National Park Service Building
The sign at the front entry of the historic National Park Service building on Old Santa Fe Trail says, “Building access by appointment only.” That’s a new situation for the adobe office building that has long also been a cultural resource open to the public. It formerly had a superintendent, a trained uniformed staff, a general management plan, a cultural landscape plan, an interpretive plan, exhibits, brochures, and an active program of public education, according to a briefing paper prepared by Jerry L. Rogers.
Rogers is a former National Park Service (NPS) associate director for cultural resources and Southwest regional director. He is one of a group of people concerned about the fact that the grand courtyard structure, built from 1937 to 1939 by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), is now for the most part closed to the public. Local preservationist Alan “Mac” Watson said this ad-hoc group has met with staff from New Mexico’s congressional delegation. The group’s idea to have the building declared a national historic site or a national monument with displays about the CCC and Works Progress Administration was taken up by the Santa Fe City Council.
On Oct. 8, the city’s governing body adopted a resolution to that effect and forwarded it a week later to Governor Susana Martinez. The resolution also supports maintaining the NPS building’s current staff of approximately 70 employees.
Asked in mid-December about the building’s status, James Doyle with the National Park Service Intermountain Region office in Denver said, “We have no plans of shutting the building down or reducing staffing. With regards to keeping the building open to public, that’s always been our goal. It’s a historic building with some historic artifacts inside. But we had problems with the reliability of the security service, so sans any security, we had to tighten down access. It’s still open for tours, but you have to call. We hope after the first of the year at some point to be able to reopen to the public.
“There have been moves to redesignate it as the Southwest Regional Office as it used to be but that is beyond our abilty; Congress has directed us how to operate. But this is a key operational building. We have important staff there that do both regional and national work for the Park Service, so it’s an important resource for us.”
At 24,000 square feet, the Park Ser- vice’s former Southwest Regional Office is probably the largest adobe office building in the country, according to the files at the Historic Santa Fe Foundation (researched by HSFF volunteer Debbie Lawrence). The major work force came from CCC Camp #833 based in Santa Fe. The Works Progress Administration was responsible for artworks and other furnishings. The city resolution notes that “The CCC and WPA offered meaningful employment and cultural uplift to millions during the Great Depression.” Among the other CCC accomplishments in this area were the rock lining along the Santa Fe River through the city, the lodge and shelters at Hyde Park, and Bandelier National Monument’s roads and dozens of buildings, and the furniture inside those buildings.
Most of the 200 workers on what the city’s resolution calls an “outstanding example of institutional adobe architecture” were men aged 17 to 23 from His panic families in the area. For $30 per month, and room and board, the men hand-mixed and formed more than 280,000 adobe bricks for the walls that are between two and five feet thick. They also hand-peeled the pine vigas and made heavy, intricately carved furniture for the offices.
Much of the earth for the adobe bricks came from the excavation for the building. Foundation stone was quarried near Canyon Road. Ponderosa pine logs for vigas and corbels came fromthe CCC camp in Hyde Memorial State Park. Flagstone for the floors in the lobby and conference room, and for the paving under the courtyard portáles, came from a Pecos ranch.
NPS architect Cecil Doty designed the building in the Spanish-Pueblo Revival style that jibed nicely with the Park Service’s developing “rustic” design aesthetic. Doty’s skill in what is sometimes called “parkitecture,” exercised on numerous visitor centers and other NPS buildings, was learned from NPS architect Herbert Maier, who hired him in the early 1930s. The style emphasizes a relationship to local architectural tradition and the use of local materials in harmony with the surrounding landscape. For the Santa Fe job, Doty tailored his design to local precedents with help from his construction foreman, artist Carlos Vierra.
Funding came from the WPA Federal Art Project for artworks including ceramic vessels by Maria and Julian Martinez of San Ildefonso Pueblo, Lela Gutierrez and Eulogia Naranjo of Santa Clara Pueblo, and Agapita Quintana of Cochiti Pueblo; paintings by Victor Higgins and E. Boyd; nearly 50 rugs, most Navajo-made; etchings by Gene Kloss; and lithographs by B.J.O. Nordfeldt. The Park Service’s regional landscape architect, Harvey Cornell, designed the site and courtyard.
For 56 years, beginning in 1939, the Old Santa Fe Trail Building served as the regional headquarters for the National Park
Service. In a recent guest column in The New Mexican, former State Monuments director José Cisneros said the Southwest Region of the National Park Service was abolished in 1995, “victim to a reorganization.” Cisneros said that a historic site or national monument designation “may be worth some consideration,” but he favors “the larger effort to restore the building to its former function as a Regional Office by restoring the Southwest Region to its position as the most historic region in the National Park Service.”
In November, Nancy Meem Wirth, a lifelong neighbor of the Old Santa Fe Trail Building, wrote that she was “delighted” with the City Council’s recommendation. The practical effect of its closure, she stressed, “has been to deprive our community of a cultural and aesthetic resource that we have long valued.”
A month ago, in another guest piece in the newspaper, Jerry Rogers said the old building “simply must remain the fundamental element of our community life and heritage that it has been for decades. He described it as “nationally significant for its architecture, for its association with the national park idea, and as an artifact of the Hispanic culture whose history is inadequately recognized in the United States.”
Rogers wrote that the 1906 Antiquities Act “authorizes the president to create national monuments from places in the public domain that meet exacting criteria of significance. The Old Santa Fe Trail Building is in the public domain and meets these criteria.”
The National Park Service celebrated the building’s 75th anniversary this summer. About the move to create a CCC/WPA museum there, James Doyle said, “We certainly wouldn’t oppose that. However Congress directs us to operate the building, we will.”
National Park Service Building, Santa Fe, 1965, by The Santa Fe New Mexican courtesy Palace of the Governors Photo Archives (NMHM/DCA) Neg. no. 025831