“Beau­ti­ful and dis­tinc­tive”

The story of MoCNA’s build­ing

Pasatiempo - - NEWS -

The Mu­seum of Con­tem­po­rary Na­tive Arts, an in­ter­na­tion­ally sig­nif­i­cant venue show­ing daz­zling new works by artists from through­out Na­tive North America, is housed in Santa Fe’s old post of­fice build­ing. The down­town mu­seum is a cen­ter of the In­sti­tute of Amer­i­can In­dian Arts. Un­like the city’s other ma­jor build­ings de­signed in the Span­ish-Pue­blo Re­vival style — ar­chi­tect Isaac Rapp’s 1917 New Mex­ico Mu­seum of Art and 1920 La Fonda, and John Gaw Meem’s 1930 Lab­o­ra­tory of An­thro­pol­ogy, for ex­am­ple — the post of­fice boasts a to­tally sym­met­ri­cal fa­cade. In the cen­ter, twin tow­ers flank a peaked para­pet above three ver­ti­cal win­dows, and, on the first floor, three door-shaped open­ings in the mas­sive en­try struc­ture. Ex­tend­ing out from this on both sides are long por­tales, each one punc­tu­ated by eight posts and 22 pro­ject­ing vi­gas.

The post of­fice was de­signed by Louis A. Si­mon. (The cor­ner­stone on East Palace Av­enue con­tains a ref­er­ence to James Wet­more, but he was not its cre­ator, merely an of­fi­cial with the old Of­fice of the Su­per­vis­ing Ar­chi­tect in Wash­ing­ton, D.C.) Af­ter a post­pone­ment be­cause of World War I, the build­ing project was much an­tic­i­pated in the town. On Nov. 22, 1919 — about five months af­ter the Treaty of Ver­sailles — The Santa Fe New

Mex­i­can ran a full page of pho­to­graphs un­der the head­ing, “Beau­ti­ful and Dis­tinc­tive Ar­chi­tec­ture Makes Santa Fe ‘City Dif­fer­ent.’ ” It spoke of a mil­lion­dol­lar city im­prove­ment cam­paign that in­cluded a new $250,000 ho­tel (La Fonda), the paving of the en­tire busi­ness district, and the new post of­fice.

On Jan. 30, 1921, the news­pa­per pub­lished a re­pro­duc­tion of a paint­ing by Rapp as­so­ci­ate A.C. Hen­drick­son of the planned build­ing. The cap­tion in­formed read­ers that the paint­ing “gives a strik­ing idea of the con­cep­tion Mr. Hen­drick­son, at the re­quest of The New

Mex­i­can, has worked out from the govern­ment plans.” The post of­fice opened at the be­gin­ning of April 1922.

Forty years later, the United States Post Of­fice De­part­ment moved the post of­fice to its present lo­ca­tion on Fed­eral Place. For nearly three decades there­after, the down­town build­ing pro­vided of­fice space for the U.S. In­ter­nal Rev­enue Ser­vice and other fed­eral agen­cies. In 1990, IAIA ac­quired the old build­ing for its mu­seum and be­gan a ma­jor in­te­rior re­model — in­clud­ing a $103,000 project to re­move as­bestos. The mu­seum opened on June 21, 1992.

The grow­ing col­lec­tion of art lim­ited the mu­seum’s avail­able ex­hi­bi­tion space to about 4,000 square feet, but in 2010 it was re­lo­cated to a ded­i­cated stor­age fa­cil­ity in the new Sci­ence and Tech­nol­ogy Build­ing on the IAIA cam­pus. Af­ter the move, IAIA be­gan a ren­o­va­tion of a sec­ond-floor space that would boost the mu­seum’s ex­hi­bi­tion space by nearly one-third. On Fri­day, Aug. 21, MoCNA opens its new Kieve Fam­ily Gallery, named af­ter IAIA board of trus­tees chair­man Loren Kieve.

View of MoCNA’s fa­cade and col­umns; top, spi­ral stair­case lead­ing to roof

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