Is The National Park Service Protecting Its Heritage in Santa Fe?
By Jerry Rogers
One of New Mexico's best and best-preserved historic monuments, the former Southwest Regional Headquarters of the National Park Service at 1100 Old Santa Fe Trail in Santa Fe, is in jeopardy from the very ones who are entrusted with its protection.
Denver-based regional officials of the National Park Service are completing fast-tracked plans to cancel leased office space in the Paisano Building in the Rodeo Road Business Park and to shoehorn 90 or more employees into the historic Old Santa Fe Trail Building, sacrificing vital elements of its historical integrity in order to do so.
Unique in the nation, the Old Santa Fe Trail Building is a cornerstone of a brilliantly conceived development that now includes the School for Advanced (originally American) Research, the Laboratory of Anthropology and the Museum Hill Complex that was envisioned by civic leader Elizabeth Amelia White, and supported by numerous local and national leaders.
The building was lovingly constructed between 1937 and 1939 by the boys of the Civilian Conservation Corps, with furnishings, artwork and engineering features provided by the men and women of the Work Projects Administration.
National Park Service architect Cecil Doty, taking counsel from John Gaw Meem, designed not only a magnificent Southwestern Spanish-Pueblo Revival-style masterpiece, but also designed furniture that was made in the building, for the building, and envisioned paintings and other works of art specifically for the building.
Numerous works of art were acquired under the WPA Arts Program specifically to go in the building.
Now plans are quietly being laid to ship many of these items to storage outside New Mexico, and, if necessary, to reconfigure historic interiors meticulously preserved for the past 68 years.
In March of 2003, when 300 members and families of the National Association of CCC Alumni met in the building, there was widespread concurrence that these fading few of "the greatest generation" deserved a national monument of their own and that the Old Santa Fe Trail Building was, in fact, that monument, although unofficially so.
Recognizing the extraordinary significance and quality, for decades Santa Fe-based National Park Service officials have managed the building to national monument standards, exercising the highest level of stewardship over the building and its contents, welcoming public visitation and special events like the CCC reunion, providing interpretation, employing a park management plan and interpretive plan such as guide the officially-designated monuments, all while maintaining full awareness of the privilege of being able to occupy offices in a national treasure.
The National Park Service has no shortage of office space in Santa Fe. Quite the opposite - this scheme is being hatched because draconian cuts in the numbers of professional employees who used to protect the national heritage have produced an excess of space, resulting in this push to consolidate from two buildings into one.
Standing on its head the notion of being privileged to work in a national treasure, the approach being concocted will treat this National Historic Landmark as mere space to be utilized to the maximum without concern for its value to the nation.
Clearly it is time to secure this national treasure once and for all for the people of the United States by making it a full and formal unit of the National Park System. It could be proclaimed a National Monument immediately by a stroke of the president's pen, although that is unlikely as long as callously utilitarian minds in Denver outrank Santa Fe in the administrative hierarchy.
A better step would be for New Mexico's entire congressional delegation to sponsor (and for the candidates now seeking election to support) legislation making the Old Santa Fe Trail Building the CCC and WPA National Historic Site. New Mexicans of every generation would stand up and cheer.
Santa Fean Jerry Rogers served in the Old Santa Fe Trail Building as the last regional director of the Southwest Region. He is a member of the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, a group of more than 600 former employees concerned about the directions taken by today's NPS leadership.