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.
DailyMail.com, 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 DailyMail.com 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.”