If you sell real estate in Santa Fe, you’re probably versed in the history of Santa Fe Plaza better than most people. Clients and prospects both want to know what you know. And if you’re Ricky Allen, a principal with Ricky Allen, Cathy Griffith & Tara Earley Realtors, you just can’t help sharing. So, sit back, relax, and enjoy Ricky’s armchair tour of Santa Fe Plaza.
First, a bit of history
Juan de Oñate colonized the region in 1598, establishing his government near the Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo. After Oñate was exiled from the province, Pedro de Peralta founded his government in a settlement he called La Villa Real de la Santa Fé de San Francisco de Asís — the Royal Town of the Holy Faith of Saint Francis of Assisi. “Now you know why we simply call our city Santa Fe,” says Ricky.
The plaza — The heart of Santa Fe
Like most Spanish Colonial towns, Santa Fe’s heart was its plaza. Established in 1610, the plaza today is bordered by San Francisco Street on the south, Lincoln Avenue on the west, Palace Avenue on the north, and Old Santa Trail on the east. The plaza was listed as a National Historic Landmark in 1960.
This was where El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, the royal road of the interior, ended, having begun in Mexico City. This is where the Santa Fe Trail ended its 900-mile-long journey from Independence, Missouri. There are markers in the plaza commemorating both.
Palace of the Governors is unique
The Palace of the Governors is also here. It’s the oldest continuously occupied public building in the United States — first as the capital of Spanish Colonial Nuevo México, then the Mexican capital, and finally the U.S. territorial capital — until 1886 when a new building was started. It’s been a museum since 1909 and was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1966.
You can visit the palace through the New Mexico History Museum, whose entrance is on Lincoln Avenue, a block north of the plaza. You really do get to step back in time.
Santa Fe Style codified
Over the years, builders introduced various architectural styles, popular in their time. Santa Fe was losing its image, which is what people came to see. In 1957, the Santa Fe Historic Zoning Ordinance was introduced, leaving The City Different with its Pueblo-Territorial appearance. New construction could take place; it just had to comply with the ordnance. It kept Santa Fe from becoming like every other hodge-podge city in America.
Take a walk around the Santa Fe Plaza
“Walk with me,” Ricky says. A walk around the plaza shows it is still a commercial hub. Many of the buildings surrounding the plaza in the Santa Fe Historic District are in Spanish-Pueblo, Territorial, and 19th-century, non-Indigenous architectural styles that give the district its distinct character. Restaurants, galleries, boutiques, and museums lining the streets entice you to venture in.
Arias de Quiros complex — Home to many
East of the Palace is the Arias de Quiros complex. There’s a plaque on the wall, reading, “In 1697, this property was granted to Captain Diego Arias de Quiros by Spanish Royal decree for his part in the reconquest of New Mexico with DeVargas. In 1879, bought by L. Bradford Prince, later Territorial governor. In 1942, bought by Field estate for enlisted men’s club in World War II.” From 1943 to 1963, the complex was known as Trujillo Plaza, and it served as the Santa Fe office of Los Alamos National Laboratory. Think: Oppenheimer and super-secret Manhattan Project atop Pajarito Plateau.
The complex encompasses Prince Plaza and Sena House, the home José de Sena built for his bride, Doña Isabel Cabeza de Baca, in 1831. Both properties follow traditional hacienda designs with central courtyards, which you can walk through and tour the gardens. Most ground floor rooms are used for commercial retail businesses, while the second floors have professional offices. Shopping here, as well as in other buildings around the plaza, is a favorite pastime of many visitors.
Thomas Catron figures everywhere in New Mexico
On the corner of Palace Avenue and Santa Fe Trail is the Catron block. Lawyer and politician Thomas Catron developed the commercial building on the east side of the Santa Fe Plaza in 1891. It’s a red-brick, Italianate building that cost him $40,000 — about $1.4 million in today’s dollars. For more than a hundred years, its ground-floor retail enterprises have catered to the fashion needs of Santa Fe women, offering an ever-changing spectrum of clothing and shoes and even artistic goods for the home.
But it didn’t fit the Santa Fe Style. So, in 1966 architect John Gaw Meem modified the building. He added a Territorial-style portales, hiding the view of the ornate roof frieze and window treatments.
Religious history encompassed in Basilica
To the east of the plaza is the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, ordered built in 1850 by Bishop John Baptiste Lamy. The new cathedral was built around the former adobe church, whose walls were removed once construction was completed. The only part of the original church still existing is the small adobe chapel dedicated to La Conquistadora. Brought from Spain in 1625, the statue is the oldest representation of the Virgin Mary in the United States.
Festivals and markets abound
Plan your visit around one of Santa Fe’s defining festivals. Two of the most famous are the Spanish Market, during the first week of July, and the SWAIA Indian Market in August. At the Spanish Market, you’ll find Hispanic religious art, created the way artists of Spanish Colonial New Mexico did. The Indian Market brings people from tribes across the country, offering jewelry, textiles, baskets, carvings, sculptures, pottery, two-dimensions art, and more.
“We’re proud to share the rich history of Santa Fe with people thinking about making this vibrant city their home,” said Ricky Allen. Plan your own visit to explore the history, culture, art, and cuisine that makes Santa Fe the City Different that it is.