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Betty Stewart: Defying Conventions and Shaping Santa Fe's Architectural Identity

n the heart of Santa Fe, amidst the adobe structures and the rich tapestry of history, there lies the indomitable spirit of Betty Stewart—a woman who not only left an indelible mark on the architectural landscape but also challenged societal norms with her unique style and unapologetic approach to life. Mark H. Cross, in his biography "A Tale of Santa Fe: Betty Stewart in the City Different," paints a vivid picture of Stewart's remarkable journey, intertwining her personal struggles with the evolution of Santa Fe's identity.

Betty Stewart's personal residence at 1438 Bishops Lodge
Betty Stewart's personal residence at 1438 Bishops Lodge Road

A Maverick in the Making

Betty Stewart's roots trace back to a cattle ranch in Harding County, New Mexico, where she and her brother Pete were homeschooled. Born to a successful Texas automobile dealer and a refined mother, Betty's early life set the stage for her unconventional path. Despite grappling with alcoholism and the challenges of coming out as a lesbian in conservative Dalhart, Betty emerged victorious, finding her true self and a sense of belonging in Santa Fe.

Pitched Roofs and Defiance

Stewart's architectural legacy, often overshadowed by controversy, centers around her defiance of the Santa Fe Historic Styles Ordinance of 1957. The pitched roofs of her houses, notably the one at Acequia Madre and Garcia Street, became her signature style. In a city adamant about preserving historical aesthetics, Betty's outspoken declaration, "I like a pitched roof. Why do you like a blue jacket? It's a matter of taste," marked a turning point in the ongoing debate.

A Style of Her Own

In the early 1970s, Betty Stewart embarked on a journey of architectural creativity, drawing inspiration from her family's ranch house on Ute Creek. Her houses, characterized by adobe wall construction, long portals, open ceilings, brick floors, and, of course, pitched roofs, exuded a sense of honesty and form that defined her unique style. The sculptural interiors, as depicted in Cross's narrative, showcase Betty's mastery of space and proportion.

767 Acequia Madre - Betty Stewart Compound
767 Acequia Madre - Betty Stewart Compound

The Rise of Santa Fe Style

Mark H. Cross skillfully places Betty Stewart within the broader context of Santa Fe's identity evolution during the 1980s. As the city redefined itself as the "New West," Stewart's work gained national attention, with her new house featured in House & Garden magazine. She became a symbol of Santa Fe's charm and authenticity, contributing to the city's image as a haven for eccentrics and misfits.

Fireplace at Betty Stewart's home in Tesuque
Fireplace at Betty Stewart's home in Tesuque

Overcoming Adversity

Betty Stewart's life, as portrayed by Cross, is one of resilience and triumph. Overcoming alcoholism, navigating the challenges of being a lesbian in a less accepting era, and carving her niche in the male-dominated field of architecture, Betty's story is a testament to her irrepressible spirit. Her ability to forge a fulfilling life in Santa Fe reflects a mutual transformation—the city embracing her as much as she embraced it.

Gardens at Betty Stewart's home in Tesuque - 1438 Bishops Lodge Rd
Gardens at Betty Stewart's home in Tesuque - 1438 Bishops Lodge Rd

Betty Stewart's story is a captivating narrative of a woman who defied norms, challenged architectural conventions, and became an integral part of Santa Fe's rich cultural tapestry. Mark H. Cross's biography not only unveils the complexities of Stewart's life but also serves as a lens through which we witness the dynamic evolution of a city and its quest for identity. Betty Stewart, with her pitched roofs and unwavering spirit, remains a beacon in the history of Santa Fe—an embodiment of individuality, creativity, and the relentless pursuit of one's true self.

Betty Stewart-influenced 463 Calle La Paz Street


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