“Beautiful and distinctive”
The story of MoCNA’s building
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