Preserving Our History
MAY IS NATIONAL HISTORIC PRESERVATION MONTH!
In honor of National Historic Preservation Month, a spotlight shines on the rich architectural heritage found in the earliest developed neighborhoods in Las Cruces. Within the Alameda-Depot neighborhood, of which many of the residential and commercial buildings within its boundaries are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, many well-maintained, century-old residences. Each of the homes highlighted here provide a glimpse into the varied styles popular in earlier decades when homes were built to meet the owner’s individual taste.
- Sam Bean Jr. House
- Albert Bacon Fall House
- Bungalow-Style Home
- Barncastle House
- Mediterranean Style Home
- House of Stone
On West Griggs Avenue stands a notable residence built in circa 1890, and it is associated with one of the pioneer families of Las Cruces. The Sam Bean Jr. House, constructed of adobe bricks in the Territorial Style, exemplifies a building type common to New Mexico in the late Nineteenth Century and into the early years of the Twentieth Century. Bean’s father was among the settlers who staked out property in the original town site Lieutenant Delos Bennett Sackett surveyed in 1849. As for Sam Jr.’s uncles, both were also notable; his father’s older brother Joshua served as the first mayor of San Diego, California, while his younger uncle, Roy, remains legendary as “The Law West of the Pecos” of Langtry, Texas.
Two other residences on South Miranda Street typify the direction of domestic architectural design in Las Cruces when new building materials were introduced over the railroad as the new century began. Both houses were built within several years of each other, yet each is distinctive. The Albert Bacon Fall House, the more modest of the two, a brick construction covered in stucco, was built about the time New Mexicans elected Fall to the United States Senate in 1912. Fall, it will be remembered, later became Secretary of the Interior in the Harding Administration and was a central figure in the Teapot Dome Scandal.
In contrast to the Fall House, a one-story bungalow stands several lots to the north that harkens more to Southern California than to the Chihuahuan Desert. Constructed of adobe and plastered with stucco, its front-facing gables and wooden brackets incorporate design elements common to the bungalows designed by Greene & Greene Architects of Pasadena. This residence, designed contemporarily to the work of the Greene brothers, architecturally connects Southern New Mexico to the West Coast of the early Twentieth Century, and, of course, suggests a bit of refinement in a land widely viewed as a harsh frontier.
On the northeast corner of the intersection of Mesquite Street and May Avenue, Antonio “Tony” Barncastle built his home and store in circa 1905. The Barncastle residence, a well-proportioned, massive adobe structure, incorporates elements very characteristic of vernacular homes in New Mexico during the Territorial era. From its truncated hipped roof covered with corrugated metal, brick chimneys, deep inset doors and windows, and soft rose-colored plaster, the home is a distinctive landmark within the Mesquite Street-Original Townsite Historic District.
Several blocks west of downtown Las Cruces on Van Patten Avenue sits a Mediterranean style residence built approximately ninety years ago. In the 1920s and 1930s, a number of architects in the Southwest, including Henry C. Trost and Mabel Welch, designed for clients homes evoking the character and spirit of Mediterranean Spain and Italy. Typical features of such homes are evident in this residence in the Alameda-Depot Historic District, namely the gable roof covered with mission tile, a brilliant white-stucco exterior, and a wall buttress at the front entry. The scoring in the white plaster adds a distinctive regional touch to the home’s overall appearance.
Another notable vernacular residence in the Alameda-Depot Historic District occupies 440 West Mountain Avenue, one well-known for its building material. While adobe bricks have long been used for construction in the Chihuahuan Desert, stone gathered from the foothills of the Organ Mountains has also provided a suitable, locally available material for building purposes. This residence relies on stone in combination with elements of the Pueblo Revival style to achieve its distinctive appearance. The inward sloping walls, exposed vigas, heavy lintels above the windows, and irregular parapet, features common to this particular style, are matched with an atypical wall buttress similar to the one on the home on Van Patten Avenue.
Upon close observation, the stylistic differences among these three residences become immediately evident. Nonetheless, each residence marks a specific moment in time in the growth of Las Cruces, and, like all works of art, their features and character are best enjoyed when viewed in thoughtful contemplation.
Historic Preservation Ordinance
The City of Las Cruces values our history and culture, and encourages those who are repairing or rehabilitating their own historic properties to do so in a way that protects the integrity of the property.
Summary Questions and Answers about the Historic Preservation Ordinance
The following Q & A is provided to help guide residents through the historic preservation:
Q: What is the purpose of the proposed ordinance?
A: The overarching goal is to protect and promote those buildings and sites in our community that tell our story. Through preservation, we can enhance civic pride, create sustainable neighborhoods, help make Las Cruces a heritage tourism destination, attract businesses to rehabilitate under-utilized buildings, and stabilize and increase property values.
Q: What does the proposed ordinance do?
A: It creates a Historic Preservation Commission with oversight to review planned modifications to the exteriors of properties listed in the Las Cruces Register of Cultural Properties. The Commission works with City staff during the plan review process; it offers educational information about preservation programs; and it prepares an annual report to present to City Council on the status of preservation efforts and achievements. By establishing a standard board and a review process, the proposed ordinance affirms the City of Las Cruces’ commitment to include historic preservation as a matter of public policy.
Q: What is the Las Cruces Register of Cultural Properties?
A: This register will be the official list of designated historic properties within the city limits. Those properties may be buildings at least fifty (50) years old, archeological sites, structures, or objects that possess historic or cultural value.
Q: How does a listing in the Las Cruces Register of Cultural Properties occur?
A: Typically, property owners initiate the nomination process for listing. While another party may wish to nominate a property for listing, only the owner of record may grant permission for their property to be listed in the local Register of Cultural Properties.
Q: If I currently reside in one of the three historic districts in Las Cruces, is my property automatically entered into the local Register of Cultural Properties?
A: No. However, residents in the Alameda-Deport Historic District, the Mesquite Original Townsite Historic District, or the Mesilla Park Historic District are eligible to nominate their property to be listed in the Register of Cultural Properties.
Q: Can only individual properties be listed in the Register of Cultural Properties?
A: No. Multiple properties may also be listed. A historic district, often consisting of a commercial area or a neighborhood, may contain as few as two properties or as many as several hundred. The process to nominate multiple properties to the local register follows similar steps as the nomination process for an individual property.
Q: What impact does the ordinance have on the issuance of a building permit?
A: Proposed scopes of work on properties with a local historic designation will be considered as part of the overall plan review process prior to the issuance of a building permit. Depending on the scope of work, approval may be obtained administratively, or for more detailed projects impacting the exteriors of historic properties, the Historic Preservation Commission will review the project. In either case, an applicant will need to secure a Certificate of Appropriateness before a building permit may be issued.
Q: Is this step in the plan review process complicated and lengthy?
A: No. Proposed modifications to the exteriors of designated cultural properties will be reviewed in a timely manner. Depending upon the proposed scope of work, the review process may be completed administratively by the Historic Preservation Specialist, or, for more extensive projects, the Historic Preservation Commission will consider proposed scopes of work at its monthly meeting.
Q: What is a Certificate of Appropriateness?
A: This certificate demonstrates that a proposed scope of work has been reviewed and approved either administratively or by the Historic Preservation Commission. Upon its issuance to an applicant, the applicant may then request a building permit to commence a project.
Q: What is a Certificate of Economic Hardship?
A: This certificate is a written record of relief issued by the Historic Preservation Commission, following the denial of a Certificate of Appropriateness, that authorizes an applicant to proceed with a revised scope of work when proper rehabilitation practices are clearly unfeasible from an economic standpoint.
Q: Is there a cost associated with the nomination process to list a property or properties, or to review a project to secure a Certificate of Appropriateness?
A: No. While the City of Las Cruces maintains a schedule of fees for building permits, the review process to secure a Certificate of Appropriateness does not incur any additional charge. Nor is there any charge to initiate and complete the process to list a property on the Las Cruces Register of Cultural Properties.
Benefits of Historic Preservation
The recent rehabilitation projects at the Rio Grande Theatre, Phillips Chapel, and Nestor Armijo house, are excellent examples of the community benefits of historic preservation, including:
- Enhanced civic pride and neighborhood identity
- Marketable commercial value of historic properties and district
- Recognition that the accomplishments and challenges faced by earlier residents may be relevant now and in the future
- Stabilized, and in some cases, increased, property values
- Unique and engaging sites or districts for visitors to appreciate and enjoy
Historic Buildings in Las Cruces
The vast majority of historic properties are located downtown or the Mesquite, Alameda Depot, and Mesilla Park Historic Districts. Over 1,000 buildings and structures are listed on the State Register of Cultural Properties or the National Register of Historic Places.
For more information, email Troy Ainsworth.
Phillips Chapel Rehabilitation Completed in 2013