Friday, January 27, 2017

Eine Kleine Nacht Garten

The more that I learn about the flora in Mars and my future home state of New Mexico, the more of them I find to like.
My latest discovery is the official state flower, the Yucca – something that I thought of more as a decorating cliché than as a “real” plant – the Ficus of front yards.  In Connecticut, where we now live, its sword-shaped leaves and tall clusters of white flowers incongruously attempt to provide a desert accent to the already-quite-green New England home landscape.  At the North Carolina shore where we vacation annually you can’t swing a dead sea gull without hitting a phalanx of these tropical looking plants standing guard along the sidewalk, trying to make it look as if a southern beach cottage was built in the wild wasteland rather than later backfilled by stock from a nearby nursery.
But my opinion of this member of the agave family is changing for the better as I learn more about what turns out to be New Mexico’s official state flower.
The desert plant has held that position since 1927 when the New Mexico Federation of Women’s Clubs recommended it, and the schoolchildren of the state selected it.  Although the legislation granting this status (House Bill No. 371 seems not to specify a particular variety – there are about fifty to chose from – the 2000-2001 New Mexico Blue Book and the New Mexico Legislature Handbook says: "Early inhabitants found that ground yucca roots were an excellent substitute for soap. Yucca has always been popular among New Mexicans for shampoo, and it is rapidly gaining commercial favor throughout the country." This leads to two possibilities “Yucca glauca” or “Yucca elata” both of which are sometimes called soaptree Yucca – but for our purposes here it is generic Yucca since Latin names and the species-ization of plants gives me a raging headache, and in this case it doesn’t really make any difference anyway.
Besides there is more to the Yucca than its laundry attributes and its fancy government title.
For example the leaves of the plant are also utilized in basket-making, and the leaf fibers can be turned into dental floss – which then let accumulates on bathroom vanity shelves and its creators lie to their dentists about how frequently they actually use it.
And it is said that early Spanish settlers, seeing the white flowers of these abundant perennials in the moonlight were moved to call them “lamparas de dios” or “lamps of the Lord” – kind of all-natural, farolitos, or luminarias depending upon what your Christmas tradition calls the votive-candles-in-a-bag that decorate the southwestern landscape during that winter holiday. 

Initiated by a former New Mexican our current central Connecticut hometown has for many years displayed what are called here (and in most of the world) luminarias.  Santa Fe, NM, to which we are re-locating, calls them farolitos – and Mars and I are big fans of them by either name – so I am sure will be just as impressed by the glow-in-the-dark Yucca lamps.
Yuccas also have a really neat self-propagation system known as “mutualistic pollination” wherein an insect called the Yucca moth intentionally transfers the pollen from the (male) stamens of one plant to the (female) stigma of another, while, at the same time laying an egg in the flower.  The resulting larval moth feeds on some of the developing Yucca seeds, leaving behind enough seed to perpetuate the species.  Any plant that has its own eponymous, dedicated, species survival support team is at the top of my personal floral coolness chart.
And perhaps most importantly of all – Mars and I probably saw it in Malta when we visited that Mediterranean island in 1997.  (The one there is known as Yucca glosiosa, aka Spanish Dagger or Adam's Needle and has been naturalized to that country over the past 500 years.)  As it was for St. Paul who ship-wrecked there around 60 A.D., I think that trip was life-changing for me in many ways – not the least of which was my realization of how comfortable I felt, with Mars, in that stark, brightly-lit, adobe-colored landscape adorned with outrageously beautiful flora.
Such as Datura, the night-blooming, herbaceous, short-lived perennial with trumpet shaped flowers with a long history of use for causing delirium and death, which also grows wild on the main archipelago and its companion isles.  Now that should be somebody’s state flower.  I mean, how could you not love a hallucinogenic and lethal government symbol?

Around six or seven years ago Mars and I came upon it again in coastal North Carolina while we were staying in a beachside condo on Emerald Isle – south of the Outer Banks (SOBX on your bumper sticker).
Every morning at around 7:30 a.m. we walked over to an adjacent convenience market to get the daily newspaper. The grounds of the condo are landscaped with a mixture of southern perennials and annuals along the pathways between the units, and a combination of prickly pear cactus and white trumpet-shaped flowers on squash-like vines along the sides of the driving area.
A few evenings into our getaway I noticed that the large white flowers were still wide open well after dark. Then, one day around 10:00 a.m. I noticed that they were closed up.  Mars, who had observed all of this strange plant behavior days before, opined that they looked to be a form of Datura. The Carolina species turned out to be a dusk to dawn version of the plant -- sort of a "Deadly Night Shift". 
Datura, it turns out, are a favorite of the "Night Gardening" movement -- the use of plants that either bloom exclusively at night, or are open during the day but do not release their scent until evening. I shared my discovery with the membership of my Men’s Garden Club, which decided, under the direction of one of our more knowledgeable members, to find a location and plant a nocturnal flowerbed somewhere in town. Which we did, with the cooperation of a local restaurateur who did not seem to find the presence of toxic blossoms showing the way to his eatery to be either ironic or threatening.
And since that time I have discovered that one of the nine species of Datura has an even earlier and more historic hometown connection.  Datura wrightii or sacred datura, is found in open land and along roadsides with well-drained sandy soils in northern Mexico and the adjoining southwestern states where it is also commonly planted as an ornamental, especially in xeriscapes. And its name commemorates the botanist Charles Wright from Wethersfield Connecticut who first identified this plant on his walking expeditions through the southwest in the early 1850s.  (Our town has also named a presumably less-lethal elementary school in his honor.)

 It makes me feel good to know that in New Mexico – even though the state’s official symbol is the Zia sun, there will still be the possibility of a little night garden.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Wethersfield’s World Renowned Red Onion

(For the past year or so I was a member of the group that created the town’s new Heritage Trail – 22 markers scattered throughout Old Wethersfield that tell the story of the town from its inception in 1634 to its current incarnation as a Hartford suburb. The following is an edited version of one of my early drafts.)     


“It is peculiarly novel and interesting, on passing through the town in the month of June, to behold in every direction the extensive fields of onions. Whilst in a luxuriant state of vegetation, the growing vegetable exhales its strong savour. The atmosphere becomes impregnated, and the luscious qualities of the onion are wafted far and wide, upon every passing breeze.” Pease and Niles Gazetteer –1819

Wethersfield’s deep, rich soil was ideal for farming and from 1730 until the mid-1830's the major agricultural activity in Wethersfield was the cultivation of a flat red onion that came to be known as the “Wethersfield Red.” – earning the town renown throughout the world – and the nickname “Oniontown.”            

Strung together in long “ropes,” (or “skeins”) the onions were shipped primarily to New York – and to the West Indies where they were used to feed the slaves on the islands’ huge sugar plantations. At its height in 1774, Wethersfield exported about one million of these knotted bundles.  More than twenty sloops and schooners were owned and manned by Wethersfield residents engaged in the trade.  Onions were traded for sugar, salt, tea, coffee and spices as well as molasses from which New Englanders made rum.  Well-known for their large size, deep red color, pleasant flavor, productivity, and long shelf life, even President Thomas Jefferson grew “Wethersfield Reds” at Monticello.

Unusual for that time, many young women were responsible for growing and harvesting the crop.   These so-called “onion maidens” accounted for about one-third of Wethersfield’s onion producers.  Most of them worked in the fields for other growers.  Some, however, raised and sold their own crops. And a few women acted as agents not only for themselves, but also for other onion growers, including men. In 1774 Alexandria Frazier shipped 6,782 ropes of onions on behalf of 41 workers, 7 of them women.

The onions were such a valuable and stable commodity that they became a form of currency within the town. In 1764 Wethersfield leaders levied taxes to build the First Church of Christ meetinghouse. Many residents paid their fee in the form of onions, making it known as “the church that onions built.”  Around town the long ropes decorated the rafters and doorways of the village – like pretty red Christmas ornaments. 

The combination of a Civil War-era blight known as pinkroot and the end of the plantation system in the West Indies signaled the end of the reign of the red onion. Tobacco and garlic supplanted the onion crop. and Wethersfield transitioned to cultivating seed for the newly settled West. 

Today, Wethersfield Red Onion seeds are still available from the Town’s two remaining seed businesses – Comstock, Ferre & Company and The Charles C. Hart Seed Company.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Trending Now

During the past year Mars and I have noticed what seems to be an unusual number of apparent homicides by hawks in our neck of the woods – including one on our neighborhood golf course as we teed of at the first hole.  But recently things seems to be really ramping up violence-wise.

About a month ago Mars and I noticed what she has come to call a “carnage scene” on our front lawn – a randomly stacked pile of disembodied bird feathers with no signs of “exsanguination” as they say in the police procedurals, nor any more substantial body parts.  Could be caused by a hawk.  Could be caused by a cat – we have at least three of them, none ours, that prowl through our yard and lurk in the bushes near our bird feeders.  We’ve never personally witnessed a successful cat-on-bird attack on our property but, could be…

Then three days ago while I was returning from a walk around the ‘hood our across-the-street neighbor hailed me over to point our a large grays hawk perched in one of her front yard trees flaying with studied deliberation what appeared to be a small bird clutched securely within its talons.  The predator was about eight feet up in the maple tree.  I am about six and one-half feet tall and I was probably twenty feet away – so I had a really close-up view of the hawk for several minutes.  He never gave any signs of being aware of my presence.  I read somewhere that the color of a hawk’s eyes can be a strong indicator of what type it is.  This one was definitively a creepy, scary hawk.

We have had lots of sightings of these diurnal predators around our house and on our property over the years – and in the weeks immediately prior to this instance.  A couple of years back we even had a pair build a nest in one of our oak trees from mid-March until early May.  We have at least two bird identification books, and several neighbors with expert opinions – “Red Tailed”, “Red Shouldered”, “Broad-Winged” they have told us with avian certainty.  Nonetheless Mars and I have yet to come to any definitive conclusion as to what types of hawks we have seen.

This one had gray wings and head with gray and white striped breast – as did all the others.  Oh, and did I mention his eyes?

But it is not over yet.  On the next day our garage roof showed evidence of another massacre – a second explosion of feathers.  This tableau is still somehow affixed to the roofing tiles in spite of several days worth of relatively hard rain and strong breezes.

Not to go all “local television news” on this but…one instance could be an aberration – two a trend – but three is something much, much bigger than that.

Our bird feeders are intended to give our feathered friends some nourishment (even at the risk of providing bait for the hunters in our midst) while at the same time providing us with some entertainment.  An occasional massacre is okay, but two or three in such a short period of time is really pretty creepy

But there also seems to be another completely new, apparently countervailing trend in Mars and my world – “Hygge”.

We first heard about “hygge” on the “Euro Maxx – Lifestyle Europe” television program, which our local PBS station carries on one of its digital siblings. “The Danes are ranked as the world's happiest people.  Hygge may have something to do with it.  Difficult to sum up in one word, ‘hygge’ is a Danish ritual of enjoying life's pleasures.” 

Hygge, which is actually pronounced pretty close to how it looks if you already come with a built-in Danish accent, turned up again this morning on our local Public Radio station on whose website I learned that it also was shortlisted for word of the year by the Oxford English Dictionary.

Both Euro Maxx and NPR stories relied heavily on a book by the CEO of “The Happiness Research Institute in Denmark” (who knew?) wherein he explains that hygge is “basically building in elements of togetherness, of savoring simple pleasures, of relaxation, of comfort on an everyday basis.”

Hyggelig (the adjective) activities can be such things as getting together with friends; reading in front of the fire place; sitting by candlelight – or, if you are a Danish Hawk, dismembering lunch in a quiet tree with the warm sun on your back.

It’s all making sense now.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Even the Best Plan Still Needs a Good infrastructure

After we retired eleven years ago my wife Mars and I joined our local Historical Society – and we quickly learned that history is not just created by generals, presidents, and explorers.  Nor is it driven solely by sweeping events and grand ideas.  It is also made by those that create the infrastructure that allows history to happen – people like homebuilders Allen Stamm and Alfred G. Hubbard

In the first part of the twentieth century a pair of 300-year-old municipalities that are 2,000 miles apart had a an identical problem.  Santa Fe New Mexico (established in 1607 by Spanish Colonists), and Wethersfield, Connecticut ("Ye Most Auncient Towne in Connecticut” founded in 1634 by English settlers from nearby Massachusetts) were each experiencing an identity crisis.  In the end, one would choose to become “a city different from other American cities and also a city different from its recent Victorian past” as well as an “exotic tourist destination” – while the other would opt to transition into a residence community “progressively more distinctive and distinguishable from the of the neighboring suburbs.

Santa Fe, NM established in 1607, is the second oldest city set up by European colonists in the United States (St. Augustine, Florida being the first) – and contains the oldest church  (San Miguel Chapel, 1610) as well as the oldest government building in the country (The Palace of the Governors, 1610 – 1612).  In 1821, after years of conflict between the native Pueblo Americans and the colonial Spanish, Mexico won its independence from Spain and the city became the capital of the Mexican territory of Santa Fe de Nuevo México.  Shortly thereafter William Becknell opened the 1,000 mile-long Santa Fe Trail, which brought hundreds of new settlers to the area.  In 1846, during the beginnings of the Mexican American War, General, Stephen Watts Kearny, captured the city and raised the American flag over the Town Plaza. At the conclusion of that conflict Mexico ceded the territories of New Mexico and California to the United States in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.  When New Mexico was granted American statehood in 1912 Santa Fe, with a population of 5,000, remained its capitol city.  

The 1900s also saw the start of the urban planning movement as the ideas of utopian visionaries, infrastructure engineers, and local governments were combined to create blueprints for developing towns and cities in order to mitigate the consequences of the industrial age..  Faced with their new status as a state capitol Santa Fe’s city leaders saw the need for such a strategic document.   

Unfortunately the city could not afford to hire a professional planner, so Mayor Arthur Seligman appointed local businessman Harry H. Dorman plus archeologists Edgar Lee Hewett and Sylvanus Morley of the Museum of New Mexico/School of American Archeology who had studied Anasazi ruins in the area, to develop the plan.  The trio sent out numerous letters seeking advice from nationally known experts such as city planner John Nolan and landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead, Jr. – received a great number of helpful replies – and created the town’s first formal development plan, which they based upon the principals of historic preservation, and the philosophy of the “City Beautiful” movement which believed that introducing grandeur and beautification in cities would promote a harmonious social order, increase the quality of life, and create a more moral citizenry.


Similarly, in our home town of Wethersfield, Connecticut the beginning of the 20th century prompted the town’s Planning Commission to issue its own  “Plan of A Residence Suburb” prepared in 1928 by Herbert S. Swan, City Planner. 

The document begins “But yesterday Wethersfield was a rural community; today it is semi-rural; tomorrow it promises to be one of Hartford’s densely built suburbs.”  (Hartford is Connecticut’s capitol city and immediately adjacent to Wethersfield on the north.)


This transition “will involve a complete break with past traditions.  Farms that have been tilled for nearly three hundred years will be cut up into building lots; wire fences enclosing dairy pastures will give way to city streets; quiet country lanes, now grass-grown and all but deserted will develop into traffic thoroughfares carrying hundreds of vehicles per hour; comparatively small fields will become the home places of crowded thousands.”  

But while Santa Fe looked to the principles of the “City Beautiful” Movement for guidance, the philosophical underpinnings of Wethersfield’s strategy was based upon the more tactically oriented “New Brunswick Plan” whose tenets, if followed would assure that “Wethersfield is able to develop a constructive plan before the whole town has been ruined through piecemeal planning.”

In the first half of the twentieth century many men were involved in the transition of Wethersfield from “a mere village of scattered houses with its surrounding farms into a fair-sized residential suburb.”   The best known and most successful were Albert G. Hubbard and Harrison A. Bosworth who between them built over 100 houses in what is now the town’s historic district and many more throughout the remainder of town   – building “on spec”, and establishing substantial portions of many of today’s neighborhoods.

In fact, the March 18, 1929 Hartford Courant published the Wethersfield Grand List, a compilation of all real estate parcels and business personal property within the town, under the headline, “Hubbard Holdings Lead Wethersfield Grand List, Value

Place at $120,774” (over $1.6 million in 2016).  


Albert G. Hubbard was born in Southington, Connecticut in 1886 and moved to Wethersfield at the age of twenty-one.  Working as a carpenter he built at least two houses in the neighboring town of Hartford but left that job in 1910 and bought four lots on Wolcott Hill Road in Wethersfield with the intention of developing them.  He sold his first Wethersfield house to James Goodrich for $2,600.and in the years after 1910 Hubbard designed and built over 200 homes throughout town offering sixty-seven different plans to choose from.
A typical Hubbard sales brochure asserted that: “Wethersfield has much to commend it to the man who would be near his office, yet away from the city’s turmoil…an unusually sporty 18 hole golf course…an exceptional Yacht harbor and the beautiful Connecticut River winds its way down to long Island Sound.  Horseback riding has many devotees here with bridal paths to suit all“.  And, in the ethnically coded language of the day for a White Anglo-Saxon Protestant town, “86% of our population are American Born.”

Priced between $4,500 and $20,000 ($54,000 to $240,000 in 2016), “Hubbard Houses” were built to meet the needs of the modern suburban family.

“Conveniences that a few years ago would have been considered luxuries even in the most expensive residences, are included as a matter of course in these moderately priced homes, including: attractive vestibules, center halls, staircase and large living rooms with fireplaces, cheerful dining rooms with corner cupboards, sub parlors with cozy fireplaces, modern kitchens with convenient built-in cabinets and sunny breakfast nooks, first floor lavatories, two to four large, light, airy bedrooms on the second floor, a beautiful tile bath, large open attic or sometimes a finished one.  The roofs are covered with a heavy asphalt shingle, the warm rich beauty of autumn blends of russet, old gold, burnt orange, browns, blues, greens, and yellow, which harmonizes with the body colors and trim.  An attractive velvety lawn with shrubs and walks, a good rear yard, with a flower or vegetable garden for that outdoor exercise, a one- or two-car garage which completes the setting and makes it a complete modern home.”
Each street in a Hubbard community was marked with a distinctive street sign depicting a charming house and tree. These signs have been recreated in some parts of the town’s Historic District.  Some streets were also marked with large stone pillars topped by flowered urns.

And Hubbard also worked to create a sense of community in his housing developments.

“Being of neighborly spirit, Mrs. [Isabel] Hubbard and I endeavored to know our homeowners intimately.  But as such a group goes beyond a certain limit, individual calling is out of the question.”  So in March 1925 A.G. and Isabel Hubbard held a dinner at the Masonic Hall for all those who had purchased his homes.  186 people attended and one month later a similar event inaugurated the “Hubbard Community Club” providing

“entertainments, dances, suppers, picnics, masquerade parties and other jollifications.”  The town’s annual report for that year asked, “Can you imagine a community anywhere else like this?”  The club was active for many years and, in addition to the celebrations, held an annual “Olla Podrida” variety show to raise money for charitable activities.

For his own home A. G. Hubbard chose the historic Silas W. Robbins house at 185 Broad Street – built in 1873 in the three-story, “Second Empire” style by Silas Robbins, an owner of the seed business Johnson, Robbins and Co.  Hubbard divided the estate’s extensive grounds of elms, maple trees, evergreens and flowers and created Robbinswood Drive.  Albert and Isabel had three children – Lucille, Lawrence and Mabelle who was killed by an automobile at the age of eight.  The house was heavily damaged by fire in 1996.  It has been restored and is now a bed and breakfast.

As Nora Howard, former Director of Wethersfield Historical Society has written, “Hubbard, like the many Wethersfield builders who preceded him, knew that he was leaving a legacy of well-built and appealing homes.  At the same time, he was

consciously creating for ‘his‘ homeowners something that is timeless.”

The living quarters constructed in 1633 by John Oldham and the other “Ten Adventurers” who came through the wilderness from Massachusetts Colony to found Connecticut’s “most auncient towne” – offered shelter, but not much more than that – “the first homes here were dugouts or, as they appear to have been called, cellars.  These cellars were made by digging a pit in the ground, preferably in the side of a bank, and then lining the sides of the excavation with stones and upright logs.  With a roof of logs, bark or thatch, and the earth banked high on the outside, a house that was at least big enough to stand erect in, and even move around a bit, was possible.”

While none of Albert Hubbard’s sixty-seven house plans was even remotely an attempt to recreate these original Wethersfield houses – Santa Fe’s chosen adobe style architecture is very much adopted from the Native American dwellings that the Spanish saw for the first time when they arrived in the Rio Grande Valley in the 16th century.

But housing was not the only concern of the implementers of the 1912 Santa Fe City Plan. Chairman Dorman wrote, “The City of Santa Fe is planning extensive improvements that include the laying out of parks and boulevards, the extension of streets, the restrictions of manufacturing plants to a suitable district, the elimination of bill-boards, and the bringing about of some sort of architectural homogeneity.”   

However, while other “City Beautiful” municipalities such as Chicago, Memphis Tennessee, and Coral Gables, Florida chose the neoclassical Beaux Arts style as their guide to  “architectural homogeneity” Santa Fe selected a revival style based upon its own pre-1850 architectural past – a conscious decision to be the “City Different” in the “City Beautiful” movement. After studying the architectural photographs taken by his Museum colleague Jesse Nussbaum, Morley prescribed a flat-roofed, one-story, adobe (or adobe stucco) building with a room placed on each side of a portal as THE Santa Fe building style.  The goal was to make the entire community into an exotic tourist destination – and to that end the 1912 plan stated “that it should be the duty of all city officials to guard the old streets against any change that will affect their appearance…We further recommend that no building permits be issued…until proper assurance is given that the architecture will conform externally with the [newly defined] Santa Fe Style.”

The makeover continued in spite of the expressed opposition from members of the two-thirds majority Hispanic community such as Ortiz y Pino – “I am happy my ancestors built of adobe, so that rather than have them desecrated by ignoramuses, they have, for the most part, gone back to the earth.” 

 Like most Spanish towns Santa Fe is organized around a central plaza, with the main church (St. Francis Cathedral), Palace of the Governors, and (in its earlier days) the residences of the main civil and religious officials, and most important residents (“vecinos”) of the town.  Streets radiate out from the square at right angles in a pattern that would be extended as the settlement grew.  A 1930 competition for the redesign of the plaza, sponsored by Cyrus McCormick Jr. of Chicago was won by architect John Gaw Meem.  Meem’s redesign added Spanish-style portals on the east and west sides and redid all the building facades in either the approved Spanish-Pueblo or Territorial Revival style (the latter a hybrid of Greek Revival and adobe).

The 1940 census showed Santa Fe’s population at 20,325 – almost three times that of the 1912 Plan – partially due to an increase in the number of jobs in government and occupations created by increasing automobile usage.  The housing for this increased population however remained clustered around the center of town.   The “1999 General Plan” of Santa Fe reported,  “As late as the mid-1940s, urban areas were confined to a oval area measuring a mile by three-quarters of a mile.  The farthest residence was a ten-minute walk from the Plaza.”  But an 80-acre parcel of land, located 2.5 miles west of the city center was the site of two less traditional housing complexes.

From the mid 1930s to 1942 the property was the location of a camp for the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC)  – a federal program established by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1933 to relieve unemployment and promote environmental conservation. Santa Fe’s CCC Company 833 Corpsmen worked on various projects in Bandelier National Park – as well as rodent control at Glorista Mesa; emergency road repair at East Senorita Canyon; and fence, erosion control, road maintenance at Canada de los Alamo.   

They also constructed the Old Santa Fe Trail Building near the intersection of Camino del Monte Sol and the Old Santa Fe Trail – “The Single Most Recognizable CCC Contribution to the National Park Service” according to “New Mexico: A History”, by Joseph P. Sanchez, Robert L. Spude, and Arthur R. Gomez.       

After the start of World War II the CCC property was converted to the Santa Fe Japanese Internment Camp where between 1942 and 1946 as many as 2,100 Japanese at a time were imprisoned.  In addition to those whose only offense was their ethnicity there were also 866 "renunciants," Japanese American who had explicitly given up their U.S. citizenship, and 313 Japanese Americans designated as "troublemakers" at other internment camps.   A small riot occurred in March 1945 when officials transferred some of the leading pro-Japanese inmates to another site.  German and Italian nationals were also held there, and over the five years more than 4,500 men passed through the facility. 

For a time the camps were basically the only housing units outside the central town neighborhood.  However according to the1999 Santa Fe General Plan “Low density suburban style developments were built in the city following World War II at increasing distances from the Downtown.”


And many of them were the work of University of New Mexico graduate and WWII U.S. Navy Veteran Allen Stamm, who built almost 2,800 homes in the Santa Fe area between 1939 and 1980.  The early models of his houses had two bedrooms, one bath, living room, kitchen, hardwood floors, vigas, kiva fireplaces, nichos and other traditional touches, superlative workmanship, one-car garage, a walled back yard – with an open front yard because Stamm (like A.G. Hubbard) wanted the people living in his houses to know each other. They varied in price from $3,800 to $4,500 ($64,000 - $76,000 in 2016), with a $300 down payment and $40 monthly mortgage – within the price range of ordinary Santa Feans.  Later styles were priced at a still modest $10,000 to $20,000.

Stamm shaped several of New Mexico’s capitol city’s most distinctive neighborhoods: Camino Mafiana, Camino Alegre, Carlos Rey – and Casa Solana built partially on the former site of the CCC/Internment Camp.  (Our daughter-in-law and son live in one of the Casa Solana Stamm houses.)

Allen Stamm was named a Santa Fe “Living Treasure” in 2003 not only for his contribution to the city’s development but also for his employment practices.  His write-up reads in part, “He hired women consultants to design the kitchens. He made places for Christmas trees and highchairs, and built garages that were easily converted into bedrooms for growing families. He instituted year-round work for his employees as well as an insurance plan, partnerships for his top executives, and a one-year unconditional guarantee on his houses—all unheard-of concepts before he came. He elevated the building industry’s standards, here and throughout the state. He received many awards, and served countless local causes, from the hospital to the animal shelter.”

Racial Covenants were a common part of housing deeds from the 1920s through the 1960s (including in Santa Fe)– with language such as “No person of African or Oriental race shall use or occupy any building lot” or occupancy is prohibited by “any race but the white race”  – alongside prohibitions on “trailers and tents” and “noxious or offensive activities.”  Interestingly “whites only” provisions were not applied against Hispanics in Santa Fe, possibly because Hispanic is considered ethnic rather than racial. 

Such covenants were actually a requirement for some Federal Housing Administration (FHA) funding.  And Santa Fe subdivisions such as The Tano Addition (built by John Gaw Meem), The Zia Addition (Robert McKee) and La Cuma Addition (School of American Research), built in 1940s contained these restrictions – as well as two of Allen Stamm’s developments Casa Alegre and Casa Manana.  Nonetheless, Stamm’s business partner from 1953, Lee Brown remembers, Stamm only once mentioning the issue of race. 

In the early 1960s an African-American woman was house hunting in Santa Fe and there was some confusion in the Stamm organization as to how to handle her, given the existence of these covenants. “Give them whatever they want; show them whatever they want,” Brown recalls Stamm saying.

Over the years, as families grew, garages were converted to bedrooms, rooms were added on, and in some cases, second stories were added.

“Allen would be perfectly fine with that.  He wanted people to be happy in his houses. All he would ask is that the quality of the work be up to his standards,” commented Santa Fe Building Contractor Ed Crockett

Like Albert Hubbard whose eight-year old daughter was killed by an automobile, Allen Stamm suffered similar anguish when his nine-year-old daughter, Linda, was kidnapped November 10, 1950. 

“Your child has been kidnapped.  The amount is $20,000 cash or negotiable bonds. Put same in envelope on top of your Sol y Lomas gate tonight if you can. If not until tomorrow night put a red rag as sign ... If not at all—your kid will die of cold and hunger. New Mexico is an easy place to lose a body. Do not talk about this to police, FBI or friends. Any effort to interfere with our messenger, the child dies.”

The kidnapper, Dr. Nancy DuVal Campbell – a well-respected, 43-year old Santa Fe gynecologist and Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Yale University – was captured by FBI and local police the following night as she attempted to pick up the ransom money and Linda was safely returned to the Stamms.  Dr. Campbell seemed an unlikely criminal but the prosecution argued that she had been motivated by a need to repay several large debts.  The jury rejected her insanity defense, and she was sentenced to 10 – 15 years in prison.  Released in 1957 because of good behavior and “gain time”, she was later pardoned by New Mexico Governor “Lonesome” Dave Cargo in 1968 and died in Santa Fe in 1981.

Linda Stamm was sent to Arizona with to live with relatives, but later returned to Santa Fe as a sculptor under her married name of Strong.

 In 1979 she created a sculpture showing a group of children engaged in a water pistol fight, which was installed in Santa Fe’s Riverside Park.  But after the 1999 shootings at Colorado’s Columbine High School many citizens wrote letters to the editor of the local Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper protesting the portrayal of gun-wielding children and she provided a new work of art in which water hoses replaced the pistols.

Allen Stamm died in 2003 at the age of 91 and, in the same year, was formally acclaimed one of the Santa Fe Living Treasures.  His tribute says in part:

“No other Santa Fe builder in the modern era contributed as much as Allen Stamm did to the bedrock concept of ‘home.’ A visionary as well as a man of immense integrity, character, compassion and humanity, he built thousands of high-quality—but not high-cost—houses all across the face of this community. He worked always to make them livable, durable, handsome, architecturally sensitive, friendly and, perhaps most important, affordable for ordinary Santa Feans with average incomes.

“During his ‘retirement,’ in an era when numerous builders were catering to upscale clients, Stamm continued to work tirelessly for affordable housing in Santa Fe, and to support local causes. When he died early this year [2003] at the age of 91, he was still at it. For a residence in Santa Fe, there is no higher tribute than to say it is a ‘Stamm House’—and like the homes he built, his legacy will stand the test of time.”

One time in my former professional life as an Information Technology Manager I was brought in to find out why some software that my employer had purchased was not performing as promised.  After a rather heated meeting with the vendor’s Technical Representative I was finally told, “Well you know Jim – marketing people say marketing things.” 

But that is not always the way it is. Albert Hubbard was a successful builder in part because he was a good salesman – but mostly because his houses lived up to his hype.  So I suspect it was with Allen Stamm also.

“There are no dividends to compare with comfort and contentment, no returns equal to the personal pride felt by the man who owns the home that shelters his family.”

The above quote from a Hubbard sales brochure reflects the hyperbole of a practiced marketer as well the paternalistic gender perspective of that era.

Nonetheless it is, in essence, largely true.  And I would add that the resulting sense of self-worth and satisfaction may allow, or maybe even cause, that man – or that woman – to contribute to the history of their community or of the larger world.

That is what infrastructures do – and that is why those who create them have a place in that history.



Santa Fe: A Historical Walking Tour By Shirley Lail, Pedro Dominguez, Darren Court

The Myth of Santa Fe: Creating a Modern Regional Tradition By Chris Wilson

The Myth of Santa Fe: Creating a Modern Regional Tradition By Chris Wilson

Some Old Wethersfield houses and gardens.” Adams, Henry Sherman, Printed Privately for the Wethersfield Women’s Saturday Afternoon Club, 1909