Inside the Capitol

Sunday, January 20, 2008

1-23 Treasured Building Escapes Harm, For Now

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- One of New Mexico's outstanding monuments to the New Deal appears to have escaped harm, at least for now.
The former regional office of the National Park Service, on Old Santa Fe Trail in our capital city, was built in 1939 by workers from the Civilian Conservation Corps and then decorated and furnished by artists employed by the Works Progress Administration.
The building was designed to be uniquely New Mexican, a masterpiece of Spanish-Pueblo revival architecture, ranking among the finest examples in the Southwest. It is the largest known adobe office building, conceived and designed in 1939 as an artistic entity, with its exterior and interior a single artistic creation.
The adobes were made by native craftsmen with earth dug from the site. The furniture and artwork were designed by mostly-Hispanic artisans to be an integral part of the building itself. Much of the furniture was created within the building.
It was the only National Park Service regional office built specifically for that purpose, a building for which it could be supremely proud. But that pride faded in the '90s as the regional headquarters of the Park Service was moved to Denver along with many of its employees.
Other NPS functions have been housed in the building and now a leased facility in Santa Fe has been vacated with employees transferred to the Old Santa Fe Trail building.
NPS employees were told about this move a month ago. What they were told raised many fears that the interior of the building would be severely compromised. Publicity about the Park Service plans has now caused the NPS regional administration to step back and make some major assurances that no harm will come to the important structure.
But those assurances did not come without significant effort by many organizations vitally interested in the preservation of our state's treasure. NPS retirees were first to put out the call that present employees could not do without fear for their jobs.
This quickly brought action by the State Historic Preservation Office, with which the NPS was required to consult before announcing any planned changes. Also quickly joining the effort were the National New Deal Preservation Association, the New Mexico Heritage Preservation Alliance, other preservation groups, the city of Santa Fe and neighborhood association representatives.
In addition, the offices of Sen. Jeff Bingaman and Rep. Tom Udall expressed concern. They likely are the most important components of the effort to preserve this valuable piece of our state's heritage.
The building already has been declared a national historic landmark. Much talk over the years has centered around the possibility of elevating it to a national monument. It is evident that now is the time to act. And congressional action is what must happen.
Construction of the building and its furnishings were extremely well documented through words and pictures. I am told that such a degree of historical integrity does not exist for many sites that already have been declared national monuments.
The assurances that the building will not be harmed by the addition of numerous employees provides some breathing room to work on national monument status which will further protect the property.
Those familiar with operation of the current National Park Service feel it is only a matter of time before further steps are taken to downgrade the building and the status of the National Park Service in our state.
Mike Snyder, the regional director in Denver seems to be the heavy in this effort to wipe out the last vestiges of the regional office in New Mexico. Inside sources say this will involve abandoning the Old Santa Fe Trail building.
Snyder's deputy, Tony Schetzsle, has been carrying the water, making assurances that everything will be fine. The groups mentioned above attended a recent meeting with Mr. Schetzsle and vow to hold him to his words.
And all this is happening during the 75th anniversary of the New Deal. Communities throughout New Mexico with public buildings constructed by New Deal programs will be joining in the celebration during the year.
WED, 1-23-08

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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