thousand years ago or more with stone and adobe structures built by local Indians. It progressed with the arrival of the Franciscans and the Spanish settlers. The railroad and industry had a role. Route 66 had and still has an influence. The later styles moved toward revival of traditional themes but also moved forward into uncharted territory. There has been a willingness to see value in new things. Experimentation has moved the built environment forward, backward and in some exotic or quirky directions at times but there are still threads of the traditional Southwestern style and experience. That is sort of what Albuquerque is all about.
Here in the high desert of New Mexico, June is our hottest month and the only time when we get temperatures of around 100 degrees. That’s a good reason to head to a cooler location for a few days. I took a road trip north to Steamboat Springs to do some fishing and just stay cool for a few days. I was surprised to see tulips and daffodils blooming up there…it’s still spring and the mountains still have a lot of snow.
Anyway…The most direct route is north through Taos and then, following the Rio Grande, through the San Luis Valley and over the rooftop of Colorado to Leadville and then down the Blue River Valley to the Colorado River at Kremmling, over Rabbit Ears Pass and finally into Steamboat Springs…about 500 miles. There are a lot of historic hotels along that route…some a little too historic, as in falling down. I stayed in Taos and Leadville along the way.
Taos has been a meeting place for over 1,000 years. Taos Pueblo is one of the oldest continuously inhabited communities in North America. The pueblo was a traditional trading center between the local Pueblo people and the plains Indians. The Spanish arrived in 1615 and established the town and the trading activity intensified, interspersed with occasional raids and later the Pueblo revolt of 1680. The region became US territory in 1847. The artists and writers began arriving around 1900 and it has been an important center for the arts ever since.
I’m starting out with a white lie. I didn’t stay at the Sagebrush Inn on this trip but did on an earlier one about eight months before. The place looks southwestern and is in the Spanish/Pueblo Revival architectural style common to northern New Mexico. It doesn’t appear to be all that old from the outside because, by now, you are used to seeing places that look artificially old. Once you get inside the age of the place becomes more apparent. It looks authentically and honorably and expensively old. It would cost a lot these days to make something look like this without making it look like Walt Disney had a hand in it.
The Sagebrush Inn had its start in 1933 catering to the travelers visiting Taos on their way to Arizona. It was (and still is) a little bit of a distance from the Taos Plaza and the popular restaurants and shops. The Inn was a smallish place but expanded with a restaurant and additional rooms to accommodate more guests. Georgia O’Keefe lived in one of the rooms for a year in the 1930s…now the “Artist’s Loft”. Ansel Adams stayed there and certainly made effective use of his time visiting photographic sites. He was already familiar with the Taos Pueblo by 1930 and the famous Mission of San Francisco de Asis is across the road and a few hundred yards south of the Inn. The village of Hernandez is about forty miles south near the Pueblo of Ohkay Owingeh, called San Juan Pueblo in Ansel Adams’ day. Dennis Hopper was a frequent visitor at the Inn. Marlon Brando, Robert Redford, Gerald Ford, and famed Navajo artist, R. C. Gorman all spent time at the Sagebrush Inn. Gorman’s original artwork is displayed at the Inn. In the 1950s it had an illegal gambling room tucked away somewhere that was eventually raided.
In more modern times the Sagebrush Inn has expanded from the original twelve rooms to 156 rooms and become a conference center as well as a hotel. There was an automobile dealership event of some type while I was there.
I stayed in a comfortable modern guest room. The restaurant and lounge were popular with the guests and the food was very good. I suspect there are comparable lodging places at less cost but this is a place with some history and atmosphere if you look past the more modern additions. Another option might be the Hotel La Fonda on the Taos Plaza which has an interesting history dating back to 1880 but has been modernized somewhat over the years.
On this recent trip, I wanted to stay closer to the Taos Plaza so I chose the Kachina Lodge, walking distance from the plaza and shops on Bent Street. I stayed on the way north and again on the way back home a week later. I was scheduled to attend a literary reading at the Op Cit bookstore on Bent Street and this was a convenient and interesting location.
The Kachina Lodge is of a later generation, a classic 1960s sort of place that catered to visitors to Taos. That was the era when Baby Boomer kids, like me, were being dragged around the country by their parents to see the USA in our Chevrolet. The lodge began in the 1960s but expanded considerably in the 1970s but with the same Taos style that echoes Pueblo and Colonial Spanish architecture. Of course, there is a large swimming pool, sort of in a pinto bean shape.
There are about eight buildings of guest rooms, called casitas (Zia Casita, Tesuque Casita, Santa Fe Casita, etc.). I stayed in the Zia Casita building both visits, once upstairs and once on the ground floor. I recommend the ground floor rooms – they are cooler and easier to get to but don’t have the little balcony sitting area. The room capacity of the place seems to far out-reach the number of guests. It must have been a very busy place at one time. The Kachina Lodge hosts conferences and meetings so maybe I just visited on at a quiet time. During ski season, it might be very popular because the room rate is attractive. During summer months, they have ceremonial dancers from Taos Pueblo perform every night in an open performance space. I was busy in the evenings and didn’t see the performances.
There is a lot of common lobby and sitting room space in the main building as well as meeting rooms. The lounge was closed when I was there. French doors at the rear of the building open on a spacious and shady portal with a view of the swimming pool. I can imagine the moms and dads of the 1960s enjoying an adult beverage while junior splashes around in the pool. Some of those Baby Boomers are still in the pool.
The 1960s are clearly evident if you just look around. I noticed the lighting fixtures and some of the furnishings seemed straight out of an old Elizabeth Taylor, Tony Curtis, Debbie Reynolds, or maybe Jerry Lewis movie.
The Blue Mesa Café is the on-site restaurant and it is another classic 1960s space complete with a totem pole serving as the center support for a round, kiva shaped seating area. When I was there for breakfast the food was good but service was awful. Guests get a fifty-percent discount for breakfast so the price was right and I wasn’t in a hurry anyway. The café is a good place to people-watch while waiting for your food.
The Kachina Lodge is a little quirky but I enjoyed staying there and would do it again. The room rate was very reasonable and you get a cheaper rate by calling the Lodge than by going through Expedia or another on-line lodging site.
Next door to the Lodge is the Taos Ale House/Burger Bar and about a half mile walk toward the plaza is the Taos Mesa Brewery Taproom. I visited both but the Ale House is a friendly and casual place if you don’t feel like walking a half-mile for craft beer. The food was OK at both and the Ale House had several familiar Albuquerque craft beers on tap. Taos Mesa had their own locally brewed beer. It was all good.
The road from Taos to Leadville is scenic to say the least and goes through some of the oldest communities in Colorado. The Spanish ventured up into this part of Colorado and the San Luis Valley was settled by people moving north out of New Mexico. The early settlers were sheep herders and there is a weaving tradition in some communities. Heading north the traffic thins out and you are in view of some of the highest peaks of Colorado. Leadville, the highest incorporated town in the US (10,152 ft.) was founded in 1877 but first settled in 1859 during the Colorado gold rush. Instead of gold, the place became famous and wealthy based on silver deposits.
The Delaware Hotel
Leadville was booming in the 1880s and was in need of properly designed and constructed business establishments to replace the mining town ambiance that permeated the place…and still does to some degree. Three brothers, William, John and George Callaway recently of Denver, arrived in Leadville in the mid-1880s and began what must have been one of the earliest attempts at urban renewal. There were about 25,000 people living in Leadville at the time and the brothers were very much interested in making a profit from the folks working in the mines.
The brothers first went to work building commercial space…the two-story Callaway Block on Harrison Avenue. Next, they started on the Delaware Hotel on the corner of Seventh and Harrison (named after their home state) and it was completed in 1886 at the substantial cost of $60,000. The first floor was reserved for commercial space with hotel rooms on the two upper floors. George King, the architect for much of the building boom, favored the then popular Second Empire style with ornamentation and mansard roofs. King also designed the Grand Tabor Hotel in a very similar style across the street from the Delaware.
When I made reservations I asked for a room with antique furnishings…why not? When I checked in I had a two-room suite that would have slept seven people. My four-poster bed was high enough that I would have injured myself if I fell out of bed. It was, indeed, furnished with some impressive antique furniture. The second room had a couple iron-frame beds and a nice writing desk. There was a walk-through bathroom connecting the two rooms.
The hotel is entered off Seventh Street. The lobby has a grand staircase leading up to the guest rooms. Antiques are everywhere. There is a breakfast room off the lobby through an arched alcove. At the other end of the lobby is a small 1880ish bar for serving drinks and a seating area. There is some commercial space further toward the Harrison Avenue entrance. Upstairs there is a broad hallway leading to the guest rooms with space designed for seating and more 1880 period furnishings. The place has been modernized a little but still has the feel of a grand hotel in mining country of the 1880s.
The hotel offers a continental breakfast in the breakfast room each morning. You can smell the coffee brewing in your room. I was happily impressed with the place and would have stayed there again on my way home but it was booked up thanks to a major mountain bike event. Leadville, and most of Colorado it seems, is mountain bike country. Those biker folks look healthy but scrawny.
Conveniently located across the street from the Delaware Hotel, a thirsty traveler will discover the Periodic Brewery – as in Pb, the designation for lead on the Periodic Table of Elements. You must be a little bit geeky at his elevation. In fact, the Periodic Brewery is the highest elevation craft brewery in the world, they tell me. The place was popular, the beer was good, and my pulled-pork sandwich was good. The brewery is small and only had four beers on tap and ran out of two of them while I was there. Get there early. The staff was not the friendliest I’ve met but they seemed like they were finding more beer in the back room when the two taps ran dry. Maybe they were stressed out…the next weekend was going to be busy with thirsty bikers. Actually, drinking a lot of beer at over 10,000 feet of elevation is not a good plan and it is good that the Delaware Hotel is just across the street. You can get there.
So, all in all the trip was enjoyable. Steamboat Springs was pleasant and cooler although fishing was not as good as I’d hoped. Summer in Colorado is a little too crowded for my liking but that’s because I live in New Mexico. I’m not a skier but I imagine it is more crowded during ski season.
* * *
Sometime around 1085 people started moving north along the great road coming out of the desert. Eventually they arrived on the banks of the Animas and San Juan Rivers near present day Aztec New Mexico. We don’t know what they called the rivers or how they called themselves but we can be sure they probably came from the south, from the Chaco Canyon cultural centers or outposts about eighty miles to the south. We also don’t know what motivated their journey. Were they sent north by some authority to establish satellite communities? Did they follow a respected leader? Were they escaping overcrowding or shortages at Chaco? These people had a culture based on a strong religion, living in established towns, impressive and durable stone construction, farming, and efficient utilization of natural resources. They were essentially farmers who grew corn, beans and squash. They supplemented their diet with wild game and maybe some domesticated animals like turkeys, and gathered other wild plant resources like wild nuts and berries. They knew when and where to find wild food — not much was left to chance. They seemed to have a society that favored symmetry and balance in all things.
The people went to work building a new community. The first thing the built was a kiva for religious ceremonies. After that they began building walls and rooms and more kivas. By the time they were done, thirty years after their arrival, they had an impressive communal great house of over 400 rooms and three stories high enclosing a central plaza and a great kiva. During these years of construction, they also farmed, traded, and hunted. The logs for construction had to be cut and carried many miles from the mountains. The ground had to be prepared and stones had to be carried and arranged in a distinctive Chaco style of construction. Today it is easy to distinguish the precise early Chaco style masonry from the cobbled Mesa Verde style used for later additions. A green stone band was laid along one main wall.
There were several large pueblos or great houses here at Aztec. There are seven within about two miles. One sits unexcavated only a few hundred feet to the east and others are scattered nearby. The earliest settlement is a short distance to the north on higher ground and sits on the ancient road heading north out of Chaco Canyon. Some theories hold that conditions were bad enough at Chaco Canyon that the local leaders hoped to establish a “new Chaco” at the Aztec location. Like the buildings and great houses at Chaco Canyon, the Aztec great house is aligned with the rising and setting sun on the summer and winter solstice.
The people living here survived maybe six generations or more but were pretty much gone by the year 1300. The all-important balance seemed to be out of control due to a persistent drought that disrupted the food supply and may have brought famine and conflict. There is some evidence that it was abandoned and then reoccupied for a while by people from Mesa Verde. Some scholars theorize that the Aztec great house people moved away because of the climate change and that some may have eventually ended up at Casas Grandes in northern Mexico while others moved to Mesa Verde and then into the Rio Grande Valley.
We don’t know a great deal about these people from the south but they left us many clues when they moved away. The buildings and much of their material culture was left behind as artifacts of their daily life. The site was located by looters in the 1880s and literally mined for artifacts. Organized and systematic excavation took place in the 1920s. In the 1930s the National Park Service restored and recreated the great kiva as it once existed 800 years ago. Archaeological science, theories, and techniques have made great strides since the 1920s and there is still work being carried out adding to the knowledge base. I first visited fifteen years ago and the information about the people and the site has improved and advanced in that time.
Some of the rooms in the ruin remain intact and never collapsed. The ceiling is 800 years old. There’s a woven reed screen still hanging in a doorway. The rooms had nichos for storage or possibly religious purposes. Most of the masonry at the site is original, probably 90%. Some modern repairs were made and also some minor efforts at stabilization and to provide access. The log beams protruding from the walls are original and date to as early as 1085. In some places there are remnants of the original roof material clinging to the beams.
The great kiva is a reconstruction from the 1930s and unique in that it is surrounded by fifteen small rooms. The walls are painted according to colored plaster found in the original collapsed building. The ceiling weighs 90 tons.
Of course, the name is misleading. The Aztecs never lived here and these people were already gone when the Aztecs first settled Tenochtitlan in Mexico. It is possible, even likely, that trade routes connected people as far south as Yucatan to those living in the Mesa Verde/Chaco region at various times for different trade items.
Perhaps, dear reader, you have visited Aztec Ruins National Monument or wish to. It is in northwest New Mexico at the town of Aztec near Farmington and some distance south of Durango, Colorado.
* * *
Discovering Places, 2017
Wondering out loud…What are your thoughts on Albuquerque’s possible a new “iconic” high-rise building downtown?
In late February, the City of Albuquerque Metropolitan Redevelopment Agency released a RFP labeled as “Skyline Competition for the Tallest Building in New Mexico”. The two available locations are two acres at 400 4th St. NW and one acre at 101 Silver St. SW.
Project Goals (from the RFP)
The following goals have been established for the Project:
- Iconic and Skyline Defining Building. The City desires the development to include the tallest building in New Mexico. In order to accomplish this goal, the City encourages proposals that include at least one building at a minimum of 360 feet in height. The ideal development should include one of the most monumentally designed buildings in New Mexico. The project should redefine the Albuquerque skyline and cement Downtown Albuquerque as the business and activity center of the region. The result of the development should be an easily identifiable and visually striking building that becomes identifiable and synonymous with Downtown Albuquerque. As such, a high level of design, fitting of a modern urban city, is paramount. Any redevelopment project should take into account the urban nature of the Subject Site(s) and develop a design that contextually fits into the environment (i.e. multi-story buildings, minimal setbacks, hidden parking and service entrances, interaction with the public realm, etc.). Access points and connection routes to existing facilities, such as Civic Plaza, the Convention Center, the Imperial Building, the Alvarado Transportation Center, and Casitas de Colores should be identified and enhanced.
- Vitality. The Subject Sites are located in the heart of Downtown Albuquerque, and as such, should contribute to the activity, energy and excitement associated with such an area.
Subject Site A is positioned directly across from Civic Plaza, the Albuquerque Convention Center and the City of Albuquerque and Bernalillo County Government Center. Redevelopment proposals should build off the activity that occurs between these locations and throughout the greater Downtown area. Efforts should be made to enhance the pedestrian pathways and the physical interaction the built environment has with the pedestrian realm. The proposed development should not just occupy the location, but stimulate the vitality of the greater area.
Subject Site B is located between the Alvarado Transportation Center and the recently completed Imperial Building, which includes a grocery store and multiple retail shops and restaurants on the ground level and residential above. The immediate surrounding area has seen recent increases in residential housing density, in addition to the commercial and transit uses. Any redevelopment should recognize these activity nodes and their relationships with one another, as well as the interaction with the larger Downtown network. Efforts should be made for any development to engage and enhance the existing activity of the area. A Private Subject Site that is being proposed for the redevelopment should take into consideration the context of the immediate surrounding environment and the greater downtown area. Any redevelopment should create a positive impact and add to the life and excitement of the downtown community.
- Catalytic Economic Redevelopment. The proposed redevelopment should be of such quality that it adds and integrates into the Downtown community and catalyzes economic growth and redevelopment, which could include, but is not limited to office, residential, hospitality, entertainment and retail, in the surrounding area.
- Contribute to the Goals Outlined in the Downtown 2025 Plan. The Downtown 2025 Plan serves as the Sector Development Plan and the MR Plan for the Downtown core. The goal of the Plan is “to make Downtown Albuquerque the best mid-sized downtown in the USA.” Any redevelopment proposal should work to meet this goal and achieve the specific initiatives described in the plan, as further discussed in paragraph E, below.
- Experience. The project team shall be experienced and professional with a demonstrated expertise and track record in the development of high rise buildings and complex real estate development projects in urban environments.
- Parking. The redevelopment of any Subject Site should provide enough off-street parking to meet the parking demand of that Subject Site. Additionally, Subject Site A currently has 212 off-street parking spaces, and any redevelopment proposal for Subject Site A should, at minimum, retain the 212 spaces in addition to providing enough off-street parking to meet the parking demand of Subject Site A.
You can find the RFP here: http://www.cabq.gov/planning/metropolitan-redevelopment-agency/request-for-proposals
There is also this recent Biz Journal article: http://www.bizjournals.com/albuquerq…te-iconic.html
* * *
The selected proposal is Symphony Tower…
The latest….March, 2018
The project has been scrapped by the new mayor Keller. It was a boondoggle of sorts. If anyone has seen his message on the state of city revenue compared to the high cost of maintaining and repairing the city and hiring police officers and other personnel one would wonder what the old mayor was thinking.