By Paul Weideman
he email from David Powell said, “Six years ago friends of mine bought a totally derelict 1880s territorial home in the heart of Galisteo, just the second home behind the historic church.” A Galisteo application for listing on the State Register of Cultural Properties said the old adobe, the Donaciano Angel Chavez House is “one of the best examples of Territorial style” in the village.
Today, it’s a beautiful home, restored, up to code, and outfitted with all of the modern conveniences while retaining its historic feel — because of the efforts of three women.
Bobbie Wilbur, Marcella Gonzalez, and Jackie Wilbur, all Kansas natives, bought the property at 914 Camino los Abuelos in 2013.
“We are the masterminds,” Bobbie Wilbur said during a recent visit to the house located about 200 feet west of the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de los Remedios. “Marcella’s more in the design mode, Jackie’s in the textile mode, and I’m in the implementation mode. Then we have a few guys who work with us off and on, including our neighbor, Nick Anaya, who has lived in the village all his life and who has been instrumental in everything we’ve done.”
The owners believe the house dates to about 1882 and that it was originally two distinct houses that at some point got built somewhat together, and there was an animal enclosure that was built on at the back — “a typical New Mexico home that grew with the family,” Wilbur said.
Construction of the 1880s section is “notable for the stone walls filled with adobe mud, said to be a reflection of tradition dating to the Galisteo Basin’s prehistoric pueblos,” according to a written statement about the restoration project. The front, east-facing facade has a handsome portal under a brick-coped parapet. During the work, the women took off all of the bricks, cleaned them, and re-installed them. There was previously more than one style in the coping pattern, but they used the most prominent one — vertical bricks alternately set inward and outward for a dentil pattern, flanked by rows of horizontal bricks above and below — across the entire front.
The front door and the closest two windows on either side have modillion cornices and pediments. All of the woodwork, excepting the natural-colored post and beam portal, is painted white.
This portal is not historic. Gonzalez and the Wilbur sisters enclosed the old portal to create a grand hallway because without it there was no circulation among the rooms, which are in a straght line. Then they added a similar-style portal on the outside. “The intention was to take the old facade and move it out,” Wilbur said.
Vigas were purchased from the Rios family wood and salvage business on Camino del Monte Sol in Santa Fe.
During their work, they discovered that the house construction was a mix of adobe and indigenous rock used in the foundation and the walls, all with mud mortar. There was also some old jacal (wattle-and-daub) construction.
A hill sloping down to the house’s west side had compromised the back wall. The owners excavated and put in a retaining wall to hold the hill back. “In that process, we also determined we needed to level the house back here,” she said. “The pine boards that served as the subfloor were sitting right on dirt, but they were in perfect condition. We hand-excavated inside the house; most of that dirt is now in the front yard to level the lot there. Then we shored up the existing foundation, sandwiching it with a structure of CMUs, concrete, and rebar to build against the rock foundation.”
The original adobe wall is intact, then there’s an air space and on the outside a new wood-framed wall. The window sills on the inside of that east side of the house are very deep! The rear was finished with a new portal, using reclaimed vigas and other materials.
That recycling strategy was important to the women, and consistent throughout the project. Doors and cabinets came from a Habitat for Humanity Re-Store. The handsome, new floors are reclaimed oak. They even added a beautifully finished studio, made by marrying together a pair of construction sheds harvested from Los Lunas.
“Once we got into the roof,” Wilbur said, “there were about 10 layers of rolled roofing on top of a foot and a half of dirt, then some newspaper-type stuff, on the one-inch boards. That dirt also ended up on the front yard.”
Inside, the ceilings are pleasingly tall for a historic Northern New Mexico house, and the vigas and beams are painted dark to contrast with the white-plastered walls that still show the original adobe undulations.
The room that the women believe is in the oldest part of the house has a corner fogón fireplace and the house’s only coved-plaster ceiling. Another bedroom has a small, shallow, tall adobe fireplace. “It was damaged by water and we found a guy who restores adobe fireplaces. He restored this one and another adobe fireplace in the next bedroom” — that one has a tall rectangular, rather than a tall rounded, firebox.
The Wilbur-Gonzalez restoration included putting in a new electric system and new water and gas plumbing throughout. Landscaping plants are watered by a house graywater system and also from two cisterns that store rainwater directed from the roof.
The women are not positive about their plans for the house. “It had been in foreclosure for six years and it was just melting,” Wilbur said. “We couldn’t resist when it finally came up for foreclosure auction and we bought it.”
The three live at 888 Camino Los Abuelos on the hill behind, in the circa 1937 Teacherage, which was built for the village’s teachers next to a WPA-funded school that is now a house.
“We have 914 on Vrbo to do rentals, because we’re not sure what we want to do.”
But their is no doubt about their achievement.
“They invested a fortune to bring this home back to life. They did much of the work literally by themselves,” Powell said. “This is another of the many Santa Fe stories of women making huge contributions to the community.”