Transformation at the Palace of Governors marks an evolution | Editorials

Although the historic Santa Fe plaza may have lost its centerpiece – the fate of the damaged soldiers ‘monument remains uncertain as the city awaits the completion of a mediated “community reconciliation process” – the Governors’ Palace adobe, four centuries old, still anchors the downtown historic district. But the interior of the national monument is undergoing the latest in a long series of transformations since its construction as the seat of colonial government on the northern border of New Spain.

The thick-walled clean rooms and hallways are nearly empty as various electrical and structural upgrades are completed, finishing work on a major project that closed the old one. palace to the public from August 2018 to June this year as teams installed a heating, ventilation and air conditioning system and fire safety equipment. The work was motivated in part by the desire to avoid the kind of tragic fires that have plagued the Museu Nacional in Brazil or Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris in recent years.

Now, the State Department of Cultural Affairs is preparing to ask the legislature to fund the next phase of an overhaul that changes the way the country‘s oldest public building is presented to some 100,000 visitors during a normal year.

The temporary closure of the equipment facility necessitated the complete removal of the exhibits and allowed the curators of the history museum complex, including the 3.5-story space opened next door in 2009, to begin to rethink how to interpret the palace itself as an artefact.

What began in 1610 as earth and wood real houses, or royal buildings, intended to administer a large area from the Spanish outpost of Santa Fe, surrounded by Indian tribes, was connected to a military presidio and apparently had two floors up to a point in the latter half of the 18th century. century.

The structure went through various states of ruin and repair under the governors who resided there during the Spanish, Mexican, and American periods. Historians say that Juan Bautista de Anza, governor of the province from 1778 to 1787, even proposed the demolition of the palace and the construction of government buildings on the more defensible south bank of the Santa Fe River, in the area known as from Barrio de Analco.

Lew Wallace, who settled a century later and completed his novel Ben hur while he was territorial governor, asked Congress for money to renovate the old palace, which by this time was “Americanized” with Victorian touches that included the addition of a balustrade along the roof of the portal facing the square. A post office and a bank occupied premises at the western end of the building.

In addition to its changing appearances, the building has had various uses over the centuries, including executive, legislative, diplomatic, commercial, archival, and criminal, among others. It was even part of a multi-story pueblo that the natives of New Mexico constructed after ransacking the building while forcing the Spaniards out of northern New Mexico for 12 years in the late 17th century.

But from 1909 it began to function as a museum. It was at this point that the territorial legislature was convinced that it should become the seat of New Mexico’s nascent museum to promote pride in the territory’s colorful past.

Archaeologist and photographer Jesse Nusbaum oversaw extensive renovations to the palace, including shaping the existing portal in what he decided was a “Spanish colonial look,” which became the model for the Santa Fe style. The archaeologist history Emily Abbink later wrote that Nusbaum’s vision was “based more on nostalgia for the past than on careful historical research.”

The current director of the history museum, Buddy Garrett, recently said that nearly $ 500,000 would be requested from the New Mexico legislature in fiscal year 2023 to finish the rooms, repair exterior plaster and items such as the woodworking on windows and doors.

As for the next phase, deciding how the rooms will ultimately be used, he said: “We’re still exploring different kinds of approaches.”

He said the now dismantled ‘period rooms’, which were meant to represent how the palace spaces might have been furnished at certain documented points in its history, will not be part of the plan. “One of the problems we have when we do interpretive work on a building that is over 400 years old,” he said, “which period do you choose?”

The only long-term exhibition set up when the Palais reopened in June is called Palace seen and invisible, a series of wall panels in some rooms that present objects found during archaeological excavations and references to documentary documents intended to guide visitors through the many changes that have taken place at the palace over the centuries.

Former museum director Frances Levine noted that “as a National Historic Landmark, the palace stands alongside other great symbols of United States history – the home of Paul Revere, Mount Vernon and Monticello . Each American monument reminds visitors of the events and people who played a role in the development of this nation. “

As for what happens with the 152-year-old monument to Civil War soldiers across the street in the square, itself also designated a National Historic Landmark, it’s unclear whether the obelisk will be restored or what is happening now that its top has been toppled by vandals were apparently protesting that an inscription on one side of its base once included a reference to “wild” Indians.

While it cannot be repaired (historian Marc Simmons speculated that the stone came from the same quarry that was used to build the Santa Fe Cathedral), it would not be the first centerpiece to disappear from the plaza of our city. Historians Janet Lecompte and Joseph P. Sanchez wrote to an 1820s palace dweller, Governor Antonio Narbona, who built a stone sundial on an adobe base about 8 feet high in the center of the Plaza as commerce on the Santa Fe Trail began to bring major changes to the city.

They wrote: “The sundial had a Latin inscription, ‘Vita fugit sicut umbra’ (Life flees like a shadow), and like a shadow it disappeared before 1832, probably run over by the carts of traders.

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