Cover Stories

Castles, Ruins and Mysteries Return

If walls could talk in these Santa Fe icons and eyesores ...

Would they tell stories about the people who lived and worked in them, or would these walls keep it to themselves even if they could talk? Thankfully, the walls don’t have to. We did it for them.

This collection represents our third installment of "Castles, Ruins and Mysteries," a series in which the SFR staff explores the stories behind the city's landmarks—icons, eyesores and something in between.

Standing in for the "castle" of the bunch is the Scottish Rite Center, patterned partly after the Alhambra in Spain. World travelers might recognize the shape of the towers, but Santa Fe cruisers know it as "the pink church." Alhambra means "red castle" in Arabic. We're thinking that approximation fits just fine.

Two other buildings known for their color made their way into this iteration as the shades of fall are settling into the city.

The White Building on McKenzie Street has a wild history of murder and intrigue, and now, technology and a new future. Meanwhile, the Greek Orthodox Church in Eldorado is a common sight for structures along the Mediterranean Sea, but it stands out in this landscape.

When it comes to ruins and mysteries, Santa Fe has those aplenty. Is the old Eberline building safe for the community? What might get built there in the future? Read on.

Scottish Rite Masonic Center

463 Paseo de Peralta

In true Santa Fe form, the building many call the "pink church," isn't a church at all and never was. People also refer to the landmark on the north side of downtown as the "masonic temple," but the organization that owns it prefers the simpler moniker "center."

Once a bastion of secretive rituals only open to men, in the modern era, the Scottish Rite Masonic Center has more recently been the site of parties, art shows, concerts and other public events.

For a few years, it looked like the structure that's listed on the state and national registers of historic cultural properties might change hands. In 2013, the Valley of Santa Fe chapter of the masons listed it on the real-estate market and posted a "for sale" sign out front. Leaders cited plummeting membership and high costs of maintenance as the reasons. But members who didn't want to give it up and a council in Washington DC reversed course on that plan within a year and reportedly turned down an offer for its purchase.

Mark Oldknow, the official personal representative to the deputy of the Supreme Council for the Santa Fe chapter, tells SFR the valley members have subsequently been "successful in proving our point…We're still kind of working out exactly how to operate as a business in a masonic context, but we have been able to make enough as a rental venue to keep the building in the hands of the fraternity and keep it afloat."

The 45,000-square-foot building was completed in 1912 and designed in the Moorish architectural style by Sumner Hunt and S.R. Burns, who borrowed characteristics from the Alhambra castle in Granada, Spain. From the outside, it shows off horseshoe and keyhole arches, stained glass windows and hipped roof tiles, and the interior is equipped with dormitories, an enclosed courtyard, sunny banquet room and large commercial kitchen.

Its most interesting indoor feature has to be the theater—from the recessed ceiling lights shaped like celestial stars to the painted stage backdrops that accompany morality plays the masons perform in the conferring of their organization's "degrees." The acoustics are great, even if the wooden balcony seats are narrow and unforgiving.

Public-health orders from COVID-19 that put a clamp on gatherings everywhere have stalled weddings and other events at the center, including the twice-annual reunion of freemasons planned in the spring and fall this year. Oldknow says the valley plans to hold virtual meeting and perform the plays via Zoom.

See some of the iconic backgrounds from the plays and learn more in the book published two years ago by the Museum of New Mexico Press, The Santa Fe Scottish Rite Temple: Freemasonry, Architecture, and Theatre. (Julie Ann Grimm)


5981 Airport Road

Most of the mystery and unanswered questions surrounding the vacant brick building on Santa Fe's Southside concern how much radioactive residue might be on the site. Neither the state or the corporation that manufactured radiation detection equipment there for decades seems terribly interested in giving area residents a straight answer.

Schools and homes surround the former Eberline building, and on one side, a Santa Fe County park. And COVID-19 has delayed the previous timeline for clean-up and demolition of the site into an unspecified time in the future—another unknown in a story with a lot of them.

A previous review by SFR of 50 years worth of newspaper reporting as well as records from the state Environment Department suggest that Eberline's role as a large employer in Santa Fe and the stature of its corporate leadership allowed it to cut corners with recording and storing radioactive material.

Former Los Alamos National Laboratory worker Howard Clayton Eberline founded the business in the 1950s and it thrived for decades, but the building is now largely abandoned. Thermo Electron Corporation purchased the company in 1979, which would eventually combine with Fisher Scientific.

Thermo Fisher Scientific shut down manufacturing there in 2007, but Thermo did not keep accurate records of toxic materials leaving and entering the site. And the company didn't document how much radioactive material remained.

The company has never responded to SFR's requests for an interview. And although state officials promised Santa Fe a cleanup was on the way this fall, that doesn't appear to be the case now.

Why didn't Thermo keep accurate records of toxic materials leaving and entering the site? Why didn't the company document how much radioactive material remained? Why doesn't the state environment department make it a priority to keep reports of samples of the air, soil and building on the lot? (The department previously told SFR the records are not retained because there's no storage space available for the physical reports.)

When will the site finally be "decommissioned" (cleaned up) and turned into something productive for the Southside?

The department told SFR in January it expected Thermo Fisher to submit its plan for demolition of the building and cleanup of the site by March 1 with a completion target of Oct. 1. But Thermo Fisher has not submitted the plan for demolition and the company told the department "activities" have been delayed by a few months due to the pandemic.

Currently, CN Associates, a Massachusetts-based radiological consulting, remediation and decommissioning firm, is "performing scoping surveys and sample analysis of the areas where radioactive material was received, processed, used or stored. These surveys help identify areas that may need further evaluation, like radiochemical analysis," according to Maddy Hayden, the spokeswoman for the New Mexico Environment Department and the Radiation Control Bureau, a division of the department.

The timeline for cleanup will be more clear once the firm's work is complete. The scoping survey is "essential" to the completion of the decommissioning plan and it can't be submitted without this data. Thermo Fisher paid for the surveys.

Despite years of questions around what material has entered and exited the site, Hayden says at this time, no areas with "elevated" levels of radioactivity have been identified.

What could eventually be put on the site is also still a bit of a mystery.

"Once the facility is formally decommissioned and they have done it to unrestricted parameters, then anything could be built there," Santiago Rodriguez, chief of the Radiation Control Bureau, previously told SFR. "[Thermo Fisher] would disclose that there was a facility there and what types of activities occurred there. But if the facility is clean to the appropriate standards, then there should be no issue with that." (Katherine Lewin)

The White Building

207 McKenzie St.

A standout in a sea of brown, the white, two-story edifice at the corner of Griffin and McKenzie Streets—with its high walls and hidden inner courtyard—hints tantalizingly of mystery and intrigue. Its true story does not disappoint.

Obscure religious rituals and extravagant parties took place here. One of the building's inhabitants was the victim of a murder. It has served as a home, a studio, and a sanctuary for a succession of boss-ass ladies who influenced Santa Fe business, politics, culture and religion. It's a legacy that continues with the building's current owners, Pamela Koster and Mindy Hale, co-founders of Santa Fe-based tech company Falling Colors.

The two are currently in the process of renovating the building and excavating its history, which they've curated in a virtual exhibit on the White Building Instagram page (@thewhitebuildingsf). SFR relied on their research to tell this story.

The building at the corner of Griffin and McKenzie Streets in downtown Santa Fe has been around for generations. But the interesting part of its story begins in 1922, when Cleofas Jaramillo came into possession of the building after the death of her husband, a prominent businessman who'd been the chairman for the state Republican Party and played an integral role in winning statehood for New Mexico.

The two met when Cleofas was a student at the Loretto Academy in Santa Fe. She was a small town girl from Northern New Mexico; Venceslao Jaramillo was her second cousin and the youngest colonel in the whole United States. At 22, he already had a career as a military advisor to Territorial Governor Miguel Otero and served in the state Legislature as the representative of Bernalillo County.

When Venceslao died of a mysterious illness at the age of 47, Cleofas moved to the building with her daughter Angelina.

Tragedy struck again a few years later when Angelina was murdered. A Black man was sentenced to death for the crime, though evidence against him was thin. The true killer may have been Angelina's uncle, who, rumor has it, confessed to the murder on his deathbed.

After her daughter's murder, Cleofas turned back to her roots; she started La Sociedad Folklorica to help preserve Spanish New Mexican language and traditions, and wrote multiple books documenting New Mexican recipes, fairy tales and folklore. She hosted La Sociedad Folklorica's first gathering in the building with Hazel Hyde, a woman who owned a large art studio in the complex.

Hyde, an educator and socialite who spent her time in Los Angeles and New York, bought the studio during a brief marriage to a local sculptor. After they divorced, she turned the studio into one of Santa Fe's bohemian hubs, hosting performances, readings by famous authors, parties and political gatherings.

In 1942, a third major player entered the scene: Edna Ballard, founder of the I AM religious movement.

The Church of I AM was born out of the writings of the Theosophists and occult Christian theorists of the late nineteenth century.

According to local newspapers, 500 I AM devotees followed Ballard to Santa Fe in the midst of a mail-fraud lawsuit alleging she used the postal service to solicit donations and sell pamphlets containing misleading information about her religion. She eventually won the lawsuit when the US Supreme Court ruled that the law cannot determine whether or not a person believes their religion.

After she bought the building, Ballard painted its interior pink and painted the outside the iconic white that it is today. The church sold the building and moved to Old Taos Highway in the 1970s after Ballard's death. Since then it's been used as apartments and art studios.

The restoration from Falling Colors includes interior and exterior work with plans to make it the new company headquarters, Tech and Data Services General Manager Tim Harville tells SFR. He says the owners also want to open some part of the space to the public but are waiting until the COVID-19 pandemic passess to decide what that might look like. (Leah Cantor)

Power Plant Park

Corner of Upper Canyon and Canyon roads

Santa Fe's most well-known sustainability efforts include a fleet of gas-powered buses; fields, rooftops and even a rec center parking lot decked out in solar panels; and, of course, conservation rules that influence construction materials, toilet sizes and outdoor watering.

Hydroelectric power generation, however, has been more widely associated with massive walls of water like the one behind the Hoover Dam or at Niagara Falls.

That's why it might be delightful to discover that Santa Fe not only used hydroelectric power in its early days, but the city still harnesses water and gravity to generate electricity in a small way. Today, the site of both is a city park open for a field trip or a picnic lunch.

The squarish brick building at the center of Power Plant Park, across the street from the Cristo Rey, housed a Pelton turbine from about 1895 to 1940. Sluices carried water from the city's Two-Mile Reservoir to the power plant, then back into town for homes, businesses and farms.

Cash from a 2008 citywide parks bond shuffled about $800,000 toward building the park and restoring the building. Officials had big plans to turn it into a museum that showcased the water-use history of the region. It's a nice little park with shade and a flat place to take a short walk, but the building remains unused.

Meanwhile, hidden in a vault a few hundred feet away, a modern hydroelectric generator converts the energy of water moving into a storage tank into electricity. While the turbine has not been well-monitored until recently, Water Division Director Jesse Roach said he'd like to have better understanding of how to best track it.

"Just in the last year, we've started paying attention to it," he tells SFR. "I don't really have numbers on how much we have saved with it, we're still kind of getting back up to speed on what the readings mean. But essentially every time we send water from the treatment plant way up high near the Audubon center down to that big tank at the beginning of Upper Canyon Road, it goes through that turbine and there is about 168 feet of elevation difference between them. We extract that energy out of it." (JAG)

St. Elias the Prophet Greek Orthodox Church

46 Camino Electra

Driving toward Eldorado, the Saint Elias the Prophet Greek Orthodox Church is hard to miss. The white building standing out against the rocky, scrubby hillside looks as though it could have been transplanted straight from the Greek Islands and into the New Mexico landscape.

Reverend Father Demitrios Pappas says the church and its surroundings are so reminiscent of the Mediterranean that people who've visited or are from the islands are often hit by a pang of nostalgia and the comfort of feeling at home.

"It's like they could think they are in Greece," he says.

From the hill above the church one can hear the ancient harmonies of Byzantine chanting rising from the church on Sundays as the small congregation of around 60 worshipers gather for a service of song and prayer.

Pappas says the congregation is tight knit, but welcomes visitors with open arms to the Sunday service. He conducts all services in English but also includes prayers in Romanian, Arabic, Spanish and Greek.

"We have a lot of people from the old country. We have a lot of Serbians and Romanians who are Orthodox too. Many of our members are from the eastern countries," he says, adding that parishioners travel from as far as Albuquerque and Las Vegas.

"It means something for people to be able to pray in their own language, so when we do the prayer of our father, I include them and we say the Lord's Prayer in many languages," says Pappas.

He says there are other Eastern Orthodox churches in Albuquerque, but this is the only one in Santa Fe and is one of the oldest and largest Orthodox communities in the area.

The church was established in 1988 by two Greek families. Dr. Alex and Niki Constantaras and Frank and Alice Carris moved to New Mexico from Chicago with the vision of establishing a Greek community in the hills south of Santa Fe modeled on simple Greek village life on the islands.

The Constantaras' and the Carris' started a neighborhood called Dos Griegos. They completed the church building in 1991, and built a bank and a shopping center called the Agora nearby.

Pappas says Greek churches and homes are traditionally painted white. Architects design Orthodox churches in two shapes: the cross and a form of Noah's ark.

St. Elias the Prophet Greek Orthodox is built in the shape of a byzantine cross. Inside, the church is painted with iconography telling the story of the Bible. The work was created by two Greek artists and took eight years to complete, says Pappas.

The son of Greek immigrants, Pappas grew up in Denver. When he came to Santa Fe to take on the mantle of reverend 11 years ago, he found the church struggling to raise the funds to complete the murals. He put his efforts into fundraising and the paintings were finally completed in 2016. Later that year, the church was consecrated by the Metropolitan Bishop Isaiah of Denver, who came to bless the structure and placed holy relics on the altar.

The Eastern Orthodox calendar celebrated the new year on Sept.1. Pappas says the first major holiday of the year— the Elevation of Holy Cross—will be on Sept. 14. He says the congregation will hold a procession and decorate the cross with basil sprigs which will be handed back out to parishioners at the end of the service so that they may take the blessing home. (LC)


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