KEWA PUEBLO – Decades ago, families here would walk a couple of miles to their trading post to stock up on supplies from coffee to bullets.
But it closed in 1987, and the historic building, brand new in the 1920s, was left with only its walls standing after a devastating fire in 2001. Then, in a burst of hope last fall, the structure with a faded sign inviting tourists to “trade where real Indians trade” was rebuilt and restored and finished by April.
It still has no opening date.
A portion of the trading post is unfinished, and the rebuilt portion needs display cases, a food counter, tables and chairs and other fixtures, but no money is left.
Perhaps more daunting, the tribe faces the ticklish question of how it will be decided which artists will be able to sell what items – something that needs to be settled before the interior can be equipped with display cases and the building finally opened.
“We’ve been wrestling with those kinds of issues for the last two-and-a-half years,” said Kenny Pin, planning director for the pueblo.
In a community where many people survive on income from their art, the answers are critical: Who decides what items – and whose items – will be sold there? Will they be $5 items or $500 items? Will the shop buy the inventory or sell on consignment? How long will an item be displayed before it is returned, unsold, to the maker? Can items include store-bought materials, or must the dyes, clay, fibers or paints be developed from scratch?
And should it carry items only made by Kewa (formerly Santo Domingo) Pueblo members, or should it carry items from members of other tribes? According to old photos, the trading post had Navajo rugs hanging from the banisters, Pin said.
One solution might be to bring in an outside marketing expert who can handle at least some of those issues without raising complaints about favoring – or not favoring – family members and friends, he said.
Meanwhile, fundraising ideas are being considered to try to come up with the money needed to furnish the facility, which is located across the street from the Rail Runner train station.
No more money
The trading post restoration started with a $1 million economic development grant from the federal government. Not only would tribal members get jobs in construction during the work, but then artists could sell items they make in the completed shop. Four to six people might work in the opened trading post, Pin estimated, while locally produced food might also be sold.
After planning and design, the construction budget, he said, was $830,000.
Bids came in at $1.2 million.
As a result, cost-saving was initiated, with plexiglass substituted for glass, for example, and one restroom completed instead of two. Volunteers, both locally and from visiting groups, made adobe bricks. The construction turned into Phase 1 of a multi-phase project, with about 2,500 square feet finished, leaving the back 700 square feet of the building with a roof and supporting beams, and not much else.
With tough budget times and sequestration, federal money has pretty much dried up, Pin said of his efforts to seek additional grants. About $538,000 is needed to complete construction, he said. During the design phase, workers consulted historic photos to try to recreate the old building as much as possible. The problem, Pin said, is that not many photos existed of the interior.
One source consulted was the movie “Flap,” which was filmed partially at the old trading post, “with Anthony Quinn playing a Native American,” Pin said.
According to the Internet Movie Database, Quinn’s character was “Flapping Eagle” and his horse was “H-Bomb” in the comedy, released in 1970.
The problem with examining indoor stills from the movie is that it wasn’t clear what reflected the actual trading post and what was a movie set, Pin said. “We’d show them to people around here, and they’d say, ‘That’s not quite what it looked like,’ ” he said.
As it is, the building was completed with a second story balcony (railings are still needed) around the interior, which boasts a wooden floor, vaulted ceiling and old exposed adobe bricks in the walls. Despite indications that the old business used only natural light, Pin said, lighting was added to supplement the generous windows and a ceiling fan circulates the air.
Community feedback was frequent throughout the work, he said. “Inevitably, they’d start a sentence with ‘I remember’ or ‘When I was young,’ ” Pin said of residents older than 40. “Then, they would tell a trading post story.”
A National Endowment for the Arts grant will be used to help preserve some of those stories. That will be part of an event planned for Aug. 23-24 to help “bridge” the village to the trading post, which used to be an Anglo enclave, with little interaction between the two other than the buying expeditions, he said.
The first trading post was built in 1881 at a stop of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway. Pueblo members would trade their arts and crafts and crops for supplies, and the trading post would sell the Indian-made wares to tourists. It was rebuilt in 1922, the decade when travelers started coming down the famous Route 66.
This month’s event will recreate the walk people used to make from their homes to the trading post and invite the older generations to share their stories. “Part of it will be to let them see the space. The building is coming back to life, but it’s been shuttered for a long time,” Pin said.
And, well, maybe they’ll invite some other arts groups to take a look and maybe get inspired to help out with donations “so we can get the building up and running,” he added. Furnishing Phase 1 would cost roughly $75,000 to $100,000, he estimated.
As for that “real Indians” mural on the wall that fronted the warehouse adjoining the trading post – it will probably be changed to something more “politically correct,” Pin said.
“People here make fun of that, too.”