The Padre’s House

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From a modern vantage it might appear that Padre Martínez lost his battle with Bishop Lamy. It is true that the peace he had tried to work out between Hispanics and Indians and between Catholics and Baptists ended shortly after his death. Repeated incursions into New Mexico, first by trappers, miners, and powerful railroad interests, then later by artists, hippies, and tourists, have meant that the interests of the indigenous population have often been overlooked. Even the most recent invaders, drawn to New Mexico for its mystical qualities of people and place, are, more often than not, forcing the pace of change. Occasionally local interests have been served, as in the 1970 decision that allowed the Pueblo Indians to regain control of the Blue Lake area of the Kit Carson National Forest. Other conflicts over land and water rights have ended less satisfactorily for the area’s Hispanic people.

Even before the Martínez hacienda passed out of the family’s hands in 1926, it had undergone major changes. Porches had been added to the front, and new windows and doors had been cut from the facade. The house was then bought and sold many times until in the 1960s it stood abandoned, except for an occasional squatter. An adobe house can last virtually forever, as long as it is cared for, but now, under total neglect, its roofs began to leak, puddles of water weakened the foundations, groundhogs burrowed in the moist clay, and some of the walls collapsed. Vandals and treasure hunters dug into the earthen floors in search of hidden Spanish gold.

 
 
 
 
 

In 1972, when the Kit Carson Foundation purchased the property, things began to look up. The foundation was headed by Jack Boyer, who, along with many other Taos citizens, had joined the New Mexico National Guard at the start of World War II. Returning home after four years in a Japanese prison camp, Boyer led the movement to restore the homes of Kit Carson and the Taos artist Ernest Blumenschein as well as the Martínez hacienda. All three are now open to the public. The hacienda, which serves as a museum of local history, also presents special exhibits on indigenous crafts. But the place is much more than a museum; it is still the home of Padre Martínez, a ghost who will not rest. A walk around the plazas at Taos or Santa Fe shows that his spirit is expressed in the architecture of those towns. The earthen-inspired buildings of the main commercial districts, the flat roofs, terracing, battered walls, loggias, parapets, vigas , and canales would be entirely familiar to the old padre. The “Taco Deco” style, or the “Tourist Adobe,” as it is sometimes called dismissively by critics, still presents a challenge to the aesthetics of classical rationalism, as it did when its prototypes first rose on the high desert centuries ago.