Noted author and Santa Fe resident George R.R. Martin writes about the castles of Westeros in his popular fantasy book series A Song of Ice and Fire, but he won’t be allowed to build what looks like one at his 4-acre gated compound near Museum Hill.

The city’s Historic Districts Review Board late Tuesday shot down a request to grant an exemption that would have allowed Martin to exceed the building height limit in the historic district where he lives.

The request, made by an architectural firm on behalf of Water Gardens Trust, was included with plans to construct a free-standing, seven-sided castle-style library — referred to as the Water Garden Keep — in an undeveloped portion of Martin’s property in the 1300 block of Camino Corrales.

“It is a medieval castle, and I don’t understand how we could possibly approve it in this style,” said board member Frank Katz, who was most critical of the proposed project, at the start of a two-hour hearing on the request.

Martin has become a prominent investor in Santa Fe. He acquired and revived the Jean Cocteau Cinema in 2013, where he held screenings of episodes from the HBO series Game of Thrones, based on his books. Among other ventures, he has helped launch Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return, an interactive art installation; has started the Stagecoach Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to boosting the local film and television workforce; and recently became a partner in purchasing the Santa Fe Southern Railway, an excursion train.

The Historic Districts Review Board considered a proposal in January for a similar castle-like structure at Martin’s home, which it also denied.

Board members found the project didn’t meet the exception criteria for height and style, and also rejected it “on the basis that the proposal at that time was incongruous with the character of the Historic Review District,” Lisa Roach, manager of the city’s Historic Preservation Division, said at Tuesday’s hearing.

Since then, the architect redesigned the proposed project and submitted a new exception request to the board.

“I think it has been drastically simplified from the last proposal,” including the removal of “Gothic Revival design elements,” Roach told the board.

Katz disagreed, saying he was “a little dismayed how little it was changed.”

“I mean, there is no doubt in anyone’s mind looking at that structure that it’s a medieval castle keep,” he said.

“Yes, there have been these cosmetic little changes around the edges,” Katz said, “but that doesn’t really change the basic appearance of the building and what it is intended to look like.”

Neighbors strongly objected to the project, which included a roof deck and a stair and elevator tower.

Mark Graham, who lives directly to the south of the property, said he wouldn’t support a height exception — “nor will we support having a castle in the neighborhood.”

“With the notoriety of Mr. Martin and Game of Thrones, we absolutely fear that our neighborhood will become the next treasure hunt, that his fans will be looking to find the castle that’s in the middle of Santa Fe,” Graham said., which broke the story, reported Martin and his wife had purchased the Camino Corrales property in 2018 for $3 million.

“We thought it was Winterfell when we first saw the plans,” a neighbor joked to about the castle-style library. “All it’s missing is Jon Snow and a couple of dragons.”

“George has done a lot for the arts and he’s very welcome here. But there is a code in Santa Fe and the buildings have a right to retain a certain historic look,” the neighbor was quoted as saying. “If they allow something like this it will open the floodgates to any rich eccentric that wants to live in a castle with a tower.”

The application for a height exception was filed by Alexander Dzurec of the architecture, planning and consulting firm Autotroph Inc., which has an office in Santa Fe. Dzurec declined to comment Wednesday.

On Tuesday night, Dzurec said the proposed library structure is intended to house a “a very sizable collection” of literature and “other collectibles.”

Dzurec didn’t identify the owners but told the board they’re in their late 60s and that one has an illness that left them in a wheelchair.

“This case, at its core, is about accessibility,” he said. “The property is owned by a trust, and our clients are the beneficiaries of the trust and will reside there hopefully for the remainder of their lives. They’re an aging couple that both have mobility issues. One of them is essentially down to a wheelchair now, and we don’t anticipate that changing any time in the future — and this is about providing safe access to an upper-level deck structure.”

A group of more than 40 neighbors signed a letter urging the board to deny the request for an exception.

“Since the meeting of the [board] in January of this year when these exceptions were originally denied, the applicant’s architect has made some changes to the original proposal by reducing the height slightly, changing the material to more stucco and less stone as well as changing the shape of the windows and reorienting the large window,” neighbors wrote in the letter.

“The fact remains that the proposed building is still a prominent castle in the middle of a residential neighborhood in Santa Fe,” the letter continued. “It WILL BE VISIBLE.”

Guy Gronquist, one of the neighbors who signed the letter, read it to the board and said the architect had gone to “great pains to draw comparisons with existing medieval-style structures in Santa Fe.” But those buildings aren’t surrounded by houses, he said.

“Attempting to cite a downtown commercial building elevator rooftop access approval as setting precedent for a castle tower elevator rooftop access approval in a residential neighborhood — for the purpose ‘of enjoying mountain views’ — is like comparing an apple to an orange,” he said, reading from the letter.

“They are both fruit, but that’s where the comparison ends.”

Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter @danieljchacon.

(23) comments

Bradford McCormick

This sounds great! A trimuph of the citizens of Santa Fe over global computer-abetted kitsch! Does the architecture firm have ethics, or is it following the ignoble precedent of "decorated shed" Robert Venturi who perpetrated a bad joke on the aged (Guild House) on the Quaker religion and the City of Philadephia in 1963?

Charles W Rodriguez

It would appear, from most of the comments herein, that the old school Santa FE has been replaced by a bunch of Californians eager for another Disneyland in the midst of The City of Holy Faith. By all means, I suppose it's the nueo American way for everything to be a facade. In this case, a make-belive jaunt for one of the city's newest notable nut job.

Bradford McCormick

Sir! Unless you are architecturally trained, you may not know how spot on is your " I suppose it's the nueo American way for everything to be a facade". It's somthing called: postmodernism, and its Holy Grail is to put fancy facades on banality (that distinguishes what they do from Potemkin villages which have nothing behind the facade). They call it: "decorated sheds." You nailed it, but, alas, not also them. Once upon a time there was a great ethical architect in America: Louis I. Kahn.

andres paglayan

It is about old history. It can be about making new history as well.

I'd like Santa Fe to top Disney on the must visit place list.

John Cook

It's worth noting that George R. R. Martin is a wonderful asset to Santa Fe. He supports the arts and is intimately involved in creating and expanding local businesses. He is an asset to our town. I tend to come down on the side of the review board, here, but that doesn't change the fact we should have substantial gratitude for what Martin has done and is doing for Santa Fe.

Bradford McCormick

I am an outsider. I only know of Santa Fe that a good friend who was also an Emeritus Professor, Louis Forsdale, lived there, and when I visited him (ca. 1995), I really liked Sante Fe. His home looked out over downtown. I often wonder: Why cannot persons be consistent? Why cannot great benefactors of the arts create only great benefactorable art? Why cannot "fame" be like in Ancient Greece: Shining words and great deeds? Kitsch is kitsch, which one IMO great but no fame writer described as: not technically inept, but unethical art. Unethical because it does not raise persons up higher than they previously were. Why cannot persons who create computer art rise above neo-feudalism in flying fortresses (not real B-17s) to create Rabelaisean Abbys of Theleme in cyberspace?

Vicente Roybal

Hey George. You should've called it a Torreon feature

David Gunter

What a lost opportunity. They could have approved the plan on the condition that he finally finish the last book of the Song of Ice and Fire series before construction could start. ;-)

HRH Prince Michael Jauregui

Rightfully, fame and fortune -however fleeting- failed to commandeer actual Culture. Not sold, to the highest-bidder.

Besides, the only castle in New Mexico's impending future shall be one of true Royal-origin.

Lupe Molina

City Samey. God forbid we have anything that's actually interesting in this town.

Rod Oldehoeft

The blue-haired ladies strike again.

Celeste Richards

So not cool to give the address of the block he'll be living on. You are now partly responsible for the future fan circus that will be driving around the neighborhood frustrating local residents.

Daniel Werwath

yes huge win for our *arbitrary* historic design guidelines which were made up in the first half of the 20th century as a tourist schtick and have since led to de facto racial and income segregation and an unforced affordable housing crisis. slow. clap.

Stefanie Beninato

Actually the design review ordinance was adopted in the SECOND half of the 20C. And not everything is about affordable housing--if we did not have the history, scale and mass that has been preserved today we would have many many fewer tourists who still are the lifeblood of this city. Or we could wait and have TEN JOBS a year added to a new high tech business (Savant X) that needs loans now to survive after just arriving here.

Daniel Werwath

this speaks for itself

Daniel Werwath

sorry broken link- here:

Andrew Lucero

Personally, I have no objections to this building. It actually fits in with the quirkiness of our city. God knows, it’s a much nicer design than a lot of the soulless monstrosities that have been allowed to be erected throughout Santa Fe. The Historic Review Board is a joke! Santa Fe sold its soul a long time ago. To add insult to injury, when George R.R. ascends the Great Iron Throne in the sky, this very same Board will be clamoring to designate EVERYTHING associated with George R.R. Martin as “Historic”. So why not give him his castle? Eventually, it’s going to be designated something “Historic” anyway.

Ann Maes

Please stop trying to change the charm of our City Different!

JJ Set

Adobe Disneyland loses again. We'll always have El Cielo!

Stefanie Beninato

I am happy that a very wealthy person did not prevail... There is no right to have a roof top deck on a bldg intended to store an literature/art collection. Where do these professionals get off arguing this type of nonsense? Especially when there are great views from many places on the property. I agree with the neighbor that it would become a destination for the Game of Thrones cultists and then Martin will complain like Fenn did about people showing up on his property--or maybe he set up a kiosk there to sell more G of T items

Stefanie Beninato

Richard Your ignorance is showing. The Vladim Contemporary is a STATE owned bldg. The H Board could comment on its design but had no authority to prevent the design since it is a CITY board. Really you should pay more attention before you go off on your habitual diatribes.

Richard Reinders

The state should honor the historic district like anyone else has to, by the way I was aware of the building was a state bldg.

Richard Reinders

What about the Vladem IT WILL BE VISIBLE what is good for the goose is good for the gander. You allowed the Vladem to break the rules and so far they have done nothing for the community.

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