Sunday, 29 July 2012 00:37

A Bit More on Santa Fe Style

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Photo archives, Palace of the Governors, Negative 040697, 1915, Panama-California Exposition San Diego Photo archives, Palace of the Governors, Negative 040697, 1915, Panama-California Exposition San Diego



A Bit More On “Santa Fe Style.”


Arthur Scott


   I would like to expand a bit on Michael Miller’s short paper on Santa Fe Chic. He mentions that Carlos Vierra, a talented early Santa Fe artist, ids considered the “father of Santa Fe style.”  Carlos Vierra was a California sailor of Portuguese descent that gave up the sea to paint full time and moved to Santa Fe in the early 1900’s because of his health. However, the term “Santa Fe Style” and the definition of that style regarding architecture should actually be attributed to Sylvanus Morley.

   In 1912, my grandfather, Arthur Seligman, who was then Mayor of Santa Fe, appointed a City Planning Board Among the appointed members were

Edgar Hewitt, Sylvanus Morley, and H. H. Dorman. At the time, Hewett was head of what became The School of American Research and also the Museum of New Mexico, and Dorman was chairman of The Chamber of Commerce, and a protege of Bronson Cutting who owned The New Mexican.

   The board produced a comprehensive city plan in the fall of 1912. The plan called for architectural homogeneity, as was the fashion at that time, but with a twist in using a revival style of the old buildings surveyed by Jesse Nusbaum in the old sections of the city. Sylvanus Morley was given the task of writing a supplement to the 1912 plan. According to Wilson, this was the first “systematic attempt to define a local style different from the California Mission style.” He basically defined flat-roofed, horizontal, buildings with portals with a symmetrical U-shaped appearance.

   He rehabilitated the old Roque Lobato house in this style as his residence. Between 1909 and 1912 Jesse Nusbaum had overseen the remodeling of the old palace and the present portal was added.  After the “new-old Santa Fe” exhibit at the museum a contest was held to design a new Santa Fe style house. Wilson states, “The form soon appeared in new residences and Jesse Nusbaum’s design for the local U. S. Forestry building. The most conspicuous expression, however, would be the 1913 portal of the Palace of the Governors.” It must be noted that all of this was done to stop the economic decline of the city by promoting tourism and brining in needed dollars.  It is somewhat ironic to me that during this period and until his death in 1933 my grandfather, Arthur Seligman, lived in a steeply sloped roofed, non-stuccoed, brick house on East Palace avenue and my great uncle, James Seligman, lived in the same style large white, two-story, house on Hillside avenue.

   Hewett and Dorman had had a continuous relationship which had stemmed from a difference of opinion of the founding date of Santa Fe. Around 1913 The New Mexican reported “SANTA FE DECLARED THE OLDEST CITY IN THE UNITED STATES”

And went on to state “Chamber of Commerce Vote to Have the Legend Printed on 68,000 Envelopes to be Used by the Merchants and Others to Strive to Swell the Tourist Crop.”  Harvard trained Sylvanus Morley offered his opinion that Santa Fe lacked evidence that it was the oldest European city in the United States.  Hewett asked for opinions to Santa Fe’s claim from the best sources in the United States of which he knew, Lummis, Bandelier, F. W. Hodge, and the local historian Benjamin Read.  Answers came back rapidly unanimously stating that Santa Fe had no basis for the claim. According to Chauvenet, Bandelier wrote “The fact was well established that Santa Fe was established as late as 1605.  And Bandelier went onto say “The earliest settlement and one still extant is Saint Augustine in Florida, which was established in 1559 or 60.”  Some even concluded that the date should be 1692 as the colony was abandoned for 12 years after the pueblo revolt in 1680. Ralph Twichell who supported the Chamber’s view was silenced when it was pointed out that his own writings cite 1605 as the earliest possible date for Santa Fe. After much bickering and attempts to discredit Hewitt by the New Mexican under Bronson Cutting the matter died. Of course the date of the founding of Santa Fe is now shown to be 1610 while the dates for Saint Augustine are well documented.

   Not without controversy, in 1913 Hewett took on the additional duties as Director of Exhibits for the Panama-California exposition to be held in San Diego. New Mexico strongly embraced participation in the exposition and the State appropriated funding to build an exhibit hall (shown above). Twichell was in charge and the architecture firm of I. H. Rapp was hired for the design. Rapp’s inspirations were paintings made by Carlos Vierra of the facades of New Mexico’s mission churches. Two struggling Santa Fe artists, Gerald Cassidy and Carlos Vierra, were commissioned to paint murals for the rooms. The exhibit was quite successful and the building became the model for the new art museum designed by the same firm of I. H. and W. M. Rapp and completed a few years later.




Hewett and Friends, Chauvenet, Beatrice, 1983, Museum of New Mexico Press

The Myth of Santa Fe, Wilson, Chris, 1997, University of New Mexico Press

My personal family recollections

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