One of Santa Fe’s “invisible” historic homes is profiled in a new book by architectural historian Chris Wilson and Oliver Horn, son of the house’s owners, Susan and Karl L. Horn. The Roque Lobato House, Santa Fe, New Mexico (Schenck Southwest Publishing) explores an 18th-century residence that is located across the street from the Scottish Rite Center, hidden by trees, walls, and outbuildings. The wonderful core building, which dates to 1785, is extant, as are additions made in the early 20th century by Museum of New Mexico archaeologist Sylvanus G. Morley.
But later changes — including the addition of a hallway created by walling off the rear half of the front (south-facing) portál — resulted in the city jerking the house’s historic status in the 1970s. Nevertheless, it is a beauty, filled with history. In fact, Wilson titles his chapter in the book “The Most Historic House in Santa Fe.” He told Pasatiempo that he posed that “for consideration, knowing there are other contenders.”
The book’s first chapter, by Oliver Horn, now in a doctorate program in diplomatic history at Georgetown University, examines the people who have owned this house and their links to significant events in the history of Santa Fe and New Mexico. He writes that Roque Lobato was a soldier and armorer to the Royal Spanish Garrison of Santa Fe, and was rewarded with a land grant for his life service to the Spanish Crown on which he built the house that bears his name. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the house was immediately adjacent to the main road into the city from the north and “stood firmly within the military complex” that guarded that approach. It was within 200 feet of the Spanish presidio fortifications to the southwest and was much closer to the small fort known as La Garita and to the Spanish garrison’s gunpowder storehouse, both to the north.
In the early 19th century, the house was purchased by Gaspar Ortiz y Alarid. At different periods of his life, Don Gaspar was an aide to Gov. Manuel Armijo, served as a county probate judge, and manipulated Spanish land grants as an associate of the corrupt Santa Fe Ring. Other early owners of the house were José de Jesús Rivera, who was the son of Lobato’s neighbor José Pacheco; Magdalena Lucero de Ortiz, widow of Don Gaspar; and Santa Fe attorney and poet Alois B. Renehan. Morley bought the house in 1910 and did an extensive renovation. He is known for his central role in staging the 1912 New-Old Santa Fe exhibition at the Palace of the Governors, and in developing Santa Fe Style — an architectural description synthesized from a survey of existing old houses in the town — as, basically, a city brand.
The earliest documentation on the Roque Lobato House is from the 1850s. At that point, it was a U-shaped building around a 16-foot-deep front portál, and most of the five or six rooms had doors onto the portál. By 1886, a rear courtyard had been added. After 1910, Morley added a north wing that enclosed the courtyard at the east and a pergola along its west side, then built portáles at the rear, incorporating an ancient, wonderfully carved beam and corbels.
It is known that Morley harvested those carved woodwork elements from a home on Arroyo Tenorio, but they are much older than that house. Wilson believes they may have been made for one of the courtyard portáles of the 17th-century Franciscan parish church, the parroquia, that stood where the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi is today. “One of the generalities is that the missions were built during a heroic era of mission building from, say, 1620 to 1650 or so, and some of the woodwork from that era is quite ornate,” Wilson said.
In his chapter, Wilson looks at the house in the context of Santa Fe’s architectural history. He believes that Morley may have transplanted to this area some of the ideas of the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities in Boston. “There is evidence of some correspondence in articles written about the preservation movement that make it pretty clear that the folks in Santa Fe, Charleston, and Boston are very much aware of each other and what they’re doing by 1912-1913.” Also, Morley had been at Harvard and SPNEA was a Harvard-associated group, Wilson said.
He writes that Morley referred to Craftsman pattern books in his remodel. “There was a practice in those days of publishing monographs on certain historic eras — they could be on architecture or landscape architecture or furniture design — and that was interwoven with the development of historical revival styles. Then there was the premier influential magazine of that movement, The Craftsman, published by Gustav Stickley, and his magazine would have had articles about historic buildings and furniture and plans for the construction of Craftsman furniture.
“One of the wonderful things is that the house’s owner, Karl Horn, is a history aficionado and an intelligent autodidact,” Wilson said, “and he has put together a remarkable collection of art, including pieces by [artist, builder, and furniture maker] William Penhallow Henderson. The public rooms there are as good a period house museum as you could have for the birth of Santa Fe Style architecture and furniture. In a way, what’s going on is that Morley’s working on refining a regional revival style for Santa Fe and trying to distinguish it from the California Mission Revival style. Then, in the 1920s, you find Henderson and [Museum of New Mexico archaeologist and well-known photographer] Jesse Nusbaum making a much more definitive New Mexican variant of the revival style.”
Among the chief traits of that variant, known as Spanish Pueblo Revival style, are brown adobe (or adobe-look) houses with flat roofs, vigas projecting through the front, and long portáles. The Territorial Revival style, developed by architect John Gaw Meem in the 1930s, basically added to that palette more formal, Greek Revival-style details such as white-painted woodwork with pedimented lintels over windows, sharper corners, and brick coping along rooflines. The Lobato House today has a brick dentil course atop a thick parapet over the front portál. However, old photographs of the house show a very shallow roof and no brick.
“That parapet or firewall actually may have been taller historically, but Morley gets the house after 25 to 40 years of neglect, of rain dissolving the adobe parapets,” Wilson said. Morley did substantial structural work, including beefing up that portál roof. The coping was added in the 1960s.
“I wanted to take that off, but it was so integral,” Karl Horn said. “So many houses here have brick caps that were put on that were not historic to the buildings. But I also think a house grows by accretion, and if it’s valid, we can leave it in place.”
After buying the house in 2004, Karl and Susan Horn spent their first few years trying to understand its evolution. They then undertook a restoration, although they had no unaltered Spanish colonial homes in Santa Fe to act as guide for an 18th-century-style restoration. Santa Fe architect Craig Hoopes assisted them with the project and worked with Wilson to draw simple floor plans for the book; they show the evolution of the house’s footprint from 1850, 1912, 1982, and 2010.
In the final chapter, Karl Horn writes in detail about the house and the changes made by the previous and current owners. The Horn renovation included adobe repair, replacing the south-portál windows, and creating a beautiful library from a former master-bedroom space. The work was often done in honor of the Arts and Crafts aesthetic Morley brought to his 1910 renovation.
“We took out some things that had been done in the 1970s. For example, a couple of ceilings had been lowered, and we restored those. The bookshelves in the library were made for us by Sergio Tapia, sort of in the fashion of William Penhallow Henderson.” Tapia also created doors for a new alacena (a cupboard inset into an adobe wall) made to provide storage for a desk, and in the process of constructing it, he and the Horns discovered that there had been one in that spot before. “There were many circumstances like that,” Susan Horn said. “Another was that there was no door at the east end of the front hallway, and when we put one in, we found there had been one before. Things always just worked out well.”
Many spaces were changed, for usefulness. “I said to Karl, it has to function perfectly as a house or it doesn’t make sense.” In the southeast bedroom, there was a wall that came too far into the room, making the fogón (corner fireplace) look misshapen. “Work to correct that uncovered an original adobe wall, and we left the dirt surface showing. We tried to capture the mood of Sylvanus Morley in the entire house,” she said. “Our idea was that we will save anything that’s historic, but there has been so much time and so many owners.”
The Horns and Wilson lament the fact that, because of the changes made to the house over the past several decades, it is not deemed historically pertinent by the city. Karl Horn looks back to 19th-century art critic John Ruskin, who said a building’s historical value “was not in its stone and mortar but rather in its ability to bear witness to the passing waves of humanity.”
Wilson spoke of a debate of long standing in historic preservation: scrape versus anti-scrape. “The scrape camp prefers to remove the more recent layers from a building to return it to an (often imaginary) historical peak. Such anti-scrape proponents as John Ruskin and William Morris, to the contrary, felt that it’s natural for buildings to change with time and that, in fact, the layers and patina are the richness of the story of the building. For them, to scrape off the layers and do a fantasy restoration is a desecration.”
Karl Horn values the city’s historic preservation division and its Historic Districts Review Board that rules on such matters. “I really believe they need to be there, and I support what they do, but this house has such an incredible historic background to it. It’s pivotal to Santa Fe Style. I don’t know if they’ve ever reversed a decision.”
David Rasch, historic preservation officer for the city, said that is entirely possible. “The fact is, the building is listed as noncontributing because nonhistoric alterations apparently have overwhelmed the historic building,” he said. But any alterations dating to 1965 or older — the 50-year limit of what the city considers “historic” — could now qualify as historic. And it is also conceivable that the board could visit the house and reevaluate the former decision that a few more modern changes have “overwhelmed” its historic value to Santa Fe. ◀