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St. Francis
The gutting of history at Hotel St. Francis: Confusing new owners claim “through simplicity and naturalness a deeper complexity will be achieved.”

Zane's World

Skin Deep

March 31, 2009, 12:00 am

It’s so very Santa Fe to have multiple city entities along with regulatory and advisory boards fail to realize that massive new electrical infrastructure in the downtown cat litter box—sorry, Plaza—would require a large utility box. Everyone pretty much agrees the new industrial monolith on the northeast corner of the Plaza can’t remain, but no one has decided what, exactly, to do about it. Whatever happens, it will take a long time and require a lot of money.

Perhaps a commemorative mural of the historic interior of the Hotel St. Francis would make sense. After all, the grand and stately lobby of the downtown icon was recently and unceremoniously ripped out in preparation for a new, boutique renovation by Heritage Hotels and Resorts.

Heritage owns boutique hotels throughout the Southwest, and its MO is to plug each one with a historic theme that “offers a culturally unique element reflective of the southwest region.” In the case of the St. Francis, Heritage is cueing off the hotel’s historic name (never mind that it was the DeVargas Hotel until 1986) and will attempt to use the magic of interior design to convey the experiences and beliefs of early Franciscan missionaries in New Mexico. One presumes, of course, that the historic cultural experience of the Pueblo Revolt will be quietly left out of this retro-missionary vacation experience.

In one of the more perplexing marketing statements—perhaps in history—Heritage claims that by removing the genuinely historic interior of the St. Francis and replacing it with a “rustic, Old World patina,” it will reflect “a more authentic and cultural feel that offers you a better sense of the region…”

I think I get it: It’s so fake it’s actually more real. That’s a pretty nifty trick.

One might wonder how, in a city so dedicated to historic preservation, such a perversion of the notion of history can take place. The answer is in Heritage’s lack of alterations to the hotel’s exterior. The Historic Design Review Board, which has oversight over projects in historic districts, has no purview over interior renovations.

Given the current practice and behavior of the “H board,” this is probably a good thing. The board is so confused about the difference between the spirit of preservation and the letter of the preservation ordinance that it makes backward and nonsensical decisions with comic regularity. The last thing we need is for such a farcical force to come into our kitchens and bedrooms and tell us our rooms are not dark and depressing enough and the bathroom cabinet exhibits too much glazing.

But Hotel St. Francis is a civic icon. Tourists who aren&rsqu;t even stayingat the hotel wader into the loby, just as the visit La Fondaor tour the Sen Plaza—tehnically privat spaces that ar effectively pulic. What&rsquos more, the St.Francis is an iportant part ofSanta Fe’ counterculturehistory—ahistory we have’t even tought to protec yet. Now the rsidue of RobertBly and Jack Keouac will be diguised with psedo-Franciscan &dquo;austerity.rdquo;
<r /> Certainlymany of the cit’s responible preservatinists will decr the demolitionof history at te St. Francis ad will be frustated by the cit’s powerlssness in the stuation. There&squo;s no pointin explicitly baming the H boad for somethingit can’t egulate, but th situation agai raises questios about how we ractice preservtion.
If our legslation is suchthat our historc oversight bodes can waste hors of time hassing someone on erro Gordo abou two degrees ofroof angle whil a civic treasue like the St. rancis is gutte before our eye in the center f town, then ou sense of histoy is truly onlyskin deep.


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