When the cir­cus came to town

Pasatiempo - - Onstage This Week -

Along the east walls of Alvord Ele­men­tary School on Alarid Street stands a col­or­ful re­minder of the way we were — a painted de­pic­tion of sim­pler days when Fi­es­tas de Santa Fe floats were fash­ioned from horse­drawn bug­gies or mounted on the flat beds of new­fan­gled mo­tor­ized car­riages.

Chil­dren from the Guadalupe neigh­bor­hood around what are now known as Hickox Street and Paseo de Per­alta gath­ered at the Santa Fe rail­road de­pot to watch loaded train cars roll to a steam­bil­low­ing stop on the nar­row-gauge tracks. Nearby, their el­ders prayed for their safety at the San­tu­ario de Guadalupe. Back then, time seemed to move a lit­tle slower— un­less, of course, the cir­cus was in town.

Com­pleted in 1995 af­ter six weeks of sten­cil­ing, sketch­ing, and paint­ing, the mu­ral at Alvord Ele­men­tary School was funded by the Santa Fe Arts Com­mis­sion’s Com­mu­nity Youth Mu­ral pro­gram as part of an anti-graf­fiti push by the city and then-mayor Debbie Jaramillo. It was painted by nine artists be­tween the ages of 16 and 18 un­der the di­rec­tion of Chrissie Orr and Ken Wolver­ton. Along with some of the young artists and fig­ures from New Mex­ico his­tory, Orr and Wolver­ton ap­pear in a sec­tion of the mu­ral de­voted to the cir­cus.

To cre­ate the mu­ral, Orr, who re­ceived a 2009 Mayor’s Recog­ni­tion Award for Ex­cel­lence in the Arts and in­cor­po­rates oral his­tory into much of her work, gath­ered pho­to­graphs and col­lected sto­ries from older res­i­dents in the neigh­bor­hood along with­Wolver­ton, New Mex­ico writer/his­to­rian Or­lando Romero, and CCA Teen Project (now known asWare­house 21) di­rec­tor Ana Gal­le­gos y Rein­hardt, whose fa­ther, for­mer New Mex­ico se­na­tor and pugilism afi­cionado Ralph “Sabu” Gal­le­gos, also ap­pears in the mu­ral’s cir­cus panel— he sits with knees raised, wear­ing a pur­plish shirt, to the far left.

One of the re­cur­ring themes in the sto­ries col­lected by the mu­ral team was the ar­rival of the cir­cus to the area in the 1930s. Ac­cord­ing to el­derly res­i­dents in­ter­viewed in the mid-’90s, can­vasand-pole work­ers, acro­bats, cir­cus freaks, for­tunetellers, clowns, and other per­form­ers pulled into the Santa Fe rail­road de­pot and then made the short trek by ele­phant, car­riage, horse, or foot to a flat sec­tion of land west of the de­pot, where the school now stands. Once there, they would set up camp, tem­po­rary an­i­mal stables and feed troughs, and a per­for­mance tent.

Richard Roy­bal, 84, a long­time Santa Fe res­i­dent and re­tired car­pen­ter who lived in the neigh­bor­hood and then worked near the Santa Fe rail­road de­pot, also re­called an oc­ca­sional “ad­vance car” pulling into the sta­tion to an­nounce an up­com­ing show. As quickly as the cir­cus had come to town, he told Pasatiempo, it would pack up and head off to the next stop on the tour.

With the ex­cep­tion of the un­recorded oral his­to­ries col­lected by Orr and the rest of the mu­ral team, lit­tle ev­i­dence about the cir­cus com­ing to Santa Fe— and set­ting up camp dur­ing the ’30s on what is to­day the site of Alvord Ele­men­tary— can be found in state or uni­ver­sity li­braries or of­fi­cial New Mex­ico archives. Ac­cord­ing to Orr, the fam­ily of Santa Fe gallery owner Rey Món­tez— and specif­i­cally his fa­ther, san­tero Ra­mon Món­tez — re­mem­bers ele­phants and cir­cus per­form­ers parad­ing through the area in the 1930s.

The Món­tez fam­ily, which for many years has owned prop­erty be­hind Alvord Ele­men­tary School on a street that now bears the fam­ily name, has cen­turies-old roots in the Guadalupe neigh­bor­hood near the school, ac­cord­ing to a 2000 Pasatiempo story by Craig Smith. In Smith’s in­ter­view with Rey Món­tez, the gallery owner states that Ra­mon Món­tez be­gan ex­hibit­ing his work at a gallery in the Guadalupe District in 1931, when he was just 12 years old— an age at which see­ing ele­phants pass by or near your home would un­doubt­edly leave an in­deli­ble im­pres­sion.

There is ev­i­dence in The New Mex­i­can’s archives that, in early July 1930, John Robin­son’s Cir­cus made it to the area: “The John Robin­son wild an­i­mal cir­cus is just the thing for the kid­dies and it is the kind of show that calls out the old-time al­ibi that you had to go to take the kid­dies. The shows and cir­cus will all be in full swing tonight and will stay ev­ery night this week in­clud­ing Sun­day.” Robin­son’s cir­cus was well known for its trained an­i­mal show and WildWest themes. Also in 1930, Christy Bros. Big 5 Ring Cir­cus blew through Santa Fe. It was the fi­nal year for the com­pany, thanks in large part to the Great De­pres­sion and bad weather, which took their toll on the em­ploy­ees and the busi­ness it­self.

Top, When the cir­cus comes to Santa Fe, Palace Av­enue, circa 1914-1920; photo by Shel­don Par­sons; cour­tesy Palace of the Gov­er­nors (MNM/DCA), Neg­a­tive No. 191768

The Elks’ Bur­lesque Cir­cus Pa­rade, Cobb Memo­rial Photography Col­lec­tion, Cen­ter for South­west Re­search, Uni­ver­sity Li­braries, The Uni­ver­sity of New Mex­ico; Neg­a­tive No. 000-119-0703

A mu­ral painted in 1994 at Alvord Ele­men­tary School evokes mem­o­ries of cir­cuses that vis­ited Santa Fe dur­ing the late-19th and early-20th cen­turies.

Ma­bel Stark (known as the “Tiger Queen”) and her tigers

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