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

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