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Reviving the past

The newly renovated Santa Fe County Administration Building now features the courtyard that was part of the original building. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

Nearly 82 years after it was built, the Santa Fe County Administration Building has been renovated to restore some of the original design elements of renowned Santa Fe architect John Gaw Meem.

The renovation took about a year to complete, and county staff was able to move into offices at the building at 102 Grant Avenue in October. While some county departments moved into the new county administration building just up the street, offices for the county manager, attorney and commissioners are housed in the newly renovated building.

John Gaw Meem

Meem was credited with creating the Pueblo Revival architecture style that has come to define Santa Fe. The county building on Grant, built as a Works Progress Administration project during the Great Depression, was an early example. The La Fonda Hotel and Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe, the Fuller Lodge in Los Alamos, and Scholes Hall and the Zimmerman Library on the University of New Mexico campus in Albuquerque are others.

One of the main goals of the restoration was to bring back the building’s original courtyard facing Johnson Street. It was removed and the space filled with offices during the 1970s, Planning Project Manager Paul Olafson said. The new courtyard has native vegetation and benches where the public can sit and enjoy the Pueblo Revival building.

The newly renovated County Commission Chambers in the Santa Fe County Administration Building still has the mural and pew seating. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Pueblo Revival architecture is a mix of Spanish Colonial and Indian Pueblo designs. It’s noted for its use of adobe or stucco, wood accents and enclosed courtyards.

The renovated building sits about two blocks from the county’s new building on Catron Street, so both buildings are still accessible to staff, he said. The remodel wasn’t actually a restoration, because the building incorporates modern functionality.

The renovation included raising some railings’ heights for safety and following disability access guidelines, Olafson said.

A renovation project on the Santa Fe County Administration Building is now complete. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Nancy Meem Wirth, Meem’s daughter, said she had a say in the renovation and was delighted with the response from the county. She said the county “followed through in a great way.”

One of her major hopes for the remodel was getting the building back to its original footprint by restoring the old courtyard. With the courtyard back in place, it brings more light into the building, she said.

“I’m totally delighted,” she said. “He was kind of responsible for setting the style of architecture in Santa Fe. It’s going to enhance the cityscape, it’s going to create a destination and it’s going to highlight the history of how it was built with WPA money.”

The newly renovated Santa Fe County Administration Building has restored the courtyard that was part of the original building. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

The courtyard and the doorway corbels are architectural features that can be enjoyed from the street, she said.

County Commissioner Anna Hansen, who represents District 2, said restoring the courtyard created a beautiful streetscape across from the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. The courtyard helps extend the downtown area, she said.

“I took a particular interest in this because I believe in the Pueblo Revival style of Santa Fe,” she said.

County commissioners and anyone who ever attended a County Commission meeting will remember the iconic fresco that took up an entire wall in the commission chambers. Olafson said preserving the mural was another key point of the renovation.

The mural, titled “Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo,” was painted by Frederico Vigil on the 150th anniversary of the treaty’s 1848 signing.

During a renovation project on the Santa Fe County Administration Building, the original chandeliers were cleaned and reinstalled. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

In addition to the architectural elements, Olafson said the county also made several “green” improvements. These included installing LED lighting, though the renovation retained the original chandeliers in the hallways. Low-flow plumbing water fixtures, energy-efficient heating and cooling, and electric vehicle charging stations are among the modern features that were included.

County Commission Chairman Henry Roybal said he used to work in the renovated building in the 1990s. He said seeing how the building has come back to its original style is impressive.

State Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, son of Meem Wirth and the architect’s grandson, said it’s incredibly exciting to see this building come back to life. He said the original architecture of the building was a true demonstration of Meem’s work.

“I think, as we get farther away from these buildings being contemporary, more and more, they are really historical structures,” Wirth said. “(Saving the building) is part of an ongoing effort in our family to educate and celebrate – educate about the Meem buildings and also celebrate the architecture, which really was instrumental in our historic code here in Santa Fe.”