Architecture/Buildings (32)

Tuesday, 26 April 2016 17:33

Santa Fe Plaza Tunnels Myth

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Santa Fe Plaza Tunnels Myth

In the early1980's, I worked at Los Llanos Bookstore in the Spitz Building (72 E. San Francisco St.) on the south side of the Plaza.

It is a late 19th century building with a full basement of stone walls. In the wall abutting the Plaza was a bricked up doorway.  The story was that this opening led to a series of tunnels that connected the Spitz Building and others on the Plaza to the First National Bank and the Palace of the Governors, La Fonda Hotel, Catron Building, etc.

Why?  No one really knew but many had their theories, all supposition.  To this day you still hear people ("tour guides") repeating this yarn. 

So as usual I headed off to the Chaves Library to see if I could find any documentation.  After an hour of looking through files (archaeological, historical & architectural), I found not one mention.

One of the ever helpful staff suggested I call Cordelia Snow, an archaeologist with the Dept. of Cultural Affairs.  I phoned her, introduced myself, and told her what I was up to.  Her initial response was a laugh.  She too had heard these stories and told me that she and her husband, David, had done numerous excavations on the Plaza over the years and never once found evidence of tunnels.

The Palace of the Governors doesn't even have a basement and so a tunnel to it would be superfluous.  I doubt the bank would have wanted a tunnel into its basement for security reasons.

Snow said that she too was familiar with these sealed doorways and went on to explain what they were for.  These basement doors led to chambers under the sidewalks in front of many commercial businesses on the Plaza and were used to access freight elevators to bring goods down to the basement level instead of through the front doors.  Anyone who has been to NY, Chicago or any other big city has seen this type of freight elevator still in use today.

End of story.  End of myth.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

p.s. When I originally posted this article I immediately deleted it.  Within an hour an alert reader notified me to the following:  a website called Legends of America has an article, "NM Legends: Haunted La Fonda Hotel of Santa Fe".  I had seen this article when surfing the Internet but ignored it as just another ubiquitous tale of Santa Fe ghosts.  But buried in this article is the following line in reference to the Exchange Hotel, the former name of the La Fonda in the late 19th, early 20th centuries before it became a Harvey House in the early 1920's.

"Sometime during this period several tunnels were constructed underneath the hotel that lead to the courthouse."  Vague, but interesting.  I emailed the author as to her source but never heard back.

I again called Cordelia Snow and asked her for her opinion.  Her response, and I quote with permission, was "Hogwash".

I went down to the La Fonda and talked to John Nuanez, the head maintenance man of 37 years for his knowledge of said tunnels.  He, most obligingly, took the time to show me the basements of the hotel as they now exist.  He in all of his years of crawling about every nook and cranny of the hotel had never seen any sign of tunnels, or doorways leading to them. 

Would anyone with any hard documentation of these tunnels please post them in response.  Otherwise I am assuming that Plaza tunnels are just another Santa Fe myth.


Monday, 09 February 2015 20:52

Simon Nusbaum, a little-known Jewish pioneer in Santa Fe

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Simon Nusbaum, a little-known Jewish pioneer in Santa Fe


Arthur Scott



   I begin this story at the end. Currently(2015) at 123 Washington Avenue, in Santa Fe, stands the Hotel de Chimayo owned by Heritage Hotels and Resorts. Formally it was the Hotel Plaza Real constructed around 1988 by Santa Fe hotelier Mike Cerletti on the site of a former City parking lot. In 1960 the Santa Fe New Mexican reported that the city Council voted to lease the Nusbaum property on Washington Avenue for $600 per month, demolish the hundred plus year old house, and establish an 85-car, off- street,  parking lot.  

  The property was then owned by John and Ester Nusbaum. John was the son of Simon Nusbaum. At the time, they were living in Albuquerque and agreed to the

Sunday, 20 April 2014 16:56

Old Limestone Quarries of Santa Fe

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Old Limestone Quarries of Santa Fe    By  Richard Barrett
Before there was polished granite table tops, flagstone patios, sandstone block rock terraces, "pen" tile, bricks and cinder block there was limestone! In days of yore you use'd what you could get and close at hand. In Santa Fe that meant limestone. 
Most Santa Feans drive or walk by it every day, whether they know it or not. The Federal Court House, the terrace in front of the San Miguel Church,the Santa Fe river and old Acequia embankments, the south Capitol district's raised basements and CCC work projects. Everywhere you go in old Santa Fe, there it is, limestone.
Where did it come from?
It came from our back yard.
A cursory look at the the 1961 USGS  7.5 min. topo. map of the the Santa Fe quadrangle shows over twenty different quarries within two miles of the plaza.
It all started with the Territorial Federal Building next to the present day PO in downtown SF in 1853. It all ended about 1940 when all the CCC workers went to war.
Although sandstone was also used in this period, such as the St Francis Cathedral and Loretta Chapel, it was much more costly due to milling into blocks, dressing and  transportation  (the "Bishop's" quarry was located on the of top Cerro Colorado, a Mesa
due south of Lamy).
The Wikipedia site on the cathedral erroneously identifies it as yellow limestone. It is not. It is sandstone of the Morrison formation.
Other sandstones used for ornamental work also came from south of Santa Fe in the Cerrillos Hills and environs.
Limestone though was the basic available stone. Easy to quarry and dress, it also bonds well with cement (limestone being its source). The limestone  in question has been variously described over the years with many different nomenclatures, but the current consensus is that it is of  the Mississippian Arroyo Penasco Group/La Pasada formation. It is approximately 800 feet thick and outcrops from the foothills east of Santa Fe, into the Pecos River Canyon and over into the Las Vegas area.
Of the twenty or so quarries in the Santa Fe area the largest grouping was off Valley Drive, northeast of town in the appropriately named drainage of the Arroyo de la Piedra. Nine quarries are shown on the map, making it an easy, close, down-hill coast into town for the hauling wagons.
These being the closest to the present Federal courthouse it would be obvious to surmise that that is where the stone came from.
The next closest are the four on Gonzales Road just up from Cerro Gordo road. These may have been used for the retaining walls along the river and various acequias in town.
Three more are shown just downstream from the Twomile Resevoir where Cerro Gordo curves into upper Canyon Road. To the north are three more along an unnamed arroyo flowing south by the namesake Cerro Gordo hill.
There is another cluster on Hyde Park road in what is now  called Cerros Colorado (a more erroneous name if I've ever heard one, as the whole project was excavated and built on limestone).      
A curious aside in relation to this development is that most of the stone was hauled away to the intersection of Airport and Aqua Fria roads to be used as fill. The builders and landscapers then brought in truckloads of sandstone. Although you do see some of the local limestone used,most is sandstone.
As an active stone mason from 1990 to 2010 I was lucky enough to cross paths with a local builder named Robert Frank who let me have all I wanted from the fill site and to let me scavenge at building sites. In all I used 20 to 30 tons over the years, a fraction of the thousands of tons hauled away and buried.
Across the road from Cerros de Colorado is another development called Paseo del Norte. It to has old quarries.
Almost all the sites mentioned have been obliterated by new residential construction and are now virtually invisible. But when viewing the described areas on Google map it is obvious from the grey coloring of earth where these limestone outcroppings are. 
How many thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of tons were quarried is anybody's  guess. All I know is that a lot of Santa Fe is built on and out of this rock.
If you ask for native limestone today at any of the local rock yards, you will probably be met with a blank stare. It is just no longer available.
Santiago E. Campos US Courthouse,Santa Fe , NM, GSA Home page
Museum of NM/Office of Archaeological Studies
Vista Canada Ancha: Survey of proposed water line
Wallace/Lentz Archaeological Notes 207, 1996
Geology of Santa Fe Region/NM Geological Society
Bauer, 1992
Industrial Minerals and Rocks in Santa Fe county, p.179
NM Geological Society, Guidebook 41, 1990
Building with Stone in Northern NM
Austin, Barker/pg. 405
Adam Read link to nomenclature:
http://geo info.nmt. edu/publications/periodicals/nmg downloads/23/n4/nmg V23 n4 p.103
Wikipedia "St. Francis Cathedral" Santa Fe, NM
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