An ambassador for the city: Al Grubesic honored as a Santa Fe Living Treasure

A newspaper page on a wall at John Grubesic’s Santa Fe office highlights the impact that Stamm-built homes had on the city. Courtesy photo

Like many immigrant families, the Grubesics came to New Mexico for work.

Many of the newcomers labored in mills or with railroad companies. For Albert “Al” Grubesic’s father, it was the coal mines in Dawson, N.M., that drew him and countless others from Croatia to the American Southwest.

Grubesic said it was likely that mine owners filed a request for a certain number of workers at entry ports such as Ellis Island in New York City. Then new arrivals, such as his father, John Grubesic, could sign up for work, a far different process from the one today for those who want to relocate to the United States.

It is Al Grubesic, son of a Croatian-born father and mother, transplanted to Albuquerque and then Santa Fe, who is being honored Sunday as one of three new Santa Fe Living Treasures.

The recognition is for his work on the Santa Fe City Council, with community sports programs, as an associate with homebuilder Alan Stamm and as the owner of his own real estate firm. Grubesic, 88, “has generously given of himself to ensure Santa Fe remains unique and friendly, to both the newcomer and long-established residents,” read one of the nomination letters.

Inside an office at the Grubesic Building, 1322 Paseo de Peralta, Grubesic still has the front page of a New Mexican section with a story about the opening of a new Stamm subdivision in 1983. “Monthly payments about $30” read the headline.

Grubesic served on the City Council when it decided to expand the Paseo de Peralta loop that serves as an access to many state offices and downtown businesses. Margaret Wood, the emcee of Living Treasurers, said that council was responsible for starting work on a city master plan that included Ragle and Patrick Smith parks as well as the city’s golf course, the N.M. 599 bypass around the city and the Municipal Recreation Complex on Caja del Rio Road.

As a personal venture, he built the Grubesic Building, which serves as office space near the state Capitol.

Grubesic grumbles that the Living Treasures organization might well be running out of elders to honor, so he is quick to ask interviewers about themselves, their family and history. It’s evidence of his keen listening skills that made him so successful in politics, sales and business.

But it was almost by accident that Grubesic, his wife, children and extended family ended up in Santa Fe.

After working at a lumberyard in Canada and then the mines in Dawson in Colfax County, the elder Grubesic moved the family to Albuquerque in 1937 after being injured in a mining accident. Al Grubesic was 9 at the time. A good athlete, he played baseball and graduated from Albuquerque High School. He started at The University of New Mexico, but was sidetracked to California, where he chased his dream of trying to make it in professional sports.

He ultimately returned to New Mexico and finished at UNM with a degree in business administration. He met his wife Betty on a blind date. They married in 1953. Shortly thereafter, a family member recommended him for an accounting job in Santa Fe, and the couple moved here.

That led to work with Stamm. Grubesic was hired as an accountant but quickly advanced to chief of sales. He said Stamm built some 2,000 homes in the Santa Fe neighborhoods of Casa Solana and Bellamah as well as in Bernalillo, Farmington, Española and White Rock.

Grubesic said it was different then because Stamm hired his own employees instead of relying on subcontractors. “There were 200 employees. They worked for us, not subs. They were craftsmen,” he said.

He and Stamm used to go to other communities in Arizona to look at the newest home designs, then bring them to Santa Fe.

Grubesic left Stamm to start his own real estate firm. He once had 25 agents working with him. Their specialty was buying and selling Stamm homes.

But one of his greatest legacies might be the building that bears his name on Paseo de Peralta, on a patch of land near the Capitol complex. The 5,000-square-foot building was finished in 1965 and became home to the Xerox regional offices as well as offices of many politicians and attorneys.

When Grubesic first noticed the parcel, it was overrun with grass and weeds. The previous owner didn’t believe anything could be built on the site.

Today, Grubesic still manages the property and sponsors youth sports teams. He has two daughters, a son and recently traveled with two grandchildren to Croatia, where he still has family. His son, John Grubesic, is a former state senator from Santa Fe who is running for a judgeship in Albuquerque.

Nancy Dahl, who serves on the Living Treasures panel that manages the program, said Al Grubesic doesn’t have a lot of titles after his name, but he has been an ambassador for the city.

“He’s humble and he’s a great promoter,” she said. “He’s a wonderful example of what it means to be a Santa Fean.”

Contact Bruce Krasnow at brucek@sfnewmexican.com.