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Santa Fe's Westside / Guadalupe Historic District: Hispanic Vernacular Versus Pueblo Revival

The Westside/Guadalupe area just to the west of downtown Santa Fe is interesting architecturally because it is the only historic district in Santa Fe consisting primarily of owner-built houses. These owner-built or vernacular houses express individual values and possibly group values in a way that housing designed and built by professionals does not. Owner-built housing is a New Mexican tradition still comm on today. Many houses on the eastside of Santa Fe are also owner-built but most have been professionally remodeled in the Santa Fe style due to the high property values in that area and the Historic Styles Ordinance.

The Westside/Guadalupe neighborhood forms the one major area which is part of the Santa Fe Historic District listed on the National Register of Historic Places yet was excluded from the historic district established by the City Council in 1957. The purpose of the 1957 Historic District Ordinance was to preserve and promote the Santa Fe style by requiring that all new construction and remodeling conform to either Pueblo Revival or Territorial style. The Westside/Guadalupe area was excluded because many people felt that the design standards would pose an economic hardship for the lower-income property owners on the westside.

This area lies west of Guadalupe Street, with the part on the north side of the river generally known as the West San Francisco Street neighborhood while the area on the south side is the Guadalupe neighborhood. The western boundary was arbitrarily established in 1964 by the construction of St. Francis Drive which cut a wide swath through what was then a dense and homogeneous neighborhood. The neighborhood to the west of St. Francis Drive has much the same history and architectural character as the Westside/Guadalupe area.

Curvilinear parapet santa fe
Curvilinear parapet and low transparent fence at 111 Elena Street.

In 1983 the Westside/Guadalupe Historic District was established by the City Council to control architectural styles in that area. These regulations generally follow the Spanish Pueblo and Territorial style requirements but are less stringent than those of the downtown and Eastside historic districts. However, the Westside/Guadalupe Historic District regulations do not reflect the existing vernacular character of those neighborhoods. It is probably no coincidence that the creation of the Westside / Guadalupe Historic District and its design controls coincided with a period of sharply escalating property values and real estate speculation and development in that area. These trends are tending to change these neighborhoods radically in certain aspects.

The History of the Guadalupe Historic District

In order to understand the traditional neighborhood character, it is helpful to consider its historic evolution. From the period after the 1692 Reconquest to the late 19th century, the area consisted of agricultural land laced with acequias. It supported a small number of adobe houses located mostly along the old roads including Agua Fria which was part of the Camino Real, Alto Street along the south edge of the river, and West San Francisco Street which paralleled the river on the north.

The coming of the railroad in 1880 and its extension northward in 1887 along what is now Guadalupe Street fostered some growth in this area but also severed it from the main part of Sant a Fe, relegating it to the far side of the tracks. These neighborhoods experienced some additional growth during the prosperous years which preceded statehood. During the 1920s the neighborhood population nearly doubled, and then more than doubled again by the end of World War II.

santa fe new mexico railroad depot in 1912
Railroad Depot in 1912

Of the 686 buildings surveyed in the Westside/Guadalupe District in 1985, 71% were built before 1946. The relatively flat level strips of irrigated land were easily divided into building lots, with narrow lanes along the property lines giving access to the houses. This growth occurred not as major subdivisions but as piecemeal divisions of individual agricultural parcels into small building lots.

The agricultural land was predominantly Hispanic-owned and the subsequent neighborhoods remained predominantly Hispanic. On the newly-divided lots owners built small houses using their own labor and whatever building materials they could get together, whether by making their own adobes and cutting vigas, or recycling materials or buying the necessities from the local building supply.

The few remaining 19th century houses in the district often follow the typical Spanish Colonial prototype of a single file of adobe rooms at the street edge, but most of the later houses have compact floor plans and are more or less centered on the lot in the typical American fashion. Because the lots are small, the houses are usually only fifteen or twenty feet from the street which helps to create a small scale and an intimate streetscape. The small size of the houses and the narrowness of the streets add to this effect.

There are a number of outbuildings in the district including garages, storage sheds, workshops, studios and little cottages. These buildings are also owner-built and usually sited towards the rear of the property. They increase the diversity of the neighborhood and contribute to its historic appearance. The ir- regular building placement and the large number of houses tucked away on private alleys and shared driveways also help dispell a suburban appearance.

The houses of the district are traditionally single story in height. Of the nearly 700 buildings in the district, only about 31 have a second story. All but three of these two-story houses were built after 1945. In fact, most of the two-story houses have been buil t within the last ten years. Historically, the district was about 99% single-story and is still 95% single-story despite the recent trend toward second-story construction. Single-story construction is typical of Hispanic building traditions in New Mexico and is more manageable for non-professional builders.

Most properties have some sort of wall or fence at the street edge. These are nearly always low (2 or 3 feet high) and many are transparent, being made of chain link, wire, rock or concrete block. The low walls and fences allow houses and yards to be seen from the street. High (6 feet) walls are being introduced on various streets throughout the district as various properties are developed or remodeled. These are built most frequently by people who have recently acquired property in the neighborhood.

High walls are built for security and privacy as well as to achieve a "Santa Fe style" look. These high solid walls drastically alter the streetscape. House facades have traditionally been the dominant streetscape element in this neighborhood. When yards and house facades are concealed behind high blank walls, the sense of pedestrian scale and intimacy is lost.

Some of the small yards of the district are planted with grass, flowers and shrubbery while others are bare earth which has been cleared of weeds. There are virtually no examples of desert landscaping with scoria or gravel and native plants such as cactus and chamisa. There are relatively few trees in the neighborhood most of which are fruit trees or volunteer trees including Chinese elm and Ailanthus (Tree of Heaven). Foundation planting is not common. There are no street trees in the district except for some random plantings along St. Francis Drive.

The individual houses in the area have a wide variety of details although few can be labeled as a clear example of a particular style such as Territorial, Spanish Pueblo, Bungalow or Craftsman. According to the 1985 survey of the existing structures built between 1920 and 1945, there are four vernacular style buildings for every Spanish Pueblo style building. In this case, vernacular means that the structure is owner-built and does not conform to a particular style, but rather incorporates individual features, details and materials which the owner-builder chooses. However, the features which are chosen arc often influenced by popular trends, either within the neighborhood or on a citywide or regional scale.

For example, curvilinear parapets can be found on many Santa Fe buildings, but they seem to be particularly plentiful in the Westside/Guadalupe neighborhood. Curvilinear parapets were a prominent characteristic of Mission style architecture which originated in California and was popular throughout the Southwest during the early part of the twentieth centu ry. Santa Fe had a number of Mission style buildings including the Elks Club on Lincoln Avenue, the Women's Board of Trade on Washington Avenue and the Guadalupe Church, all of which have since been remodeled into other styles.

The Pueblo Revival style sprang from the same romantic visions as the Mission style. The curvilinear parapet theme was borrowed from the Mission style and carried out in stuccoed masonry rather than stone or terra cotta. Many of the early Pueblo Revival buildings had curvilinear parapets including the Old Post Office on Cathedral Place, the Gross Kelly Warehouse at the railyard and La Fonda Hotel. This was a fashionable architectural detail that was reasonably easy and inexpensive for homeowners to build. The curvilinear parapets in the Westside/Guadalupe neighborhood usually have a simple profile and are an integral part of the stuccoed wall, although one example of a curvilinear parapet in stone atop a stuccoed house can be seen on West Manhattan Avenue. Elsewhere in the neighborhood a yellow stuccoed house has a curvilinear parapet of red-painted brick.

A second architectural feature borrowed from the Mission style is the window or door canopy. This element is also related to the Craftsman style with its broad overhanging roofs supported by diagonal wood braces. The projecting canopies over windows and doors most often have roofs of pressed metal tiles molded in the shape of Spanish mission tiles. These are often painted red while the wood brackets are painted to match the exterior trim of the house. The projecting canopies were fairly easy to build and were useful in protecting windows and doors from the elements. Like the curvilinear parapets, the projecting canopies suggest a Spanish theme perhaps more appealing to the Westside/Guadalupe residents than the rough-hewn Pueblo Revival style which borrowed heavily from local Indian architecture.

Of the 686 buildings in the area recorded by the Santa Fe Historic District Building Survey, approximately 27 % had pitched roofs and 73% had flat roofs. However, the distinction between pitched and flat roofs in this neighborhood is fairly subtle. Many flat roofs in this neighborhood overhang the exterior walls rather than being concealed behind parapets. Most of the pitched roofs have low pitches. Many are shed roofs with a parapet along one, two or three sides. These low pitches with overhanging eaves are the most simple and practical for owners to build. Steep (30 degrees +) pitches are not characteristic of the district. Most pitched roofs are covered in asphalt composition material in the form of shingles or roll roofing. Corrugated galvanized steel and standing seam roofs are also common.

Color is less limited in the Westside/Guadalupe neighborhood than in many other areas of Santa Fe. Tan and brown stucco predominates, but white buildings are also quite common. Pink, yellow and green houses can also be found. Woodwork and trim are often painted blue, green or some other colorful hue. Often the paint used for the trim is also used on the mailbox, the wire fence and other site accessories. Sometimes alternating colors or a checkerboard pattern is used for decorative effect. Stucco textures including two-color brocades and trowel patterns are also used for a decorative effect. Wainscots or dados, a common Latin American detail not widely used in Pueblo Revival architecture, can occasionally be found in the neighborhood.

The Westside/Guadalupe neighborhood has various murals painted on exterior stuccoed walls. They are found on both commercial and residential properties and have been painted by various groups. The major murals of the area include the Law Center mural at 529 West San Francisco Street, the Leyba mural at Jimenez Street and West San Francisco, the Cervantes mural facing the river just north of Alto Street, the Space Science Center mural, and the Virgin of Guadalupe at 842 Agua Fria Street and another at 729 Dunlap. Like other architectural features found within the district, these murals are expressive and individualistic. The political or religious themes of the murals, as well as the medium itself, reflect Hispanic heritage.

Construction materials are varied in part due to the time span of the neighborhood, but also because the houses are mostly owner-built. Most of the older houses are masonry, either adobe, concrete block, clay tile or brick. Nearly all have an exterior finish of cement stucco, though one example of mud plaster can still be seen on a one-room outbuilding at 105 Jimenez. Openwork concrete block units are often used as decorative elements in walls. Found or recycled materials are sometimes incorporated into building projects. Wheel hubs are built into a river-rock wall on West San Francisco Street. The headboard of a steel bed frame is used as a grill in a wall on Polaco Street. A house on West Manhattan has a rear garden wall constructed of concrete test cylinders.

A number of houses have plaques with the name of the homeowners hanging on the front porch or near the front door. Usually only the family name is given but sometimes first names are also given, for example, "Los Montoyas, Joe + Dora" at 119 Elena. These name plaques are a way of further personalizing one's property in a publicly visible way.

Other common architectural details in the Westside/Guadalupe neighborhood are the homemade wood gates, shutters, corbels and other decorative elements. Usually they are simple constructions made of milled lumber and painted to match other exterior details. Sometimes they have carved or cutout patterns which individualize the house.

In summary, the typical Westside/Guadalupe house is a small single-story house with a low profile. It was built sometime after World War I by its original owner/occupant using inexpensive materials. The house probably grew incrementally as the family needed and could afford extra rooms. The property is ornamented and personalized in a simple way using colorful accents, a name plaque and/or distinctive details. A low fence or wall probably surrounds the property. The typical streetscape is a narrow quiet street lined with low fences and small , distinct lind personalized houses set close to the street.

Although the styles ordinance in the Westside/Guadalupe neighborhood is less stringent than for the Eastside of Santa Fe, it prohibits certain features which contribute to the historic character of the neighborhood while allowing other features which detract from the historic character.

The allowable colors for building walls in the neighborhood should be extended to include pastels and white as well as earth tones. Owners should be allowed to paint brick or stone as is frequently done in this neighborhood.

Low chain link and wire fences are common to the neighborhood and contribute to the openness of the neighborhood. On the other hand, high solid walls are currently permitted, but they are quite uncharacteristic of the neighborhood. Their presence creates a dull and claustrophobic streetscape.

The Westside/Guadalupe neighborhood is particularly vulnerable to a jarring effect caused by two-story buildings because the neighborhood consists almost entirely of one-story small-scale houses on small lots with narrow streets. The relatively flat terrain and scarcity of trees provide no visual buffer for the upper stories. This neighborhood should be downzoned to reduce or eliminate multistory construction. Steeply pitched roofs are uncharacteristic of the neighborhood and should be' prohibited by the styles ordinance.

The underlying question behind these ordinance issues is whether the unique character of the Westside/Guadalupe neighborhood should be protected and encouraged or whether the neighborhood should be either allowed to or forced to transform itself into the stereotypical "Santa Fe Look" with earth-colored buildings, high solid walls and standard unpainted vigas, corbel and lintel details. Within the downtown area the City has recently recognized thirteen different townscapes and has written a separate set of design standards for each in order to protect and perpetuate the individual townscapes. Some recognition of ver- nacular architecture and existing neighborhood character was in- corporated in the Westside/Guadalupe Historic District Or- dinance, but not enough to adequately protect it, and certai nly not encourage it.

lt is apparent from interviews with neighborhood residents that there is not a clear consensus about what direction the neighborhood should take regarding its future growth and appearance. Some residents value the traditional character of the neighborhood including its distinctive architecture and the sense of community fostered by small quiet streets and houses close together and readily accessible from the street, as well as by a stable population of long-term homeowners. Other residents feel that the popular Santa Fe style architecture with its tan and brown colors and high stuccoed walls would improve the neighborhood and increase property values. One person commented that the long-term residents were leaving the neighborhood for various reasons and were concerned primarily with property values rather than future neighborhood character.

Zoning is closely linked to the question of future neighborhood character. The neighborhood is currently zoned RM-l and RM-2, the two densest residential zonings possible. While in some cases this zoning increases property value through increased development potential, this benefit is realized only by those who sell and presumably leave the neighborhood. Those who stay are then affected by the surrounding multi-family development which results in congestion on narrow streets, and an increase in small rental units with a high occupant turnover which erodes the sense of community.

Similarly, two-story construction, which is allowed under the current zoning, increases property values yet compromises the appearance of the neighborhood and may reduce the sunlight and privacy of adjacent properties. In the long run, however, preserving the Westside/Guadalupe neighborhood as a desirable and distinctive historic area with long-term residents and a sense of community may be best for property values as well as neighborhood character.

Part of the eastside look includes winding hilly dirt streets and lush vegetation which the Westside/Guadalupe neighborhood lacks. If the Westside/Guadalupe neighborhood uniformly adopts Pueblo Style architecture including high solid walls, it will lose its colorful uniqueness and much of its historical integrity as well as its small-scale and intimate streetscape. It will gain a certain "correctness" but also a drabness and feeling of congestion.

On the other hand, if the vernacular character of the neighborhood is emphasized, this neighborhood can improve by accentuating its best qualities rather than discarding them. Santa Fe needs the personal, colorful, homemade architecture of the Westside/Guadalupe Historic District.

Written in 1990 by Beverley Spears, AlA

Beverley B. Spears has been practicing architecture in Santa Fe since 1974. She is principal of Spears Architects, AlA and author of American Adobes published by UNM Press. She is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and is also a licensed Landscape Architect. Her architectual practice includes a mix of both residential and commerical projects. Spears is the photographer for the cover of this issue and also the other pictures which illustrate her article.


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