What would downtown Santa Fe today be if the historic districts had never been established? Is it possible that the town would be world-famous for some other reason if all the old adobe homes had been torn down or remodeled beyond recognition?
And what would Canyon Road be without its RAC zoning? Back in 1962, the City Council responded to rising commercial pressure along the old El Camino del Cañon by adopting a new Residential/Arts and Crafts zoning. As the Santa Fe New Mexican described it, the move was meant to “serve and preserve the prevalent characteristics of the Canyon Rd. area.”
That snippet shows up in a new report by architectural historian John Murphey. The Historic Cultural Properties Inventory focuses on the home at 300 Garcia Street. When that new RAC zoning went into effect, the home’s owner, Kathryn Kenton, converted it into “a small crafts village of individual stores,” Murphey writes. Her Kathryn Kenton Boutique was followed by Opal Booth’s store that specialized in lounge and leisurewear. Then Vivian Insirilo opened Vivian’s Tea Room.
That venture didn’t last long and the space became Nirvana Restaurant, whose owner, Bruce Vanderberg, offered a menu with “a bewildering 100 dishes of French, Greek, and Indian origin,” according to the report. “Guests were greeted at the front door by a maître d’ dressed in an 18th-century Fenwick coat. Vanderberg later incorporated poetry, theatre, and slide shows into the experience.”
The address subsequently had three galleries run by Charles C. Stewart, Chuzo Tamotzu, and Nedra Matteucci, as well as Algo de Todo, an interior design studio that owner Richard Childers claimed was the first in New Mexico.
This elucidation of local history is typical of these inventory forms. Murphey assembles the history of a property by digging into archives — for 300 Garcia St. he consulted numerous newspaper articles and ads, real-estate listing information, maps, aerial photographs, Hudspeth’s Santa Fe City Directory, a copy of Princeton Alumni Weekly, and the minutes of a 1999 meeting of the city’s Historic Districts Review Board — and with each of these Historic Cultural Properties Inventory (HCPI) reports he consolidates and expands the known history of Santa Fe.
Why are these reports done? If an owner wants to make improvements to a house in one of the historic districts, s/he must go before the Historic Districts Review Board (the HDRB, known colloquially as the H-Board) and the board members prize a good HCPI report. One of the bottom lines of their process is assessing the building’s historic status: Is its importance in the district of Noncontributing, Contributing, Significant, or Landmark value? The more important, the more stringent are the rules about modifications, especially those that would be publicly visible.
In every report, Murphey makes recommendations regarding historic status. “The planner who is carrying the case forward will reference those and either go with them or rule against them, then when the case goes before the board, they have the final say,” he said.
Murphey, the owner of First Light Consulting, does up to five reports each month. The one for 300 Garcia concerns an item on the March 9 agenda of the H-Board: “Sandra Donner, agent for Megan Mulally, requests historic status review and designation of primary facades of building and yard walls.”
This HCPI begins, “Somewhere in the core of the 4,304-square-foot home are likely the pieces of a 19th-century house.” It continues, “Little is known about the building’s historic elevations, as to their openings and presentation. It is hard to imagine the house’s prevalent window type — a wood, Territorial-looking double-hung unit — is original to accretions constructed in the 1930s. With the building in commercial use for over 30 years (holding stores, restaurants, and offices) there must have been modification (and later reversals) to accommodate these uses. With this in mind, its veneer may be the result of architectural trompe-l’oeil.”
HCPI reports vary in length, depending on the age of each building and on the extent of its researchable history. This one is more than 3,000 words. The often exhaustive detail is an advantage for H-Board members trying to decide whether a particular “improvement” will be benign or potentially damaging to the building’s historic integrity.
Here’s an example of that detail, as Murphey discusses the house’s east elevation: “The most visible section is the terminal façade of the Guest Casita. A single window penetrates its wall. The window, a double-hung wood unit with a 2/2 light pattern, typifies both the historic and newer windows found throughout. The windows placed in simple casings are crowned with a Territorial-type pedimented head. Hinged, wood-frame screens are fitted within the casing. A line of repaired or replaced vigas run across the elevation, supporting a shallow wood overhang topped with stucco.”
The history of the people who lived in these buildings is arguably even more interesting than the actual buildings.
“To the average person with an interest in Santa Fe history and architecture or someone who’s a student of anthropology, these reports are invaluable, especially the way John approaches them,” said John Eddy. “He’s very thorough. He doesn’t just look at the nuts and bolts of what the house looks like, who built it, and what style it is, which is obviously where you start when trying to status a property; he gets into a lot of cultural lifeway anthropology.”
Eddy, a longtime member of the Old Santa Fe Association board of directors, said, “It is overlooking the value of HCPI surveys to think that they’re only created for the purpose of helping people hash out the restrictions that they may encounter in planning changes. That is essential, but the other, cultural part of it is invaluable.”
The report on 300 Garcia says that the first indication of a house appears on the 1885-86 Hartmann map. “The map shows a large rectangle near the center of the lot,” Murphey writes. “This same rectangle appears again on the 1912 King’s plan, with a smaller rectangle appended to its northeast corner. The King’s map shows the property to be owned by Manuel Delgado. This name links to Manuel Delgado, who is recorded in the 1900 federal census to be living in the vicinity with his wife Lolita and son Eugenio. The census records Manuel running a grocery store.”
Murphey goes on to tell us that the property was purchased in 1928 by a rich Easterner named Chandler Hale, Jr. Eight years later he married Eleanor Gaskill, who had served with the Red Cross in Europe and after moving to Santa Fe in 1931 established a clothing store at La Fonda and then at Sena Plaza. A publication from Princeton University, Hale’s alma mater, said he did a good deal of writing, especially about rivers. Ironically, he died after becoming ill during a sightseeing trip down the Mississippi River. Eleanor passed away later that year, 1962, just as the City was finalizing the RAC zoning.
In the HCPI, Murphey documents that the house “expanded dramatically” during Hale’s ownership. The exterior as we see it today “is somewhat artificial, fenestrated with windows and doors that would not have been used (or even available) in the 1930s,” he writes. “While lovely and enchanting, there is something ‘paper moon’ about it.” He is recommending that the house’s Contributing status be maintained, “based solely on the consistency of its footprint and massing since 1958.” In contrast, he recommends that the street wall be assessed as Noncontributing.
Murphey’s resumé includes work for the Texas Historical Commission (1997-2000), the New Mexico Historic Preservation Division (2000-2008), and the National Park Service (2009-2011). He served on the board of the Historic Santa Fe Foundation from 2006 to 2010.
He began doing HCPI surveys when he worked for the Santa Fe Historic Preservation Division from 2011 to 2014. He was under contract with New Mexico Main Street 2014-2016 and used the form to do some fairly large town surveys using the form, for Carrizozo, Alamogordo, and several remnant towns in Harding County.
He is now an independent consultant based in Santa Rosa, California, but keeps a house and office in Santa Fe. Before COVID, he would schedule with clients and come to Santa Fe every two months to survey their properties. In the pandemic, he has worked with two local architects as associates to do that field work.
This more “abstracted” inventorying is an example of the COVID-era strategies that he has talked about with his students at Sonoma State University. He teaches a practicum on the National Register of Historic Places to students in the anthropology departement there. “This situation with some of the survey work split up by teams actually started much earlier,” he said. “I work for a firm in San Francisco where someone pulls all the records and someone goes out on the street to make the photography and measurements, so I may never see that property in person. But that began pre-COVID, just a matter of splitting up operations to save money.”
In San Francisco, the form he uses is the Historic Resources Evaluation. “It is more narrative-driven. It is insane what they require in terms of research and how you document your research, and you’re expected to cover almost every person who lived there as an owner or occupant from the day the house was occupied to the 1970s.”
But Santa Fe’s requirements aren’t exactly lax. “What’s interesting about how the City of Santa Fe uses the survey is quite unique,” Murphey said. “They require a full recordation of every single window and door. I’ve never worked in that situation before. Usually you make a gross count and that’s good enough.”
The files in the Historic Preservation Office at City Hall are full of HCPI surveys for houses and other buildings throughout the five historic districts — the Downtown & Eastside, established in 1957; and the Westside-Guadalupe, Don Gaspar, Historic Review, and Historic Transitions districts, all established in 1983.
The reason for doing historic surveys is twofold, Murphey said. “At one time there was an emphasis on doing coordinated surveys. The State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) had money from the National Park Service to do that. You would turn your attention to Gallup, let’s say, and hire a countractor to do Route 66 in Gallup. The other function is for compliance reviews, especially under the National Historic Preservation Act, so that SHPO has enough information about the resource to make a determination of its eligibility for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. With that in mind, the City of Santa Fe adapted the form for its surveys.”
Sometimes Murphey creates a new HCPI form, but often it’s a matter of expanding on a previous report. “There was a huge survey in 1983-1984 in which the City brought on three consultants who swarmed through the historic district and did quick, drive-by or ‘windshield’ surveys. They were one page with no narrative, barely any history, and they captured the building only from its street elevation.”
Asked if he has any favorites out of the hundreds he’s done, Murphey said, “They’re kind of all my favorites. Everything you do in Santa Fe, especially, has something of interest to me. There’s always someone who lived in the house who we don’t know about, an artist or a musician, and you learn a little more about the Hispanic families and how they used compounds. There are some that were eye-opening in terms of the background history, but I treat the garage the same as a home on Canyon Road.”
The City has not funded surveys since about 2000. Instead, they are commissioned by property owners.
“It’s a remarkable resource,” John Eddy said. “I encourage anybody who has a property in any of the historic districts to avail themselves of this process. It is something you have to pay for, but what it gives you is a grounding in the true history of your property.”