The Art of Space Paul Wei­de­man probes some re­cent de­ci­sions by the His­toric Districts Re­view Board

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO - Paul Wei­de­man


The Fran­cisca Hi­no­jos House at the cor­ner of East Palace Av­enue and Martinez Street was built in about 1885 by French ar­ti­sans whom Arch­bishop Lamy brought from Louisiana for his St. Fran­cis Cathe­dral project. One of the city’s pre-Santa Fe Style gems, the house was se­verely dam­aged by fire — and the top sec­tions of some adobe walls were eroded by high-pres­sure fire hoses — in Fe­bru­ary 2013. More than two years later, a move by trustee First Na­tional Bank of Santa Fe to de­mol­ish it was quashed by the His­toric Districts Re­view Board. Late last win­ter, the city’s His­toric Preser­va­tion Divi­sion staff gave con­trac­tor John Wolf, who had pur­chased the house, ad­min­is­tra­tive ap­proval to re­build its dam­aged por­tions “in-kind.”

“They just said, All we ask is that you make it look like it did be­fore the fire, and I said, I’ll do it,” Wolf said at the site on March 10. “I said, I’m not go­ing to do mud — I need con­crete and steel — and they said fine.” But the job was then put on the March 22 agenda of the H-Board for ap­proval of an “ex­cep­tion to re­move his­toric ma­te­ri­als.” Wolf told me that morn­ing that the city’s his­toric ap­provals process was “pure ha­rass­ment, in my book. I don’t know what I’ve done to be beaten up by the city. This was the house the H-Board fought to save, and I joined them. I said, I’m go­ing to be the fool to fix this thing up, and what do they do? They stop me from fix­ing it up.” But then, that even­ing, the board granted the ex­cep­tion and Wolf pro­ceeded with a hand­some restora­tion of the house for him­self and his wife.

Now David Rasch, head of the His­toric Preser­va­tion Of­fice, is won­der­ing, “Once you have a cer­tain ma­jor­ity of dam­age, is it still a his­toric house? That’s a very big ques­tion.” There is a dan­ger that the idea of his­toric sta­tus may be wa­tered down if a high per­cent­age of the ma­te­ri­als are new. “Ex­actly,” Rasch said in Septem­ber, “and that’s why I think the Hi­no­jos House should be down­graded to ‘non­con­tribut­ing,’ be­cause it’s no longer a his­toric build­ing.”

This case il­lu­mi­nates some of the chal­lenges that come up in Santa Fe’s his­toric dis­trict. The board’s judg­ing job is made trick­ier by sub­tle build­ing is­sues re­gard­ing authen­tic­ity. For ex­am­ple, the city code dic­tates that each build­ing “be rec­og­nized as a phys­i­cal record of its time, place, and use. Changes that cre­ate a false sense of his­tor­i­cal de­vel­op­ment, such as the ad­di­tion of con­jec­tural fea­tures or ar­chi­tec­tural ele­ments from other build­ings, shall not be un­der­taken.”

Over and above the de­tails of this dis­cus­sion, it should be stated that no one will un­der­stand the sa­cred mis­sion of the (oft-re­viled) H-Board who doesn’t also have a love for his­toric Santa Fe, with its adobe-build­ing her­itage and small, wind­ing-street neigh­bor­hoods such as those around East De Var­gas

Street, Alto Street, and Cerro Gordo Road — his­toric streetscapes with an in­ti­macy that re­lies on hum­ble build­ings and views of the sur­round­ing moun­tains. This feel­ing is as im­por­tant as the town’s dis­tinc­tive ar­chi­tec­tural pal­ette in charm­ing vis­i­tors and keep­ing down­town vi­brant. It’s all about stylis­tic con­form­ity, to a cer­tain de­gree, and it’s cer­tainly about lim­it­ing the scale and type of new build­ings in the area.

Within that area — five his­toric districts that oc­cupy about 6.25 square miles of cen­tral Santa Fe — the H-Board rules on ev­ery­thing from re­pair­ing fences and up­dat­ing win­dows to ma­jor con­struc­tion and de­mo­li­tion projects. Preser­va­tion stan­dards are ap­plied to build­ings that have been given “con­tribut­ing,” “sig­nif­i­cant,” and “land­mark” his­toric sta­tus. “The mem­bers of the board don’t rep­re­sent the city; they only take quasi-ju­di­cial ac­tion for us,” Rasch said. “The staff works for the city man­ager, but the board works for the gov­ern­ing body — the mayor and city coun­cil. The staff in­ter­prets and en­forces the city code, and we make rec­om­men­da­tions to the board.”

The His­toric Districts Re­view Board (for­merly known as the His­toric De­sign Re­view Board) con­sists of seven peo­ple who have demon­strated in­ter­est in and knowl­edge of the city’s his­toric char­ac­ter. City code spec­i­fies that there be one his­to­rian, one busi­ness owner in a his­toric dis­trict, one ar­chi­tect, one rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the con­struc­tion in­dus­try, one Old Santa Fe As­so­ci­a­tion board mem­ber, and two mem­bers-at-large.

The “bi­ble” of both staff and board is the 1957 His­toric Styles Or­di­nance, which had a name-change in 1983 to His­toric Districts Or­di­nance and then was ex­panded into the his­toric-preser­va­tion realm in 1992. “The orig­i­nal was a styles or­di­nance to keep Santa Fe ar­chi­tec­ture some­what ho­moge­nous,” said home­builder Sharon Woods, who served on the board for a to­tal of 16 years (most of that time as chair­man) be­fore be­ing re­moved, along with mem­bers Boni­fa­cio Ar­mijo and Chris­tine Mather, in a May 2015 board shakeup by Mayor Javier Gon­za­les. “There are a lot of peo­ple frus­trated who want to do more con­tem­po­rary things, which is much harder to do in the his­toric dis­trict — but I’ve al­ways felt it was im­por­tant to keep the fla­vor and the feel­ing of his­toric Santa Fe by not in­tro­duc­ing steel-and-glass high rises. We’d be an­other Al­bu­querque Old Town.

“I first got on the board in the early 1990s,” Woods said, “and we re­al­ized there was no part of the or­di­nance that pro­tects the con­tribut­ing and sig­nif­i­cant struc­tures. More and more were get­ting torn down and re­placed by build­ings that filled up the lot be­cause of the value of the real es­tate. The U.S. Depart­ment of the In­te­rior stan­dards for his­toric districts re­quire that a cer­tain per­cent­age of the build­ings in the dis­trict be con­tribut­ing or sig­nif­i­cant and our per­cent­age was start­ing to go down, and to lose that sta­tus would re­ally be dam­ag­ing. I worked with the State His­toric Preser­va­tion Divi­sion, and we wrote an or­di­nance to add to our ex­ist­ing or­di­nance and it passed the City Coun­cil.”

The scope of the H-Board’s purview can be seen in snap­shots of a hand­ful of re­cent cases: ▼ The own­ers of the com­mer­cial build­ing at 320 Paseo de Per­alta came to the board want­ing to re­place win­dows and front-court­yard paving. The build­ing dates to 1866 and 1912, and is listed as non­con­tribut­ing. Staff re­quested a his­toric-sta­tus re­view, with a pos­si­ble up­grade in mind. The board, after lis­ten­ing to tes­ti­mony dur­ing its meet­ing, voted to main­tain the non­con­tribut­ing sta­tus and ap­proved the owner’s im­prove­ments. ▼ The case of the main build­ing of the Ghost Ranch Con­fer­ence Cen­ter, 401 Old Taos High­way, was more com­pli­cated. The Pres­by­te­rian Church ap­pealed a Jan­uary 2013 H-Board de­ci­sion that the 1964 build­ing, de­signed by Philippe Regis­ter, de­serves a con­tribut­ing sta­tus, and the City Coun­cil granted the ap­peal. The El Castillo re­tire­ment cen­ter sub­se­quently had board ap­proval to de­mol­ish it and build a new fa­cil­ity, but pulled out of its pur­chase pro­posal early in 2016. In a re­cent in­ter­view, Rasch said the build­ing rep­re­sents a mod­ern­ized, in­no­va­tive take on Santa Fe Style, with Regis­ter hav­ing both pre­served and ex­panded on ele­ments of the tra­di­tional ar­chi­tec­tural vo­cab­u­lary. Like John Gaw Meem, the ar­chi­tect most iden­ti­fied with Santa Fe Style, Rasch de­fends the use of per­ma­nent ma­te­ri­als. “Why does ev­ery­thing have to be wood? Why can’t we have Corten steel pro­ject­ing vi­gas? There’s no main­te­nance prob­lem, but it still keeps the vo­cab­u­lary.”

Such sen­ti­ments fall on deaf ears for the staunch­est “de­fend­ers of the faith,” among them most of the mem­bers of the H-Board, the His­toric Santa Fe Foun­da­tion, and the Old Santa Fe As­so­ci­a­tion. In a con­ver­sa­tion ear­lier this year, OSFA mem­ber John Eddy lamented “a trend where ar­chi­tects in Santa Fe are com­pletely en­am­ored with struc­tural steel, which is very straight, slick, and easy to main­tain. But in the his­toric districts, you’re sup­posed to be build­ing with ma­te­ri­als that are com­pat­i­ble with what’s there, what’s al­ways been there, which is wood and wrought iron. Wrought iron’s out the win­dow. It used to be part of the ac­cepted ver­nac­u­lar in Santa Fe. What’s miss­ing is the hand. And peo­ple don’t come to Santa Fe to see struc­tural steel. The city is based on hand-built char­ac­ter.” ▼ The Ghost Ranch struc­ture was down­graded, but an­other prom­i­nent build­ing was just up­graded. The orig­i­nal sec­tion of Our Lady of Guadalupe’s parish of­fice, 417 Agua Fría Street, dates to the 1800s, and there’s a 1960s-era ad­di­tion on the south side. The Arch­dio­cese of Santa Fe wants to re­place the front door (on Agua Fría) and the first-floor win­dows. Rasch’s staff re­quested a sta­tus re­view, rec­om­mend­ing an up­grade from non­con­tribut­ing to sig­nif­i­cant. The board voted for the sta­tus up­grade. “Now the Arch­dio­cese can ap­peal that rul­ing, or they can ap­ply to the board for ap­proval of ex­cep­tions if their pro­posed changes could change the char­ac­ter of the build­ing,” Rasch said.

And what is the ad­van­tage for an owner of hav­ing a con­tribut­ing or sig­nif­i­cant sta­tus? It cer­tainly can cost more to go through the his­toric-re­view process and pay for spe­cific ma­te­ri­als. “There are two types of peo­ple — those who re­ally un­der­stand preser­va­tion and sup­port it, and those who see it as a bur­den,” Rasch said. “But, if your build­ing is sig­nif­i­cant or con­tribut­ing, you can use the tax-credit pro­gram to help with the cost of main­te­nance and re­pairs. And ac­cord­ing to Real­tors, houses with his­toric sta­tus have more value; they sell for higher prices.”

Home­builder Woods dis­agreed. “If some­body has a build­ing, un­less it is truly his­toric and wor­thy of preser­va­tion, I would en­cour­age him not to try an up­grade be­cause the code so much lim­its what you can do. It’s sort of the flip side of the or­di­nance. Yes, it’s great and it helps save build­ings in Santa Fe, but it also re­ally lim­its what an owner can do, pe­riod.” ▼ There were good ar­gu­ments on both sides in the case of 339 Bish­ops Lodge Road. The own­ers of the

con­tin­ued on Page 36

Con­trac­tor/owner John Wolf ex­am­ines dam­age to the Fran­cisca Hi­no­jos House in spring 2016; op­po­site page, the H-Board re­cently up­graded the Our Lady of Guadalupe Church parish of­fice to “sig­nif­i­cant” in the his­toric dis­trict; all pho­tos Paul Wei­de­man

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