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Tour buildings at Los Poblanos lavender fest

By Jane Mahoney
For the Journal
      Albuquerque's history comes to life at Los Poblanos Historic Inn and Cultural Center. Imagine yourself in the Depression of the 1930s as architect John Gaw Meem designed two structures that would come to symbolize the Territorial Revival architectural style.
    Los Poblanos Inn was designed as a residence. The other building, La Quinta, was a cultural center. It still hosts art shows, weddings and concerts.
    The two buildings, now at the heart of the 25-acre Los Poblanos Ranch, are open for free guided tours July 12-13, during the fifth annual Lavender in the Village Festival at Los Ranchos.
    In the 1930s Gaw Meem was hired by ranch owners Ruth Hanna McCormick Simms and Albert Simms to design a traditional hacienda-style home that would enlarge and enhance the mid-19th century Armijo adobe house at Los Poblanos. Gaw Meem, now regarded by many as one of the greatest 20th-century architects, created in 1932 a design that included his signature features of massive double-thick walls, shady portals, high ceilings and long sight lines.
    By 1934, Gaw Meem had designed a second building on the grounds at the Simms' request — the public La Quinta Cultural Center with a library, ballroom, art gallery and what's commonly thought to be the first all-tile swimming pool in Albuquerque.
    Bringing it back
    Both structures are part of a historic preservation project undertaken by current owners Armin and Penny Rembe and family, who acquired half of the property in 1977 and finished reuniting the farm in 1997. The couple also is working to to preserve the agricultural heritage of the farm and ranch, now 25 acres in the village of Los Ranchos. An organic farm, rows of lavender and a line of lavender-based skin products are part of the business plan today.
    The public tours during the Lavender festival will include a walk-through of the two historic Gaw Meem buildings.
    During other times of the year, the buildings can be toured only as part of a scheduled group tour for a fee or as guests at Los Poblanos Inn, now a bed and breakfast.
    The two structures, remarkably different from each other, showcase the Territorial Revival style for which Gaw Meem is revered. The architect is most commonly associated with the Pueblo Revival or Santa Fe style, but among his many other Albuquerque designs are Zimmerman Library and Scholes Hall on the University of New Mexico campus.
    On the tour visitors will stroll through the formal garden, still flood-irrigated by the Rio Grande via a network of acequias and waterways constructed of upside-down roof tiles.
    Couple's legacy
    The McCormick-Simms partnership brought the couple's considerable fortunes to the ranch and other local projects. When they met, she was a widowed Illinois congresswoman and he was a widower New Mexican congressman. She was active in the suffragette movement and had been married to Joseph McCormick of the newspaper family that owned the Chicago Tribune.
    In New Mexico, she and Albert Simms would go on to start Manzano Day School, Sandia Girls School (which became Sandia Prep) and the Albuquerque Academy. McCormick died in 1944 after only 10 years in New Mexico. Albert Simms died in 1964.
    The property is not only a showcase for Gaw Meem's architectural genius, but a vibrant setting for the works of other famed New Mexican artists. The Spanish-style gardens were designed in 1932 by Rose Greely, a pioneer female landscape architect and the first woman to graduate from Harvard's landscape architecture program. The garden's rock art was designed by “Pop” Schaeffer, a Mountainair folk artist. Walter Gilbert crafted the iron door handles that depict San Ysidro, the patron saint of farming. Gustave Baumann crafted the intricate wooden doors and a carved fireplace mantle in La Quinta's ballroom. The decorative tin light fixtures are from tinsmith Robert Woodman.
    On the exterior of the cultural center, visitors will see a fresco painted by Peter Hurd and five Hurd-like panels painted over the ballroom doors and windows in 1951 by Harry Miller.
    The Rembe family has furnished Los Poblanos with Spanish Colonial art, such as retablos, bultos, straw inlay crosses, lithos and period-appropriate furnishings.
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