Before there was a Santa Fe Railyard, there was Alan Burrus, who purchased some buildings in the back of Baca Street to develop living spaces for artists.
It was 1994, and the fate of what is now known as the Santa Fe Railyard property was uncertain. There were rumblings of a purchase by the city or a conservation trust. Catellus, the land-development arm for Atchinson, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway, wanted to build a Smith’s grocery store on Baca Street, but the plan was rejected by the City Council.
But Burrus, a Santa Cruz, Calif., transplant, loved the area and took a chance. He had a month-to-month lease with the railroad and didn’t know if he would be allowed to remain. The city did purchase the 12-acre area around Baca Street and the rest of the railroad property that is now home to REI, the Violet Crown Cinema and the farmers market.
“It took seven or eight years to get a lease with the city. I was one of the first people to have a lease with the city in the Railyard,” Burrus said. He named his business at 931 Shoofly St. the Twisted Cow Compound because it is a rough translation of Campo de la Vaca Torcida, the name locals used for Baca Street as it winds down toward the acequia.
The master plan adopted by the city for the Baca Street area still calls for warehouses and industrial uses to remain, and to emphasize tenants with “a diverse scale and range of uses from live-work, light industrial, arts production, community uses and services,” the plan states.
Two decades later, Burrus, 74, is still answering that call as he cobbles away — hanging drywall and spreading concrete — in what has become an invigorating, diverse neighborhood known as the Baca Railyard. His 1965 Chevy truck is never parked far away.
“I like to describe this whole thing as a Peace Corps project,” said Burrus, who worked with the agency on Toma Island after earning a degree in architecture from the University of California. “The Peace Corps made me an architect, but it ruined me for architecture, because I wanted to be outside all the time.”
Unlike the larger Santa Fe Railyard parcel that includes a park and plaza and is the last stop for the New Mexico Rail Runner Express commuter train, Baca Street is known for its grit, and businesses are taking advantage of that to better promote themselves.
A new underpass will ease the connection across St. Francis Drive from Baca Street to downtown and the rest of the Railyard property, and the Acequia bike trail has become a transportation route for those commuting into downtown without a car.
The first-ever Baca Railyard Block Party is set for June 23 when businesses and studios will host an open house for the public.
“There are so many interesting businesses,” said Adriana Siso, owner of Molecule Design, a shipping container building that sells contemporary accessories. “And newcomers don’t even know they exist, they don’t know we’re part of the Railyard.”
The Baca Street area includes the businesses that front Cerrillos Road — Yares Art Project and The Raven, an art and antique consignment store, but also leased space along Baca Street, Flagman Way and Shoofly, including Molecule Design, Caveman Coffee, Captain Marble and Undisputed Fitness. Many will be open June 23.
Opuntia Cafe has announced it will build on the Baca District but is not yet open. It is owned by Todd Spitzer, former owner of Iconik Coffee Roasters and Cafe, and will feature food “themed off traditional tea cultures,” according to press information.
The total Railyard land purchased by the city was 50 acres, with the portion around Baca Street the most industrial.
Burrus’ Twisted Cow Compound once was the manufacturing site for a pumice block facility. There was a big prop-production shop across the street, and many artists lived in and around the property, some temporarily before and during the summer Santa Fe Indian Market.
Burrus said artist Judy Chicago once offered to lease the entire 5,000 square feet of space for her studio, but Burrus didn’t want to depend on one person for his entire source of income. So he started dividing up the space into smaller studio and living areas.
Today there are 12 tenants, including a sculptor, painter, architect, photographer, writer and potter.
The annex still under construction includes four units ranging in size from 1,000 to 1,550 square feet; some are one story and some have a second floor. All have the tough, industrial flavor that is part of the Baca Street Master Plan.
As a way to pay for the expansion, Burrus organized the complex as a condominium association with each owner paying for part of the common-area space and upkeep. But because the city actually owns the land, the owners are purchasing just their section of building, not the property, which is why the pricing often is less than adjacent neighborhoods.
He expects the first 1,375-square-foot unit to be available this summer for $242,000.
Twisted Cow Compound
For more information, go to www.Twisted-Cow-Compound.com
Baca Railyard Block Party
5 to 8 p.m. Friday, June 23
The following tenants are set to participate:
Twisted Cow Compound
da Silva Architects
Tres Cuervos Leatherworks
Talis Fortuna Tattoo Studio
Inga Hendrickson Photography Studio
Kathryn Stedham Art Studio
Tim Brown Art Studio
Railyard Enterprises, 1221 Flagman Way
Salon del Mar Hair Design Studio
Justin’s Frames & Gallery
Caveman Coffee Cave
Flagman Way Buildings
Santa Fe Modern
Gabe Rippel Metal
Molecule Design Store
Ricardo Mazal Studio
Michael Bergt Studio
House of Ancestors
Jeff Littrell Antiques
Yares Art Projects
The Raven Fine Consignments