A secret little hideaway
Back when Garcia Street was but a dusty lane on the edge of town, where goats and chickens roamed with impunity, a wealthy lawyer and former suffragette named AnnWebster came to Santa Fe. It was about 1930 andWebster had escaped Chicago to regain her respiratory health, like many northern urbanites at the time, in sunny New Mexico.
Once recovered, Webster began to envision a reasonably priced community for artists, writers and single women seeking quiet and inspiration. In 1932, she bought a hilly tract at 634 Garcia Street and began construction on about 25 large and small adobe residences and studios separated by patios, placitas and jardines. Members of the Garcia family who had sold her the land were hired to build the compound, providing valuable jobs during the Great Depression.
Santa Fe, especially its Eastside, has a reputation for such compounds. Some were developed by the members of Hispanic families who added dwellings as needed, while others were made from scratch by Anglos newly arrived from elsewhere. TheWebster compound is among the oldest and largest in Santa Fe.
“Our unit was a bit seedy at the time, but it was exactly what we were looking for,” says John Sayler, who purchased a one-bedroom, 800-square-foot unit with his wife in 1983. “It is such a secret little hideaway.” The Saylers later bought two more units, and all three open onto a private placita. Caroline Sayler wrote “TheWebster Compound,” which was a valuable source for this article.
Among celebrity residents was Norwegian adventurer Thor Heyerdahl, who wrote Kon-Tiki while reportedly staying in #11, aka the Roundhouse, in the late 1940s. And then there was the native and somewhat notorious New Mexican Betty Stewart, who later built unique homes in the area. Early on, the story goes, Stewart held such wild parties at the compound that guests could be found sleeping in the parking area the next morning.
Others were highly protective of the compound. After AnnWebster bequeathed her own spacious home to the League ofWomen Voters, the League unwittingly offered to sell it to theArthur Murray Dance Studio. Imagining an influx of dancers learning the polka and foxtrot, the residents had a fit. Once the matter went to the City Council, the League’s plans were nixed.
Santa Fe native and licensed contractor Ed Crocker credits the compound with providing his first contact with adobe. As a child, he shared tiny #8 with his parents and older sister— in his account, “Garcia Street: Adventures in Adobe,” he describes “an adobe compound, in the classic Santa Fe sense. The units sprawled away from the street, accessible by a narrow, dirt driveway. Some of the apartments had been converted from goat pens for human use.
While many if not all of the residences — and goat pens— have been bought, sold, remodeled, combined and expanded numerous times in the past 83 years, the spirit and beauty of AnnWebster’s legacy clearly live on. Admired for her generosity and kindness, she died in 1942 at the age of 64.
Rebecca Clay is a Realtor with Evolve Santa Fe Real Estate. She can be reached at 505-629-6043 or rebecca@evolvesantafe. com.