Tuesday, 28 August 2012 19:14

The Myth of Santa Fe by Chris Wilson

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The Myth of Santa Fe by Chris Wilson



Review by Arthur Scott


   This book, The Myth of Santa Fe, Wilson, Chris, 1997, University of New Mexico Press; is to me the best and most well researched book detailing the transformation of Santa Fe from a small city with a declining population and a severe economic decline from the late eighteen hundreds to 1912 to a premier tourist destination in the 1990’s with little regard for its ongoing and past history.  The book is quite long. 410 pages and 215 illustrations although most are slightly larger than thumbnails. There are many before and after photographs. The research is impeccably documented by citations to innumerable old books, newspapers, and other archival material.

   I gained a lot of historical knowledge from reading this book. Even being a third generation Santa Fean, I had never given much thought to the ideas

that Dr Wilson presents in this book in a chronological order.  The book is divided into two major parts;  the first, “Santa Fe Before It Became a Style” with chapters entitled “Spanish and Pueblo Santa Fe,” “Into the American Melting Pot, 1840 to 1912,” and “The Reluctant Tourist Town.” The second part is called “Modern Santa Fe,’ with chapters on “Romantic Regional Architecture, 1905 to 1930,” “Mexicano, Spanish-American, Chicano, Hispanic,” “From Fiesta to Fourth of July,” Restoration is the Most Total Destruction,” and “Modern Regional Architecture, 1930 to 1992.”

   The book-cover synopsis describes the book as:


“A wave of publicity during the 198os projected Santa Fe to the wor1d as an exotic tourist destination --America's own Tahiti in the desert. The Myth of Santa Fe goes behind the romantic adobe facades and mass marketing stereotypes to tell the fascinating but little known story of how the city’s alluring image was quite consciously created early in this century, primarily by Anglo-American newcomers. By investigating the City's trademark architectural style, public ceremonies, the historic preservation movement, and cultural traditions, Wilson unravels the complex interactions of ethnic identity and tourist image-making. Santa Fe's is a distinctly modern success story----the story of a community that transformed itself from a declining provincial capital of 5,000 in 1912 into an internationally recognized tourist destination. But it is also a cautionary, tale about the commodifcation of Native American and Hispanic cultures, and the social displacement and the ethnic animosities that can accompany a tourist boom.”


   Much of the premeditated change to attract tourism started during Mayor Arthur  Seligman’s administration in 1912 by appointing Edgar Hewett to a planning commission charged with changing Santa Fe to fight the economic decline. Within in three decades the Palace of the Governors was remodeled into Hewitt’s and Jesse Nussbaum’s   ideas of a pueblo style, the Army Barracks were torn down and the Art Museum created, the La Fonda was renovated complete with fake exterior vigas, and the Laboratory of Anthropology built. Streets were renamed again to reflect the Spanish character. In the thirties Hewitt and John Meem decided that the other three sides of the Plaza should have portals to complete THE look. It was finally completed in the sixties over the objections of many landowners that were required to pay for it.  And this faux adobe style has continued to today.

   Wilson notes that local builders who were used to using adobe and local materials had to learn, during the late eighteen hundreds to build with square corners and plumb walls.  Then in the nineteen- twenties they again had to use plaster and rounded corners while still using modern materials.

   I enjoyed this book a great deal, particularly the discussions of the losses of cultural identities. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in what Santa Fe was, what it has become, and at what price. I was reminded while reading of a quote attributed to the recently deceased advertising agency owner Lew Thompson, who claimed to be the first to sell Santa Fe as an international tourist destination; "“Santa Fe, once an attractive lady, has become a tired old whore,” he said in a 1994 interview. “We’ve let Santa Fe, the city we loved, become a commodity.”


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