By: Paul Weideman
Published online: Sunday, January 06, 2013
Appeared in: Home, Santa Fe Real Estate Guide
Edition: January 2013 Vol. 15 No. 10
Cornerstones Community Partnerships, the Santa Fe organization that works with local communities in the Southwest to restore historic adobe buildings, had a good year in 2012. Cornerstones staff and volunteers repaired the south wall at the 300-year-old San Miguel Mission — they completed adobe repairs on the other three exterior walls the previous three years.
One of the reasons behind Cornerstones’ recent successes is its focus on young people.
“We’re fortunate because, although historic preservation is pushed somewhat into the background when the economy is depressed, youth training is not,” said executive director Robin Jones. “Working with youth, trying to give them leadership skills, teaching basic safety and teaching how to value themselves as part of a work force and as part of the community is so important. We work regularly with Bosque School and Youth Shelters, and we’re working with the Leadership Institute at Santa Fe Indian School.”
The youngest children learn about adobe while having fun playing with mud. Tiny bricks made by tots from Girls Inc. have been sold as candle holders at the Oldest House gift shop, raising hundreds of dollars for the San Miguel project.
The older kids working with Cornerstones see career possibilities as a contractor or architect. Many have learned a lot about the material through hands-on experience at San Miguel Mission. Jake Barrow, Cornerstones program director, said more than 500 volunteers have contributed nearly 6,000 hours of work there.
The adobe church in Santa Fe’s old Barrio Analco section was originally built in the early 1600s, but it was partially destroyed during the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. The chapel we see today (or at least some of it) dates from 1710.
The damage Cornerstones has been addressing was caused by inappropriate cement stucco added in the past, which trapped water in the walls, and by drainage problems.
“All the adobes for the work we’ve done at San Miguel were made there onsite, some with earth from the old bricks,” Barrow said. “We did whole sides, taking the old stucco off all the way to the ground. Our new plaster on the facade [the first wall tackled] is three years old now. We learn as we go, and the plaster gets better and better.”
How much effort goes into finding the right kind of earth for making adobe bricks and the right kind of mud mortar and plaster?
“We always have to play with that, but there’s a big range of satisfactory materials,” Barrow answered. “We do tests and if it’s cracking, we add a little more sand. There’s no perfect formula, because it also depends on the type of sand. At San Miguel we’ve been using pure clay from Nambé. We’re very happy with our plaster there.”
The last part of the exterior restoration is the bell tower. As it did on the walls, Cornerstones is planning to remove the stucco, evaluate the adobe, and probably install some stabilizing elements.
Architect Beatriz Yuste, an International Council on Monuments and Sites intern from Spain, who is helping at Cornerstones, has been up in the bell tower several times.
“That tower is complex,” Barrow said. “The drawings we have are not very accurate. Bea is measuring and doing accurate architectural drawings.”
Also assisting is St. Francis Hotel, which is designating a percentage of its income to the bell tower project. Barrow has also discussed it with the Archbishop’s Commission for the Preservation of New Mexican Churches.
Barrow was in Lima, Peru, this year, making a presentation about Cornerstones at the XIth International Conference on the Study and Conservation of Earthen Architecture Heritage. He then headed south into Chile, where the organization has had an ongoing relationship with the Fundación Altiplano.
Yuste has worked in Chile for two years. She and Barrow will talk about their work in the near future in Santa Fe.
“We’ve had this relationship with the Fundación and [preservation specialist] Pat Taylor goes down there and helps on the workshops,” Barrow said. “He has invented technology having to do with basal erosion and he teaches that and plastering.
“In Peru, we learned that the early Spanish were educated very quickly about earthquakes, probably from the Incas. They would build very thick first-floor adobe walls, then the second story was made with quinche, something like what we would think of as wattle and daub. It’s strong and lightweight and flexible; in an earthquake, the plaster will fall off but the structure stands.
“The other thing we learned, and the reason we went down there in the first place, is all the seismic-retrofit work done there. The engineers at Catholic University in Lima have been recognized as experts in providing stability to adobe walls and pinning a roof to the walls. And that is applicable to San Miguel, where a lot of times we find the old vigas just sitting on the walls with no connections. We know New Mexico has seismic events and we’re thinking about safety.”
Another ongoing New Mexico project is rebuilding the old trading post at Santo Domingo, which suffered a fire in 2001. Cornerstones helped Santo Domingo Pueblo secure a $1 million economic-development grant for the work.
“The adobe walls have all been repaired — Pat Taylor did all that — and the wood-frame roof will be in place later this month,” Barrow said in early December. “Pat is a subcontractor with Avanyu Construction, which did a lot of work on San Miguel.”
The Santo Domingo restoration was designed by Spears Architects. “We have the adobes stabilized and lumber coming in,” said architect James Horn with Spears in mid-December. “We’re looking to get trusses put on next week, anxious to get the roof on and decked in before we’re too far into winter.”
The job includes rebuilding the interesting front parapet and restoring the many inscriptions on the facade, and at some point adding a café.
The trading post will likely be more vital than ever, since the New Mexico Rail Runner Express stops there.
“It’s going to be incredible with the Rail Runner and a café not a part of the gas station there, or the traditional village,” Horn said.
“The first phase will be done in the spring, when we’ll open the doors. We’ve had limited funds. Hopefully there will be support monies coming in for later phases.”
A third Cornerstones project in this area is La Sala de Galisteo, the old dance hall in Galisteo south of Santa Fe. “A committee there is restoring it and we’re helping,” Barrow said. “We’d like to have adobe-repair workshops there this summer.”
Jones said Cornerstones has a grant to develop a curriculum in earthen architecture. It will be a distance-learning program managed by Adobe In Action, Santa Fe, and the Earthbuilders Guild, Albuquerque. “We have been in touch with the Santa Fe Community College Trades & Advanced Technology Center and they’re enthusiastic about it. We’re also interested in the certification of workers after they’ve had this training.”
Skill in earthen building is most appropriate for both architects and contractors working in the Santa Fe area. “There are a lot of adobe buildings in this region and we know that many are not being well cared-for,” Barrow said. “Ed Crocker [Crocker Ltd., Santa Fe] has been a very successful contractor, including with major repairs on the significant churches at Isleta and Santa Ana pueblos. His team has done a beautiful job and it’s not as if the work is not there for people who know how to do it.”
Cornerstones also is doing workshops for National Park Service volunteers and interns at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and Walnut Canyon National Monument in Arizona, Mojave National Preserve in California, and Arches National Park in Utah.
For more information, call Cornerstones at 505-982-9521 or email email@example.com.