Hinojos House being remodeled
ON MARCH 22, SANTA FE’S HISTORIC DISTRICTS REVIEW BOARD GAVE A FINAL OK to John Wolf ’s restoration plans for the Francisca Hinojos House. The historic adobe building on East Palace Avenue was severely damaged by a fire, and unfortunately also by firefighters’ high-pressure water hoses, in early February 2013. After sitting open to the weather for more than two years, it is rather amazing that the hulk was still salvageable, but Wolf is enthusiastically anticipating the end result.
“Today we’re jacking up that whole front bay window and restoring that area and we got all the lead paint off. We are doing beautiful things. My wife is so excited about living here,” the well-known local contractor said on March 8. “I think that Santa Fe needs a story of revitalization and breathing life into the dead. Because that building was totally dead, man. The amount of destruction was catastrophic.”
The house was the victim of an arsonist, although no arrest has yet been made.
The Hinojos House was designed and constructed by itinerant French artisans who were brought here from Louisiana by Archbishop Jean-Baptiste Lamy to build the Cathedral of St. Francis of Assisi, according to Old Santa Fe Today. Although constructed of adobe in typical early Santa Fe fashion, its exterior design is reminiscent of Louisiana’s architecture during French occupation.
The distinctive elements were a terne-plate roof, a wonderful bay window that was fortunately untouched by the fire, and a wealth of white-painted woodwork, including the pedimented doors and windows, a wrap-around portál with carved balustrade, and the bay window under a projecting cornice with brackets and modillions.
The fire claimed much of the inside wood and furnishings. “The trim of the interior doors, windows, and Territorial fireplaces,” as described in the book Old Santa Fe Today, “typifies the period when craftsmen excelled in imitating such grained woods as mahogany, oak, and bird’s-eye maple, in this case on woodwork of native pine.”
The property was acquired at intervals between 1856 and 1872 by Doña Francisca Hinojos. In 1887, she bequeathed it to her son, Don Alfredo Hinojos, a prominent political figure, who was the organist at the cathedral for almost 50 years. Lois Field bought the house in the late 1940s and worked with artist/builder Agnes Sims on a renovation and remodel. Before its purchase in late 2015 by John and Marybeth Wolf, the property was held by a trust set up by Field’s mother, Martha Field, and managed by First National Bank. (William Magee “Bill” Field, Martha’s grandson and a Santa Fe Living Treasure, had one of the offices that the blaze destroyed in the house.)
The Hinojos House is plaqued by the Historic Santa Fe Foundation and is on the State Register of Cultural Properties. In the city, it is classified as an important “contributing structure” in the historic district. The casita, which was the kitchen for the Hinojos residence, and the garage also have “contributing” status; they were not harmed by the fire.
Because the city prizes buildings in the downtown-area historic district, almost every change proposed by owners must be approved by the Historic Districts Review Board (the “H-Board” colloquially). A few months after the fire, the Field trust was granted approvals to stockpile extant historic materials at the Hinojos property for reuse, to shore up the damaged structure, and subsequently to fully restore the building.
But it wasn’t that simple. A year ago, Bill Field told The New Mexican that the insurance settlement was not enough for
the owners to restore the house. And on April 28, 2015, the H-Board had to rule on a motion by First National Bank of Santa Fe to demolish it. One of the most dramatic statements heard by the board that night came from engineer William Druc, who was hired by the trust after the fire. “This building was the scene of a crime— there was an arson there,” Druc said. “And I hope there is not another crime here tonight by voting to demolish that building.”
The H-Board unanimously rejected the request for demolition.
Looking at the issues Preservationists were relieved to hear that the house would be restored, although some have been nervous about some of the details of the project. Wasn’t some of the original portál salvageable? What about that distinctive roof? And what about the other bay window that was on the house’s east side?
Catherine Fletcher-Leriche, the architect working with Wolf, wrote in a letter to the board that 65 to 75 percent of the porch structure was missing on the west side, and most on the south (front) suffered extensive fire damage. The damage by both fire and firefighters to the area of the east bay window [which was in any case probably a non-historic late addition to the house] was also severe. She added that “not a single full-length [metal roof] panel remained since the ridge of the building was opened up to help fight the fire.”
In a March 22 interview, Leriche said, “When you are restoring a building, there’s a line in the code that says if it’s more than 30 percent destroyed, you can replace it. That’s a very difficult measurement. If you look at the whole portál, I’d say less than 30 percent was salvageable, but if you look at the individual pieces, such as the balustrades, there were certainly some that were salvageable and some of them have been saved. We have the framing for the windows and some framing from the doors that have been documented and drawn. And fromthe portál we have pictures and a post and examples of balustrades that will be rebuilt in kind.”
Replacing the terne roof with a similar material is almost impossible. Terne roofs were made of steel sheets that had been dipped in a lead/tin (and later zinc/tin) alloy. The Historic Santa Fe Foundation found a company in West Virginia that was still producing terne sheets for its 2011 roof project on the Felipe Delgado House, but that company no longer has the product. The material is still available in Mexico, according to David Rasch, the city’s historic preservation officer.
Wolf, who found “puddles of lead the size of 5-gallon buckets on the ground from the fire,” said, “There is still a process we could go through, but this is not a federal pork-belly restoration. I have limited funds. The height of my seams will be the same size and I will paint it red when I’m done, so it will look similar.”
His crews were rebuilding walls with new adobe bricks and using cement mortar. “We have to, because it’s not warm enough to lay down mud mortar,” Wolf said. “I like to lay in mud, but it’s so cold at night that it doesn’t cure.” Asked about the rule that you’re not supposed to mix earthen and cement materials, he replied, “I’ve done it a thousand times. It’s fine, it really is.”
Moving ahead On March 22, the whole project passed official muster. “The H-Board granted Wolf the exception to remove historic material with the understanding that he’s going to replace it all in kind,” Rasch said. “That project is now basically ready to go.”
In the second week of March, Wolf ’s workers were busy stabilizing the extant adobe walls. “These walls and foundations were sprayed directly by fire hoses. We’re trying to get things stabilized and we’re trying to get a continuous bond beam run across the top to try to stiffen those walls up. Once I get the second-story floor down, which will be the roof of the first floor, that will tie those downstairs walls together.
That’s critical. We have to keep knitting this building back together.”
Wolf was enthusiastic about the fact that he had salvaged burnt lumber from the roof joists and was having it re-milled to use on the restoration window trim, stairs, and cabinets.
At the site on March 10, he pointed to the garage’s simple pediments, which contrast with the more complex carved pediments from the house. “In 1950, Lois Field hired Agnes Sims to do a renovation, and they tickled it up. They added fireplaces and fancy woodwork and put in a wood floor. This was a very humble house with humble federal pediment details, as sweet as it could be. Itwas just four rooms. They broke it up into about 10 little rooms. I’m going back to four big rooms.”
Richard Romero, who has been with Wolf Corporation for 15 years, was working on the inside of the front bay element, which had already been stripped of its leadbased paint. He was adding pieces of the salvaged old-growth wood fromthe joists into chinks of the bay’s limestone-block foundation, plumbing and leveling it.
Twelve days later, Wolf was irritated that the project had to go before the H-Board that evening, but his enthusiasm was still obvious. “We have poured the bond beam. Those three or four backbones are done, so I’ve stabilized the top of the walls. Now I’m going to stabilize at the base the next two weeks, then you’re going to see the framing go up.”
Where is he getting the money for all this work? “It’s self-generated,” said. “It’s lean and mean and I’m putting my heart and soul into it. This is going to be an awesome building.”
The Francisca Hinojos House in 2011. Right, John Wolf at the front door of the burned structure in March
An architectural rendering shows the wrought-iron fence to be built near the front of the property
A Wolf Corporation employee works on the front bay window
The west side of the Hinojos House being restored after a February 2013 fire