Art of Space

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO - Paul Wei­de­man

Paul Wei­de­man ex­plores the his­tory of La Posada

In a way, La Posada de Santa Fe — one of the city’s most lux­u­ri­ous ho­tels — has pulled off a rather bizarre cam­ou­flage act. A rear cor­ner of the 1882 house is vis­i­ble from La Posada’s pa­tio restau­rant, but from the front, you have to step back on Palace Av­enue to see the old Staab House pop­ping up from the 20th-cen­tury build­ing ad­di­tions.

The home of Abra­ham and Ju­lia Staab was built as a lav­ishly Euro­pean al­ter­na­tive to the dom­i­nant adobe-look par­a­digm. De­signed in the French Sec­ond Em­pire style, it had brick walls with quoins (ma­sonry blocks set along the cor­ners of walls), or­nate win­dow hoods, a green mansard roof (a two-slope roof, the lower slope close to ver­ti­cal) with dorm­ers, and a widow’s walk balustraded with or­nate cast-iron crest­ing. It is not known if the mansard roof was shin­gled in slate, as was gen­er­ally the cus­tom. A 1924 fire de­stroyed it, along with the en­tire third story. The heavy, brack­eted cor­nice that had formed the base of the mansard roof then be­came the eave of the new roof.

The ar­chi­tec­tural com­po­si­tion was rig­or­ously sym­met­ri­cal. On the house’s front face, be­low the mansard-roofed third floor, was a cen­tered porch with a roof balustrade and a tall dou­ble win­dow above it. Flank­ing th­ese were stacked dou­ble win­dows in pro­ject­ing, quoin-bor­dered bays.

The his­toric front en­trance is well in­side the build­ing now: The door into the orig­i­nal house, with its front porch, yard, and wrought-iron fence, was well back from the street. To­day, much of La Posada’s fa­cade comes right to the side­walk — an in­di­ca­tion of the value of this real es­tate.

The story of the house be­gins in 1854, when fif­teenyear-old Abra­ham Staab im­mi­grated to Amer­ica and trav­eled on the Santa Fe Trail to the town that would be­come his home. Af­ter work­ing for a year for the mer­chant Solomon Spiegel­berg, Staab and Zadoc, his older brother, opened a dry goods busi­ness. It would grow into the largest whole­sale trad­ing and mer­chan­dis­ing en­ter­prise in the South­west, ac­cord­ing to Old Santa Fe: The Story of New Mex­ico’s An­cient Cap­i­tal , by Ralph Emer­son Twitchell.

The store of­fered just about ev­ery­thing that any­one could want. An 1873 ad­ver­tise­ment placed by Z. Staab & Co. in The Daily New Mex­i­can lists “do­mes­tic and fancy dry goods,” cloth­ing, gro­ceries, hard­ware, liquor, tobacco and cigars, “queensware,” farm­ing im­ple­ments, min­ing sup­plies, patent medicines, and “Yan­kee no­tions.” The busi­ness ul­ti­mately ex­panded to oc­cupy four large store­fronts on the Santa Fe Plaza.

In 1865, Abra­ham went back to Ger­many and met and mar­ried Ju­lia Schus­ter. Back in Santa Fe, they lived in a small adobe house in Burro Al­ley. Ju­lia’s prob­a­ble dis­may at be­ing trans­ported to such a

hum­ble res­i­den­tial cir­cum­stance “with her sil­ver soup tureens, her fish knives, and her cake ser­vices” is de­scribed by her great-great-grand­daugh­ter, the jour­nal­ist Hannah Nord­haus, in her book Amer­i­can Ghost: The True Story of a Fam­ily’s Haunted Past . Th­ese mud houses “were dark in­side, their in­te­rior walls white­washed with a chalky dust that rubbed off on any­one who leaned against them, the beds rolled up dur­ing the day to pro­vide seat­ing for vis­i­tors.”

One of the Staabs’ friends was Arch­bishop Jean Bap­tiste Lamy, who, be­gin­ning in 1869, was in­volved in a grand build­ing project: the Cathe­dral of St. Fran­cis of As­sisi. From some­time in 1878 un­til early 1880, Lamy and Abra­ham Staab headed the ef­fort to get a rail­road spur laid when the Atchi­son, Topeka & Santa Fe Rail­way sta­tioned at Lamy on the way to Al­bu­querque, by­pass­ing Santa Fe.

In 1881, Staab pur­chased a six-acre lot about a thou­sand feet east of the cathe­dral site. Through their build­ing projects, the two men “strove, side by side, to im­pose a Euro­pean sense of or­der on their adopted city,” ac­cord­ing to Nord­haus. With the help of some Kansas City ma­sons, lent by Atchi­son, Topeka & Santa Fe Rail­road cronies, and with de­sign ad­vice from ar­chi­tect S.B. Wheeler, Staab erected his rich domi­cile. Brick, mar­ble, and ma­hogany were trans­ported by steamer, wagon train, and rail­road.

Staab ap­pears not to have sym­pa­thized with the na­tive New Mex­ico aes­thetic of blend­ing house and land. More like the op­po­site: This was a struc­ture “that taunted the land around it.” And, in fact, the 1882 house was built within a brief pe­riod dur­ing which the French Sec­ond Em­pire style was very much in vogue in Santa Fe. Im­por­tant build­ings tak­ing in­spi­ra­tion from this Vic­to­rian-style vari­ant in­cluded St. Michael’s Col­lege (1878), Loretto Academy (1880), the St. Vin­cent Sana­to­rium (1880), and the Palace Ho­tel (1881).

All four of those had mansard roofs, and all are gone — ex­cept for the lower two floors of the col­lege build­ing. Like the Staab house, its top story was de­stroyed by fire; what’s left is to­day’s Lamy Build­ing. Santa Fe does have two other houses with mansard roofs from the pe­riod, although nei­ther was done in the Sec­ond Em­pire style: the Hayt-Wientge Man­sion on Paseo de la Cuma (1882) and the Philip Hesch House on Read Street (late 1880s).

The fire that al­tered the Staab res­i­dence wasn’t the only de­struc­tive force that day in 1924. Wa­ter used to ex­tin­guish the flames also ru­ined “Ori­en­tal car­pets, lace and damask cur­tains, ta­pes­try-cov­ered di­vans, [and] Vene­tian glass chan­de­liers.” The sub­se­quent own­ers of the house erased its brick char­ac­ter. First, L.E. El­liot painted the red brick a cream color, then R.H. Na­son plas­tered them with stucco — ap­par­ently thickly enough to hide all ev­i­dence of the quoins. The Na­sons were the own­ers who turned it into a ho­tel and added adobe ca­sitas, com­plete with latil­las-on­vi­gas ceil­ings.

In 1998, La Posada was ac­quired by Rock­Re­sorts. It is now owned by The Luxury Col­lec­tion Ho­tels & Re­sorts — a brand within Star­wood Ho­tels and Re­sorts World­wide, Inc., which is head­quar­tered in Stam­ford, Con­necti­cut. Guests can stay in Ju­lia’s room or in one of the other three rooms in the old house. The rest of La Posada’s 157 guest rooms are in 25 other build­ings on the prop­erty.

Ac­cord­ing to a 2008 his­tory writ­ten for the ho­tel by Bar­bara Har­rel­son, Staab House has no his­toric des­ig­na­tion in the city be­cause of the man­ner of its restora­tion af­ter the fire. But it re­mains charm­ing in­side. From the lobby, it’s a few mar­ble steps up to the Rose Room, with its mar­ble fire­place and “dou­bled” crown mold­ings: The wood mold­ings along the tops of the walls are echoed in par­al­lel runs of ceil­ing­mounted wood­work. Here and in the li­brary, there are gor­geous par­quet and mar­quetry floors. Other el­e­gant touches in­clude a splen­did stair­case with ma­hogany handrails and balus­ters and dec­o­ra­tive bronze hinges on some of the doors.

An apri­cot tree out­side is an­other trea­sured ar­ti­fact from the 19th cen­tury. Bishop Lamy, who was re­port­edly a dear friend of Ju­lia Staab’s, helped her plant it.

Top, Staab House, shortly be­fore the third story burned in 1924, from Amer­i­can Ghost , by Hannah Nord­haus, cour­tesy HarperCollins; bot­tom, af­ter the fire, cour­tesy La Posada Re­sort and Spa

The elab­o­rate newel at the base of Staab House’s mar­ble and ma­hogany stair­case; top left, Staab House sprouts up among La Posada’s 20th­cen­tury ad­di­tions; bot­tom, from left, a de­tail of Staab House’s li­brary floor; an or­na­men­tal door hinge

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