A year ago we began the restoration of the Gutierrez-Hubbell house in the Pajarito area in Albuquerque's South Valley. As we approach completion, it occurs to me that this project, centered on one of New Mexico's more authentic mid-19th century haciendas, has been important on a number of levels.
One of the property's more amazing attributes is that the same illustrious family owned it from the 1850s until 1997. The Hubbell side of the family married into the Gutierrez side whose ranch at one time had five miles of river frontage and extended westwards 14 miles (only a few acres of the original property remain). Juan "Lorenzo" Hubbell, like his father James, had mercantile interests and opened trading posts on the Navajo Reservation, including the famous one at Ganado, Arizona, which is now a National Historic Site.
In the late 1990s Bernalillo County successfully assessed a mil levy for the purchase and restoration of the property and began making plans for long-term conservation of both the existing buildings and remaining agricultural land. The driving force behind the entire initiative is the Hubbell House Alliance, a group of committed Hubbell descendents, neighbors and interested citizens.
The County, as administrator of the designated funds, retained Cornerstones Community Partnerships to conduct an assessment and prepare a historic structure report. The site was then used for several years as a locus for Cornerstones' well-known youth training initiatives in adobe conservation. As the project advanced, plans for the restored building began to emerge and a sense of urgency led, late in 2005, to Bernalillo County negotiating a contract with Crocker Ltd to provide full restoration services with Cornerstones acting as the project architect.
The list of entities above comprises a real concatenation of interests that was, for me, of real concern as we negotiated the contract. My fears were allayed early on as level-headedness and practicality joined almost seamlessly with aesthetic considerations and the long, emotionally laden associative anxieties of many of the parties. This is a roundabout way of saying that one of the highlights of the project has been the cooperation between seemingly disparate interests.
And, of course, there is the building itself; 5700 square feet of 150-year old adobe walls built without foundations of any description and having been the subject of benign neglect for some years. For us, naturally, that made it a perfect project.
Which is not to say that the unexpected has not arisen -- it has on multiple occasions. On a project alive with questions and nuance, one of the more startling early-morning phone calls informed me that a section of the north wall had collapsed overnight. It was a minor setback caused by a leaky old waterline under a corner. Then, as fate would have it, once the wall was rebuilt we were assaulted by a phenomenally wet fall. For months we had the entire place shrouded in black plastic. The neighbors were very patient with the sights and sounds of that episode and when the sheets finally came off, the appearance of the fresh mud plaster, new roof and restored windows was better than magic.
In a few months time the Gutierrez-Hubbell house will re-open and will stand emblematic of a conservation project that fulfilled not just the requirements, but the wishes and hopes of all parties involved.
There will be more on this project, including its impact on New Mexico's new earthen and historic building codes, in upcoming columns.