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Generations of schoolkids and tourists have trooped through the Palace of the Governors on Santa Fe’s Plaza.
So have military troops. And officials for the Spanish colonial, Mexican, Territorial U.S. and, at least for a couple weeks, Confederate governments.
In more than 400 years, the place has seen a lot of history and a lot of wear.
So it shouldn’t be too surprising that (a) the National Trust for Historic Preservation has named the Palace a National Treasure, and that (b) state officials in charge of it are asking the Legislature for $1.5 million in capital funds to repair it while launching a fundraising campaign by its foundation for another $3.5 million to redo and update many of the building’s exhibits.
The Palace of the Governors joins Mt. Taylor and the Manhattan Project historic sites as a National Treasure in the state. The Trust nationally has named only 55 National Treasures so far and the designation basically brings recognition, more national interest and, in this case, funding for a lobbyist to ask lawmakers for fix-it-up money.
As anyone with an aging home can imagine, the Palace needs some updates. “It’s not been updated since the ’70s,” said Jon Hunner, history professor at New Mexico State University who has served as interim director of the Palace and the New Mexico History Museum.
It needs new heating and cooling systems, new lighting and replacement of worn flooring. That’s what the requested $1.5 million is aimed toward.
“To me, the most serious issue is what is going on with the adobes,” Hunner added. Cement stucco on the outside of the building needs to be replaced with lime plastering, which allows the adobe bricks to breathe. Until workers get going, though, it won’t be clear how much the inner adobe bricks might have been damaged by water leaking inside, he said.
Right now, they’re estimating new stucco at $300,000 – but that price could rise if more water damage is discovered. Walk through the building and you can see water damage in one corner wall and ceiling, and flaking stucco is apparent all around the exterior.
What eventually might be more evident to many visitors, though, is the museum foundation’s $3.5 million fundraising for redoing exhibits.
Kate Nelson, who handles marketing for the History Museum and Palace, said that with the (relatively recent) History Museum in place, the Palace no longer needs to contain as much New Mexico and Santa Fe history in its exhibits. Instead, it would focus on the history of what happened within the building itself.
And, she promised, the Segesser Hide Paintings are slated to go into a more prominent display with better lighting.
Now, if you have tried to view these treasures, I don’t have to tell you how hard they are to really see. The lighting is dim and diffuse, and the paintings on the hides are pretty darn faded. I have squinted and leaned as far as I could over the railing to try to make them out.
Painted on hides stitched together, the scenes are believed to have been painted in New Mexico to depict historic events – mainly battles with the Indians – in and around the early 1700s. But the details long have been difficult for visitors to see. Keep your fingers crossed for better viewing.
Also proposed is a media presentation, “Living Portraits,” to tell stories of late-19th century life to accompany the preserved furnishings in the Prince Room, dating to the time of Mary and Gov. L. Bradford Prince.
No record of changes
When it comes to preserving the Palace, it’s always entertaining to think about which Palace is being preserved. What you see today is pretty much a restoration in 1909-13 based on what people then thought was the “original” building, said Dedie Snow, an archeologist with the New Mexico Historical Preservation Division.
But later research has shown that at least part of that original building probably had two stories and balconies overlooking the Plaza.
The original building probably extended over what is now Lincoln and Washington avenues, and onto land now occupied by the History Museum, she said.
Through the centuries, one report after another includes references to Territorial governors saying that they built or rebuilt parts of the building at their own expense. But they left no record of their changes, so “we have no idea what was included,” Snow said.
“There could be 10, 15, 20 historic eras for this building,” said Jeff Pappas, state historic preservation officer.