Back to the Barrio: The Dogpatch

Are you old-school Santa?

We all know the spot, but do you know the Dogpatch? (Alicia Inez Guzmn)

Back in 1970, a local group called La Juventud del Barrio del Cristo Rey banded together as young community activists. Their members included local chicanos and chicanas who donned shades and brown berets. For Christmas, they sold farolitos to benefit El Vicio, then a local drug rehabilitation center. The youth group also had plans to build a Chicano library, according to a 1970 clipping from the Santa Fe New Mexican. Members came from different parts of the city, but the parish of Cristo Rey where they were founded was located on Upper Canyon Road. It was the stomping grounds of the Dogpatch.

Eliseo (Cheo) Armijo, a former member La Juventud and retired Qwest technician, spoke of the group's activities when he described growing up in the Dogpatch. Armijo said the label was around even before he was.

Santa Fe's own Dogpatch drew from the title of Al Capp's tongue-in-cheek comic strip, Li'l Abner, based on an invented town in the Appalachian backwoods. Those who lived there—Abner, Daisy Mae, Mammy and Pappy Yokum and the Shmoos—became household names over the course of the comic's four-decade run. Li'l Abner was even fodder for Broadway and, later, the silver screen in the 1959 movie of the same name, both written by Melvin Frank. "Li'l Abner lived up in the the hills, perched on the edge. Our houses were perched up on the hills, too," remarked Armijo. He still lives on Upper Canyon Road, overlooking the Santa Fe River in a home that he built with his wife, primos and other family members. They made all the adobes for the two-story structure by hand.

(Alicia Inez Guzmán)

The Dogpatch roughly covers a triangular stretch in the city's historic east side, including Acequia Madre, Camino Don Miguel, Camino del Cañon (Canyon Road), Upper Camino del Cañon, Cerro Gordo, Upper (East) Palace Avenue, Apodaca Hill and Camino Cabra. Hillside Avenue (once known as Los Corchos) also falls into this barrio, though it's difficult to set hard-and-fast boundaries. Former residents of Hillside recall that the arroyo where the road ends was a notorious party spot back in the late 1970s. It could be grittier there than other parts of the east side, according to one woman's recollections. Even the Dogpatch had pockets.

Despite the differences across the barrio, the response remains the same among those looking back to the days of the Dogpatch: It was a wholly other place in their memories, one where the acequias still provided water to the local apple orchards, entire families lived on the same property for generations and tax bases were humbler. Even during those transitional years before and after the arrival of St. John's College, there were a lot more young people cruising the streets of the east side—kids and teenagers who used to fight with the "westsiders," party into the night, or, like the members of La Juventud, organize amongst themselves.

If you aren't familiar with the Dogpatch, that's because the name doesn't see as much use today. It's becoming something of a throwback. Some former residents chalk this up to generational differences, but changing demographics have had a hand, too. In the late '90s, many locals had to put historic east-side properties up for sale that had been kept in families for generations due to exorbitant tax hikes. A resident's tax bill could go up 50 or 100 percent back then and sometimes more, according to Santa Fe County Tax Assessor Gus Martinez. For that reason, the legislature instituted the 3 percent cap rule in 2001 so that locals wouldn't be faced with the prospect of "selling out."

Martinez, who calls that area the "heart of Santa Fe," notes that although the 3 percent cap has been beneficial, there are more people from out of state, or who make Santa Fe their second or part-time home, living on the east side than in the past. And of course, he adds, "those buying and selling set the market." Even during the 2008 crash, that area of Santa Fe still retained its value. With such expensive land up for sale, "your typical person," Martinez said, couldn't afford property in a barrio now considered Santa Fe's upper end. Many Hispanic families were displaced as a result. And once you sell, Armijo said, "you can never go back." Now, a house could go for $300,000 in the rest of the city; one in the barrio of yore costs upwards of one million dollars. Driving through the area, it's hard not to see the number of real estate signs perched along the winding roads.

Given the parallels to Appalachia, Dogpatch is one of those designations that seems self-deprecating at first, a jab at the working class or poor Hispanic residents who once lived there, concocted before the days of political correctness. But when it's evoked, there's a sense of community connection, a raza. If you remember the Dogpatch, then you're old Santa Fe.

Santa Fe Reporter

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