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‘Cleansing’ History in Santa Fe Demolition of Indian School structures, said to heal wounds, raises many questions by Thomas Hayne Upchurch, AIA


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tion occurred quickly, stirring an outcry from some residents of Santa Fe and preservationists who were not only frustrated by the sudden loss of buildings but also by the lack of opportunity to document these historic structures. According to news reports, murals by Native American artists such as Allan Houser were buried in the rubble. One editorial written by a former Indian School staff member noted that even tribal alumni were “deeply saddened” by the destruction. Yet there is more to this story in which age-old cultural wounds interweave with the newly claimed sovereignty of the All Indian Pueblo Council that manages the school property and represents 19 pueblos. In 2000, the U.S. Congress mandated the property be held in trust for the All Indian Pueblo Council, creating a self-governing entity where state and local laws do not apply. Although challenged by the state’s historic preservation director in an effort to prevent further demolitions, the Council’s authority to act without permits or approvals appears to remain intact. While many people outside the campus were angered, one pueblo governor was quoted as describing the demolition as a “spiritual cleansing” intended to amend injustices inflicted on Native American children. In the early days of the Indian School, children were routinely relocated from their homes to the campus where girls were trained to work as maids for local families and boys were sent to work in factories or to harvest crops. continued on page 26

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Photo courtesy Palace of the Governors Photo Archives, Negative No. 082540

Driving down Cerrillos Road in Santa Fe one morning last summer while looking for a place to eat, I noticed a number of partially and fully demolished buildings edging the campus of the Santa Fe Indian School. It was a work in progress, a startling sight of splintered lumber, mangled masonry walls, some still stubbornly standing, and exposed interiors. I was somewhat familiar with the buildings, but only in passing. Now I wanted to remember what was gone. After being seated for breakfast, I picked up a daily Santa Fe New Mexican and began to read about the demolition. It was front-page news. Three related articles highlighted the historic nature of the buildings being razed, the cultural significance of the school’s past, and questions surrounding asbestos abatement. Together they told a complex story about several intertwined topics—historic architecture being removed without expected considerations and public notification, forced assimilation of Native American children in the early years of the boarding school, recent sovereignty of the region’s pueblos, and the actions taken by the Indian School’s leaders determined to move forward from the past. At the time of my visit, 15 buildings had been either partially or fully demolished, with three others slated for demolition. (One was the original administration building, shown below, built in 1890.) These campus structures dated between 1890 and 1933, and some had been renovated by John Gaw Meem, the influential local architect instrumental in developing the popular regional style known as Pueblo Revival. The initial demoli-

Texas Architect March/April 2009: Adaptive Reuse