The Scottish Rite building in Santa Fe opened to great fanfare on Nov. 16, 1912. Its architecture evokes the Alhambra, the fortified hilltop palace and administrative headquarters of Muhammad XII, or Boabdil as he is referred to in Spanish, who was the 22nd Nasrid ruler of the Islamic kingdom of Granada. The imposing tower over the main entrance is modeled after the Gate of Justice, and other spaces draw from the Palace of the Lions and the Partal. A short article in the society section of The New Mexican the same day noted that the Alhambra was a symbol of the beauty and romance of Old Spain and continued that several persons described the new building as entirely foreign to Santa Fe. But the writer disagreed, noting that Moorish-style architecture could be considered the grandsire of New Mexico architecture. Finally, the article stated that the entire building is tinted in the soft pink of the original Alhambra.
Every Scottish Rite temple features a theater, since the main function of these structures is to provide a space to confer the degrees to the brethren. References to Islamic art and architecture can be found in the theater at Santa Fe’s Scottish Rite building. The proscenium is flanked by modeled stucco star designs common in Islamic decoration. And similar forms cover the pipe organ. But perhaps the most impressive aspect of the theater is the 20-by-30-foot front curtain drop, with a scene of Granada as viewed from the Alhambra. At the right is the Islamic city, while at left we can see the tent-city headquarters of the troops of Ferdinand and Isabella. Writing in The New Mexican on Nov. 20, 1912, Nan O’Neill discussed the drop curtain and how it depicted the original Santa Fe in Granada, a town connected to the Spanish discovery and conquest of the New World, and eventually to Santa Fe, New Mexico. It was to Santa Fe, Granada, that Columbus came to tell the Spanish monarchs of his discoveries in America. In addition to the Granada scene, the theater also has almost 100 different hanging drops, with scenes used in the Scottish Rite degrees, from forest scenes to Egyptian temples and the Palace of Darius at Persepolis, from the Temple of Solomon to Gothic cathedral interiors. In 2007, Wendy Rae Waszut-Barrett, a stage-set historian and conservator, completed an appraisal of the Scottish Rite drops. She noted that they were all painted in Chicago in 1910 and 1911 by Sosman & Landis, a firm that specialized in fraternal stage drops. The decoration of the theater was completed in 1915, with the addition of J.G. Vysekel’s painting above the proscenium, as well as with the painted decorations above the columns at the theater sides and the 32 electric stars, one for each Scottish Rite degree, set into the field of clouds painted on the ceiling. A front-page article in The New Mexican on Jan. 9, 1915 noted that the Santa Fe firm of Seligman Bros. (several masons among them) was directing the work, and that Vysekel’s painting, in six sections, had arrived from Chicago and was stretched out on the floor of the Scottish Rite dining hall for all to admire. The painting shows the capitulation of Boabdil to Ferdinand and Isabella, the end of the last battle of the Christian Reconquista of Spain. The painting is related to, but not an exact copy of, La Rendición de Granada by Francisco Pradilla y Ortíz (1882) in the collection of the Spanish Senate in Madrid, which is itself modeled on Velázquez’s La Rendición de Breda (1634-1635).
The Santa Fe City Planning Board was established in the same year the Scottish Rite building opened. The board was organized to discover if actions might be taken to raise the city’s economy out of a 30-year slump. The commission soon hit upon the idea of promoting the city’s ancient adobe architecture as an essential expression of civic identity. Among the main players in this story were Edgar Lee Hewett and the men he hired at the Museum of New Mexico and the School of American Archaeology. One of Hewett’s first hires was Sylvanus G. Morley, who moved to Santa Fe in 1909, having worked on Hewett’s Southwestern archaeological projects for the previous two summers. Morley purchased the old Roque Lovato house (now 311 Washington St.) in 1910 and set about remodeling it, in part to prove that Santa Fe’s old adobe homes could be adapted for modern life. He later put the argument to paper in an article published in Ralph E. Twitchell’s quarterly Old Santa Fe in January 1915. But perhaps the most important event in the modern history of Santa Fe architectural styles is the New-Old Santa Fe Exhibition, curated by Morley, which made a strong case for the historical value of the city’s traditional architecture and its potential to attract tourism. An article in The New Mexican on Nov. 19, 1912, led with the headline, “New-Old Exposition is a Decided Hit,” and noted that it opened the previous night at the Palace of the Governors and featured models of Santa Fe Style architecture, proposals for homes, and projects to give several areas of the city the Santa Fe treatment. We all know how this story ended.
In The Myth of Santa Fe, Chris Wilson argues that it was the Scottish Rite building, rather than any Spanish-Pueblo Revival style structure, that initiated the city’s search for a unique architectural identity in the early 20th century. His point is well taken, since the history of why Santa Fe represents itself with Spanish-Pueblo Revival architecture seems to be primarily attributable to the New-Old Santa Fe Exhibition and the efforts of men like Morley, Hewett, and Jesse L. Nusbaum. But as the story of the Scottish Rite Center shows, Spanish-Pueblo Revival style is not the only variety of architecture that can be identified as Spanish but not California Mission. Isaac Hamilton Rapp’s rejected design for the Scottish Rite building was later adapted for the Animas County courthouse in Trinidad, Colorado. And after Santa Fe committed to the Spanish-Pueblo Revival style, Rapp became the architect of choice, completing important projects such as the Gross Kelly Warehouse in the Santa Fe Railyard (1914), the New Mexico Building at the Panama California Exposition in San Diego (1915), and the Museum of Fine Arts (1917) and 1925 renovation of La Fonda in Santa Fe. After his work on the Scottish Rite building, Sumner Hunt continued to design many important projects in Los Angeles — particularly the Southwest Museum, which was founded by Charles F. Lummis. Like the Scottish Rite building, the Southwest Museum is also in the Moorish Revival style. The groundbreaking took place the same day that our Scottish Rite building was dedicated. ◀
The first part of this article appeared in the Sept. 20 issue of Pasatiempo.
Top left, the courtyard of the Scottish Rite building; top right, star-shaped light fixtures installed in the Scottish Rite building in 1915, one for each degree conferred; bottom right, the geometric motifs throughout the building are commonly found in Islamic art and architecture; opposite page, top, the painting above the proscenium shows Boabdil’s surrender to Isabella and Ferdinand; bottom, front stage drop showing the Islamic and Christian cities of Granada as seen from the Alhambra