Author Margaret Moore Booker spent 10 years visiting Santa Fe from the East Coast before she realized that life is too short to put off living in a place you love. She moved from Nantucket to Santa Fe five years ago and hasn’t looked east since. While living in Nantucket, she co-wrote a book about its historical architecture and, shortly after arriving in New Mexico, she began researching The Santa Fe House. The book spans centuries of architectural styles in Santa Fe and is illustrated with photographs by Steve Larese. Booker lectures and signs copies of her book at the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art (1:30 pm Sunday, Nov. 22. Free. 750 Camino Lejo, 505-982-2226).
SFR: Let’s say you’re walking along the street and you see a beautiful historic home that is a private residence. Do you just go up and knock on the door?
MMB: I didn’t do that too often. First I would go to the Historic Santa Fe Foundation or the state’s Historic Preservation Division. They both have extensive files on historic houses in town. Or I’d be out with my photographer taking a shot and a homeowner would come out and say, ‘Hello—what are you doing?’ I would explain and they would be all excited. Often the owners would provide me with information. I tried to retain privacy whenever owners requested that but, generally, owners were happy to have their houses photographed.
‘Santa Fe Style’: a false, annoying, homogenizing whitewash or an important part of Santa Fe’s history?
Writing the book, I saw it as a specific historic period. It’s easy to say they created a new-old style based on remaining Spanish and Mexican buildings, as well as nearby pueblo buildings. Within that there are all these individual aesthetics that come back from the different architects. I mentioned a lot of women that were involved in the building at that time as patrons or architects. They had their own touch and flavor that they added to the Santa Fe Style.
How about Santa Fe Style as it exists now?
Today people are still putting their own personal touches and flavors to it—their own aesthetic sense…You discover subtle differences and the slant of the architect along with the homeowner…My only negative comment about it is in relation to historic preservation. I believe all the styles are of interest and part of the history of Santa Fe…I think I mentioned that I was upset when they tore down a bungalow on Montezuma [Avenue].
The building that housed the Blue Monkey salon and its cosmetology school?
Yeah, I loved that building. It was quirky and interesting. It was in bungalow style but had these funny little Santa Fe Style touches to it. That was a shame and I think they could have moved it.
The book didn’t just feature large, historic buildings—you wrote about smaller homes as well.
It was important for me to include not just beautiful mansions but also the humbler bungalows and the smaller, simpler adobes. If you want to capture the spirit of Santa Fe, you have to show all the differences. Agua Fria Street is remarkable with varieties of fairly small modest homes of all these different quirky styles pulled together. It might be a big old adobe, but someone down the line might have added some Victorian details and maybe someone painted a bright color on the material. In my introduction I say that houses are organic, living, breathing things. They reflect the different owners and sets of taste…Adobe erodes away so easily and then it’s so easy to build it back up. Each time you build it back up, it changes slightly.
A number of the original owners in the book foreclosed on their houses at some point, mostly in the first few years of the 20th century, but their homes now live on as historic landmarks. I thought it spoke to a smattering of hope for the current economic situation.
Around the turn of the 20th century, a lot of the merchants in town were very excited that Santa Fe was going to become a big tourist resort town. They spent a lot of money building these fabulous Victorian mansions that were very expensive and things went down the tubes, kind of like recently. I like that idea of hope.