Requiem for the Bandelier House
It seems to me that adobe buildings in Santa Fe are getting younger and younger. Really, that is logical since thousands of adobe houses (ersatz in my view because of the use of stabilizers, polystyrenes, concrete and elastomerics) have been built in the last decade.
The disturbing part of the phenomenon, however, is pure attrition as our older buildings are either demolished through neglect, "restored" with blatantly inappropriate materials, or gutted to the point where only a trace of the original remains.
This, of course, is nothing new. When both the Hilton and the Eldorado were built, single, fragmentary remnants of predecessor earthen buildings were incorporated into the structures so that they could attach the term "historic" to their spanking new edifices. What nonsense! And what a cop-out by compliance entities whose job it was to protect more than a shattered artifact of the original.
I believe in the economic engine, and have no qualms with commercial enterprise. Nor is it difficult to understand the pressure that corporate entities can put on local authority. It is nevertheless the job of the local authority to be steadfast and see to it that something remains that can be at least reminiscent of what came before, and preferably enough to actually be interpreted.
Like many, I followed the work on the Bandelier House on Paseo de Peralta where the intervention saw the total loss of the original wooden portal, installation of a concrete bond beam, and a shameful disregard for the original floor plan, wall coverings and floors. I strongly support the concept of adaptive re-use and this building now houses a commercial enterprise. That component should, if anything, help assure and promote through investment the conservation of the historicity of the place and make it attractive to the curious and even the scholarly.
The most depressing aspect in the metamorphosis of this particular home is that it was a truly interesting and significant building, mostly through its association with one of the truly interesting and significant personages in Santa Fe's panoply of important people. Surely one would like to experience upon entering the house some vestige of its previous occupant, Adolph Bandelier, the esteemed anthropologist, ethnologist and novelist; to see some surface that he saw, walk on a floor that he crossed in his stockings, open a window that he opened. Buildings are imbued with a message from the past (as the preamble to the Charter of Venice, our most venerated preservation document, so eloquently states) and it is the job of local authorities to recognize and oversee the preservation of that message. In this case, paradoxically, they did and they didn't.
Santa Fe's Historic Design Review Board and the preservation planners in City Hall are, I know from personal contact, depressed, disgusted and frustrated with what happened at the Bandelier House and elsewhere in the historic district. They have done their level best to protect what little remains of our authentic, older built heritage. They have my highest respect and admiration in no small part because they are working against the odds.
Adaptive re-use in other city departments seems to have come to mean, "gut to suit the whim of the occupant" and preservation has come to mandate a policy of "encase, enclose, disguise." Both the H-board and the planners have been rendered nearly toothless when it comes to compliance; the board because it is a volunteer advisory committee, the planners because they are overridden by forces both statutory and political.
What a pity. The Bandelier House persists in name alone and the legacy of its former owner is diminished. Something of that legacy could be retrieved if the City Council did a bit of restructuring in the permitting and compliance department and gave the preservation planners the authority they need to protect our remaining few interesting and important messages from the past.