Cover Stories

Castles, Ruins and Mysteries V

Unlocking repurposed and ignored history

Montezuma Hotel after the August 8, 1885 fire. (Courtesy of the Palace of the Governors Photo Archives, NEGATIVE # 121216)

The fifth edition of SFR’s “Castles, Ruins and Mysteries” flings readers into the outer realms of the region to the north and south of Santa Fe, opens the doors to a repurposed government building toward the edge of the city limits and strikes into the heart of downtown with a last look at an old grocery store.

The structures in this collection don’t show up in day-trip guides to the region. In keeping with our tradition, we’ve featured intriguing locations with relatively untold stories.

First, the four-story Montezuma Castle remained untouched by last year’s massive Northern New Mexico wildfire even as students evacuated their dorm rooms inside. Then, don’t blink, or you’ll miss what’s left of Waldo. Once a thriving railroad outpost, the ruins are all that remain. Next, Santa Fe County’s 6-acre lot might one day be housing, but today it’s home to a private business. And finally, downtown’s grocery stores have been long gone, but the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum plans to soon raze the old Safeway building for a new wing.

Students live and study in the renovated hotel at United World College near Las Vegas. (Anson Stevens-Bollen)

Montezuma Castle Conjures New Mexico’s Hogwarts

United World College

High school students whose academic lives revolve around the Montezuma Castle know their circumstances read like a Harry Potter novel. Not only do they sleep in dormitories on the upper floors of the castle, but they dine in a lavish hall with stained glass windows and artful chandeliers and climb stairways with grand banisters to get to classrooms. The building even features a tower and a mysterious fourth floor.

The castle is just one of several historic buildings that comprise the campus of United World College-USA, a boarding school for international baccalaureate students from across the globe, located in the village of Montezuma.

Fred Harvey dreamed up the edifice as a hotel, part of his company’s first major resort within easy access of the main railroad line via a spur line. Fire gutted the structure just a few months after its initial construction in 1885, but the rapidly rebuilt version has stood on a hill outside of Las Vegas ever since—surviving a near-miss last year when a wildfire burned the forest and homes nearby.

The Chicago firm of Burnham and Root designed the building in the Queen Anne style, characterized by its corner turret, a round room with a pointed top, and for its wide porches.

Though backers hoped its proximity to hot springs and location in fresh mountain air would spell commercial success, the hotel closed in 1904. It served as a Baptist college between 1922 and 1929, then as a seminary for Jesuits until 1972. United World College opened at the site in 1981 when oil magnate Armand Hammer bought the property. Though administrators had planned to use the castle building, they realized it would require too much work.

It wasn’t until 1999 that UWC began restoration intended to bring back to life the 1885 feel of the building. The school got as far as the third floor, leaving the top floor off limits to students and “basically in the condition it was in during the 1920s,” explains Carl-Martin Nelson, the school’s director of communications.

(Anson Stevens-Bollen)

The restoration created stunning effects when combined with the school’s own touches. Many of the colorful original windows in the dining hall survived, complimented now by the distinctive swirls of a set of glass chandeliers by Dale Chihuly. The original hotel lobby today serves as the main entrance, covered floor-to-ceiling in warm wood paneling and replete with the reservation desk and its backdrop of dozens of compartments for mail and keys. The “women’s room” on the ground floor of the turret features a restored fireplace, which school officials say is never used and won’t be again.

They’re touchy about fire, Nelson reveals. Students evacuated the campus in the path of the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon fire last spring.

“We had sort of some very unprecedented wind days and that made the fire come much faster than anybody expected, and we thought that we would be able to still be back within a couple of days,” he tells SFR. “So, we evacuated the students to [New Mexico] Highlands [University]. And as soon as we got there and we were seeing these pictures, and we saw how close the fire was, we realized that it was going to be much longer. The students left in some cases with flip-flops and one change of clothes.”

Though the fire went on to become the largest in the state’s history and photos posted online showed smoke billowing behind the castle, the campus stood unscathed and reopened about four weeks later. Classes ended the third week of May this year with zero days of mandatory evacuation.

Irfan Ayub, of Afghanistan, lived in the castle this last school year. He tells SFR the castle provides a quiet place to focus on learning. “It’s really big. It’s a good place to study with no distractions,” he says. “Everybody just kind of spreads out to do their own thing. It’s pretty quiet and isolated.”

And the fourth floor? “We can’t go there,” he says with a sly grin. “The door is closed.” (Julie Ann Grimm)

Waldo’s coke ovens may look ancient, but the stone structures are actually fewer than 200 years old. (Siena Bergt)

Finding Waldo Among the Mines

Waldo Canyon Road, Cerrillos

To reach Waldo, you first have to summit Devil’s Throne. Located some two miles west of Cerrillos along County Road 57, that hairpin path’s demonic name comes from the now-ghost town’s former life as a strategically important stop along the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway—when so much traffic came through the area that the road to Waldo was lit up all night like the mouth of Hades by Model Ts carefully reversing their way up the daunting slope. Today, the only other traveler is a turkey vulture circling above the stripped village. But what’s left of Waldo boasts a beautiful, curving geometry that belies its dark present.

Waldo itself (named for territorial Supreme Court Justice Henry L. Waldo, rather than the candy-striped character) could more accurately be described as two towns. The initial settlement, dating from sometime in the early 1800s, packed up and moved from its original location (at the base of the nearby rock formation) when the ATSF laid new tracks closer to the Waldo gorge—making Waldo the crucial connecting point between the Madrid spur and the main east-west line.

“The railroad put in, in 1879, a dam up the arroyo, and there’s a cast iron pipe that came to the railroad track,” Todd Brown, president of the Cerrillos Historical Society and owner of the Cerrillos Turquoise Mining Museum, explains. “The line went along the railroad to Waldo, and they had a water tank there and they brought the water up to Madrid.”

That water helped fuel the mining boom further south (we imagine it’s pretty hard to wield a pickaxe when dehydrated). But equally important to the town’s development was what Madrid supplied to Waldo: Anthracite.

A lone brick fireplace peeks out from behind the concrete remains of Waldo’s former industrial center. (Siena Bergt)

“Anthracite is hard coal,” Brown tells SFR. “The train uses soft coal, people in their houses use soft coal, but anthracite, you have to heat it up and smother it to bring out the oil.”

That carcinogen-intensive process is responsible for the most striking remains left in Waldo—a honeycomb of interconnected coke ovens which visually form a fractal stretching out towards the horizon. Without knowing the history, this curving sandstone appears more in keeping with much older structures at Bandelier National Monument or Chaco Canyon National Historic Park than with the gold rush-era clapboard of Cerrillos. But in their prime, Waldo’s ovens fed steel mills from El Paso to Pueblo. With time and the eventual help of Works Progress Administration labor, a schoolhouse was added to the settlement—as well as a lead paint factory.

“They never cleaned it up,” Brown comments. “The Environmental Protection Agency didn’t think it was polluted enough.”

But while no actual restoration work was performed, just about everything else in Waldo was picked clean when the coal industry went bust. The train station itself was even lifted up and rolled on logs down to Cerrillos (where it’s been repurposed as a private residence)—leaving its foundation standing alone next to the outline of a single fireplace whose home returned to dust decades ago.

The ruins that remain have witnessed more than their share of disaster since—including one particularly memorable crash when a train carrying corn syrup derailed on the Devil’s Throne curve as its contents sloshed to one side. Now the site is probably seen more frequently by late night Amtrak travelers on the still-active line than by area locals. But according to Brown, those few visitors who do seek out Waldo tend to bring a certain Wild West lawlessness with them—enjoying a little illegal target practice or evading Santa Fe police.

“You don’t wanna be by yourself,” Brown cautions. “You gotta let this shit happen out in the desert.”

(Siena Sofia Bergt)

The old Santa Fe County Public Works building now houses Santa Fe Valet’s fleet of buses and SUVs after the county moved its operations in 2009. (Andy Lyman)

Government Garage Groomed for Livery Service

2600 Galisteo Road

Drivers on one of the city’s main thoroughfares might easily miss the old Santa Fe County Public Works Building. Tucked away on the other side of the railroad tracks from St. Francis Drive, the 1950s era structure has a relatively low profile.

The plain-looking building dominated by vehicle maintenance garage bays sits on a triangular 6-acre plot of land, wedged between the Candlelight and Vista Hermosa neighborhoods and within walking distance of the Zia Road Rail Runner station. With a shortage of affordable housing taking center stage in Santa Fe and development pushing further away from the center of town, the land carries potential for redevelopment, but for now the county isn’t planning to do much with it.

The boxy exterior recalls a time when this part of town, just north of the current city limits, could have been considered the sticks. Built to accommodate large government vehicles for repairs and service, these days the spaces are typically filled with shuttle buses and high-end SUVs.

Paul Thompson, who owns Santa Fe Valet, moved his business into the building in 2022 after having his fleet of cars, shuttles and full-on buses spread throughout the city at various vacant lots. Santa Fe Valet shares a wall with a Santa Fe County clerk warehouse, situated at the south end of the building. But Thompson says the section that’s currently filled with a few offices, an employee pool table and mechanical accoutrements was mostly untouched since Public Works left in 2009 for its current location near the Santa Fe Regional Airport after occupying the Galisteo space since 1980.

“This side, this was all vacant,” Thompson says. “It was kind of rundown and just not being used. A bunch of stuff here went to the dump.”

Thompson and his crew decided to keep a few artifacts, however. One was the giant ceiling-mounted crane with a range of motion that spans the entire front service area and which Thompson estimates has enough power to lift a car. Another is a small mural, not much bigger than a household picture frame, above a garage doorway. Thompson says a man stopped by not long after the business moved in, claiming to be the artist of the painted image of a pair of shades and a mustache that elicits thoughts of New Mexico’s rich Chicano culture.

Workers at the Santa Fe Valet hung onto this painting inside the old Santa Fe County Public Works building. (Andy Lyman)

Thompson doesn’t know the man’s name or the age of the easy-to-miss artwork, but tells SFR it became clear the painting needed to stay.

“It was important enough to him to stop by,” Thompson says.

When they moved in, the Santa Fe Valet crew also found a cow skull among the heaps of leftover items, which is now mounted above a window in a compliance office in the back.

Thompson says when he took on the lease, the structure was basically a concrete shell before he added office walls. But the building itself only accounts for approximately 15,000 square feet, according to a county spokeswoman. Most of the land is still unused by Santa Fe Valet because it lacks adequate lighting for vehicle storage, Thompson says.

County officials have long talked about redeveloping the land—eventually. Housing Authority Director J. Jordan Barela tells SFR a recent study named the property as one of several possible locations for housing, but that no real action has been taken on any of those spots.

“Right now there are no definitive plans for the Galisteo site for affordable housing or otherwise to my knowledge,” Barela says in an email. “Various types of pre-development analysis have been completed on the site in the past.”

The County Board of Commissioners has not signaled when or if they would consider converting the land. County housing officials repeatedly denied interview requests, noting there is no long-term plan for the Galisteo property. For now it will remain the home to the fleet of 52 vehicles and their black tie-clad drivers. (Andy Lyman)

The Safeway Market, pictured here circa 1977, opened in 1966. (Courtesy of the Palace of the Governors Photo Archives, NEGATIVE #111915)

Everything Must Go As Museum Moves In

Grant Avenue

Many of the Safeway grocery stores of the mid-20th Century are monuments to modern design and Mad Men-era consumer culture. Sleek. Shiny. Lots of glass.

But when the chain built a new grocery store on Grant Avenue in the 1960s, even it couldn’t help but nod to the Santa Fe style. The store, with a stucco exterior, featured a long portal.

Aside from the parking lot and the boxy shape of the building, it looked nothing like the big, breezy stores the chain was constructing elsewhere.

Still, its opening in 1966 was an occasion. The store boasted air conditioning. There was a separate meat cutting room shoppers could see through a window to watch butchers prepare meat that would then be delivered to them on a conveyor belt.

For decades, the Safeway just a couple blocks from Santa Fe Plaza was a hub for downtown residents. And the store’s rise and fall in some ways traces downtown’s own arc as it has been shaped by urban renewal, the rise of the automobile and the growth of tourism.

Closed in 1992, the store is now slated for demolition.

The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum plans to construct a new building on the site that will provide a bigger space right on Grant for the famed artist’s work. Where the street is now fronted by a parking lot, its future facade, designed by DNCA architects, will likely call to mind O’Keeffe’s paintings of Ranchos de Taos and adobes across the Southwestern landscape.

“We’re looking to O’Keeffe and O’Keeffe’s vision for New Mexico as an inspiration,” Deputy Director Jennifer Foley told members during an open house last fall.

Few may miss what’s there now and the demolition is just the latest transformation for the site, which hasn’t been left alone for long.

Once part of Fort Marcy Military Reservation, the US Army built officers’ houses on the land in the 1870s, a historic inventory by city staff says. After the military withdrew from the fort, the federal government briefly eyed the site as a national sanatorium for tuberculosis patients before turning the land over to the city. The officers’ quarters were put up for sale and, according to a historical review by city staff, the residents who would move in reflected the diversity of Santa Fe.

Officers’ quarters photographed in 1873. In the following century, the site would become a Safeway grocery store. (Timothy O’Sullivan / Courtesy National Archives)

Hyman and Sarah Galanter, for example, were immigrants from Latvia who ran a dry goods store in town, and Alex and Ethel Kalanges, immigrants from Greece, ran a café downtown. Later, Yacki Raizizun would move in. A spiritualist born in India, he lectured widely and authored several books on yoga, the occult, dreams and more.

By 1941, Safeway was eying the spot for its next store in Santa Fe.

Gordon F. Street, a former principal in John Gaw Meem’s architectural firm, designed the shop to reflect one of the big changes sweeping retail at the time. Rather than stores stocking goods behind counters, the merchandise was arranged in aisles. Customers could collect their own groceries and pay at a cash register on the way out.

But by the 1960s, the store was outmoded.

Safeway wanted more space and more parking. By 1992, Safeway had spun off many of its Southwestern stores to a chain called Furr’s and the Santa Fe store shuttered, though the building remained. Over the years, the building became office space for a title company and was also occupied by an art gallery.

The O’Keeffe Museum has used at least part of the building as an annex since the late 1990s, welcoming countless field trips.

To many, though, it remains the old Safeway. (Andrew Oxford)

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