In the Presence of the Past the Palace of the Governors in Santa Fe, N.M., Reveals a Rich History

Article excerpt

KNOWN FOR ITS CULTURAL DIVERSITY AND RENOWNED ART COMMUNITIES, New Mexico has a rich and dynamic history worthy of its state slogan, "Land of Enchantment." Standing as a witness to the state's history is the Palace of the Governors in Santa Fe, N.M.

Throughout its 400-year history, the Palace of the Governors has evolved with the region. Built in 1609, it is the nation's oldest continuously occupied government building, and it has served as a museum for the past 101 years.

The adobe building and its surrounding plaza originally served as the home and administrative center for the governor. While it was built as the Casas Reales, or "royal house," the governor in 1659 began referring to the property as a palace-and thus was born the name "Palace of the Governors."

While the term palace suggests wealth and luxury, the palace was never opulent. Although governors brought their finest household furnishings, the space itself was austere and serviceable. It was set up as a complex of living and administrative rooms, as well as store houses-with a military function added in the 18th century, according to Frances Levine, Ph.D., director of Palace of the Governors and the New Mexico History Museum.

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Changes to the palace reveal the history of the territory. During the 19th century, New Mexico was the culmination of the Santa Fe Trail, where the frontier of the United States met the Northern Frontier of Mexico. While everything in the palace was handmade and hand-forged during the Spanish colonial period, U.S. traders coming down the Santa Fe Trail brought new types of hardware, locks and architectural details to the building as early as 1821. The arrival of the railroad in 1880 brought glass for windows and tin plates for the roofs at the palace.

"Over 400 years the building has changed in response to our changing trade patterns and our changing ideas of style," Levine said.

Through the centuries, the palace has been under the control of a number of countries. Between 1609-1821, it belonged to Spain. In fact, it is considered one of the crown jewels of Colonial Spanish architecture in North America. Then, from 1821-1846 Santa Fe was the capital of the Mexican province before becoming a territory in the United States from 1846 to 1912. In 1909, the palace became the first museum of New Mexico and has served as a museum since then. It was designated as a Registered National Historic Landmark in 1960 and an American Treasure in 1999.

MUSEUM QUALITY

While the palace's rich history makes it the perfect museum setting, its age is troublesome. …