Sunday, July 6, 2014


1943 - Wartime America, Small Town Santa Fe

1943 - America at War and winning. In the Pacific, in Europe, in northern Africa, the allies were turning the tide of the war.

At home, Americans faced rationing of cheese, meat, canned food, shoes and gasoline. And coffee, sugar and butter. But Americans didn’t just give up the luxuries, they gave as well, holding drives to collect scrap metal, rubber and cooking fat. And they invested millions of dollars in war bonds. Women took the place of men in the factories and America knuckled down to the job at hand.

Santa Feans did their part, too. Daily, the newspaper encouraged citizens to save cooking fat, paper, scrap metal and rubber for the war effort. And they did.

The paper even carried a chart of enemy planes, just in case a Japanese zero was considering strafing the Santa Fe Plaza. The paper reported who was drafted, who was killed or injured in the war, who got medals and who came home.

The War was personal in Santa Fe. When Corregidor fell in May 1942, thousands of Americans, hundreds of them New Mexicans serving in the 200th Coast Artillery, were taken prisoner. Those few who survived the infamous Bataan death march were held in camps deep in the Philippines. New Mexico Governor John Dempsey immediately began plans to get an information flow to New Mexicans with sons and brothers held prisoner as well as efforts to get the prisoners as much aid as the Japanese would allow.

One prisoner, Sgt. Walter Charles Kiesov, managed to get a postcard to his mother, Mrs. Charles Kiesov, reporting that he was well. Sgt. Kiesov was first reported killed at Bataan but then his name appeared on the prisoner list. Other Santa Fe boys, thought to be lost, turned up at prison camps in the Phillipines, including Pvt. Francis Bert Powell, son of M/M C.F. Powell of Garfield Street, Sgt. Francis Van Buskirk, son of M/M J.A. Laudenslager, Corp. Rubel Gonzales, son of Mrs. Frank Gonzales, Candelario Street, Corp. Joe T. Lucero, son of Mrs. Willie Lucero, East Alameda and Corp. Ray Tucker, son of Mrs. William T. Tucker, Ninita Street. Many more such notices were received throughout 1943.

And the local paper also highlighted our war heroes, two. Sgt. Manuel Duran received a purple heart for injuries he got while saving his crew members and his bomber, attacked returning from a bombing mission. A fierce fire broke out and Sgt. Duran assisted the wounded, jettisoned ammo which was about to blow up and put out the flames. He is the son of Mrs. Matt Duran, widow of the late Matt Duran who ran the Torreon Shoe Shop on College Street.

And Lt. Edwin Lamme also won a purple heart for serious injuries to his hand when his Flying Fortress was hit by an anti-aircraft shell over France. Ed, the son of M/M Kenneth Lamme who ran a photography studio in Santa Fe, was most famous as the youngest ever to graduate from St. Mikes High School, called St. Michael's College in those days.

Major Miguel A. Otero wrote home to tell of a chance meeting with another Santa Fean – Sgt John Stevenson in North Africa. Both were in the Air corps and ran across each other at the same post exchange. Otero was a lawyer in town, the son of Governor Miguel Otero and married to the famous flyer, Katherine Stinson Otero. Stevenson was the advertising manager for the New Mexican until he was drafted.

Silas Garcia went off to the Navy in style, courtesy of a party thrown by the Misses Mary Jane Montano and Eloisa Baca . Guests included Charlie Thayer, Joe Padilla, Joe Frank Ortiz, Don Rodriguez, Mike Abeyta, Bennie Gonzales, Pete Alarid, Eddy Apodaca, Walter Stark, Tilly Baca, Alice Lucero, Margaret Martinez, Viola Tapia and Ferbie Longacre. Games, dancing and refreshments for all.

Capt Finlay MacGillivray of Santa Fe demonstrated he was proud of his Scots ancestry when his named his bomber the “Hoot Mon.” In 1943, McGillivray was serving in New Guinea piloting A-20 attack bombers. In fact, he received the Air Medal and a letter of commendation for his service there. Mac was a Santa Fe High School graduate and a football star at UNM before the war and he wrote often to his mother, Della MacGillivray, at 130 W. Houghton Street.

Wondering about the women in the war effort? Then consider Lena Alarid, the first Santa Fe girl to enlist in the WAVES – that's Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Services. She was a nurse stationed in Washington D.C. and held the rank of lieutenant. She was the daughter of Fred Alarid, 206 Chapelle. Eight other Santa Fe girls were in WAVES in 1943: Eloisa Eckert, Paulina Gonzales, Hulda Hobbs, Dollie Ruth Johnson, Jane E. Means, Ernestine Quintana, Irma Wildering Smith and Mary Francis Sullivan.

And six Santa Fe girls were on the front page of the monthly newsletter for the Tulare Air Base in California as the prettiest aircraft mechanics around or “gal wrench-wrestlers,” as the newsletter put it. They were Ernestine and Teresa Alarid, Santana Gonzales, Anita Bustos, Amy Norton and Agnes Lucero. According to the newsletter, the six were trained at the Santa Fe municipal airport where these “belles of the balpeen hammer” learned their craft.

1943 – Wartime America, Small Town Santa Fe. 

Sunday, June 29, 2014

1966 - The Danish Bride

Have I told the tale of the Danish Bride? It all happened in 1966.

Dorte Meyer, a young student from Copenhagen, was traveling through the United States when she wandered through Santa Fe. At the downtown Plaza Bar, she met 28 year old Santa Fean Anton Miller and it was love at first sight.

When Miller proposed marriage, Dorte was agreeable but she wanted to observe old Danish wedding customs. The first of which, it turned out, involved the bride's shoes. The custom in Denmark required the young couple to collect pennies in a champagne bottle – from friends, family, even strangers – and use that money to buy the bride's wedding shoes. Apparently, it was bad luck to obtain the shoes any other way.

So Anton and Dorte acquired a large champagne bottle and posted it on the counter at the Plaza Bar, with a little note explaining its purpose. Soon enough, the jug began to fill with pennies.

Plans were made for the wedding, the license, flowers, justice of the peace and about a month later, the wedding day came. Gene Petchesky, owner of the downtown Guarantee store was contacted and asked if he would sell the bride her wedding shoes in the Danish Custom. Gene, a smart businessman, said yes even though he had no idea what the Danish custom might be.

Anton Miller arrived to pick up his bride on a bicycle, placed her on the cross bar and pedaled over to the Plaza Bar. There, they retrieved a full champagne bottle of pennies and pedaled over to the Guarantee Store. There, the bride tried on every pair of white shoes in stock, finally settling on the first pair she had tried on. That, I believe, is an American custom.

When it came time to pay, the bride called for the champagne bottle, pulled a hammer out of her purse and smashed the bottle, spraying pennies everywhere. All this to the astonishment of Gene Petcheskey and his staff. But once the custom was explained, Petcheskey took it in good humor and set his staff to count the pennies – $15.91 – which he accepted as payment.

Then the couple pedaled to the Justice of the Peace for the ceremony but there was a short delay as the best man was sent back home for the forgotten marriage license. He also made a short detour for flowers which the groom had also forgotten. The best man didn't say where he got the flowers, but he did say that it was lucky he lived next door to a cemetery.

After the ceremony, the happy couple repaired to the Plaza Bar for the reception where the bride was treated to an ice cream sherbet and the wedding party toasted with traditional Swedish gloegg, a hot spiced drink. Apparently pretty potent as well, because the groom – barely wed 4 hours – was later arrested on Lincoln Avenue for public drunkenness and drunk driving on a bicycle. The complaint was lodged by his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Harry Miller of Garcia Street, who weren't able to convince their intoxicated son to come home.

Oh, carrying a bride on a bicycle is also a Danish custom but not in this case. Between them, Anton Miller and Dorte Meyer owned six cars and one airplane but none of them worked. And they owned two bicycles, but one of them had been stolen earlier in the week. So, as it happened, the one bicycle was all the transportation they had.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

1954 - Old and New

For all the emphasis on history and tradition, the City is always ready to try something new.

Take the Plaza in 1954, for example. That year the Kiwanis Club asked the City to build a bandstand, reviewing stand and a public comfort station on the plaza. It would cost about $12,000 and the Kiwanis offered to pitch in on the funds. As well, the Club asked for a better display space for the ship's bell from the USS New Mexico with some informative bronze plaques. At the time, the ship's bell was installed on the northwest quadrant of the Plaza, mounted on a concrete platform perfect for sitting and people watching. While the City Councilors were interested in the ideas, nothing ultimately came of them.

The City had already begun to beautify the Plaza by installing an iron fence and gates around the Soldier's Monument. That was Henry Dendahl's idea. He got the fence from the old Manderfield estate and the gates from the Staab house, plus donations of labor and materials from Plaza merchants. Dendahl planned an annual painting of the fence with a free lunch at the Canton Cafe for all the volunteers.

The big news on the Plaza was the work on the ancient Palace of the Governors. Workmen put up scaffolding right on Palace Avenue and, to howls of protest from Santa Feans, began removing the ends of the vigas which protruded from the portal. Turns out the vigas had rotted at the ends and were leaking rain water under the roof. New dummy viga ends would be installed so the Palace would look the same. Around the corner on the Lincoln Avenue side, the old adobe bricks over the gate – the one with the blue door – to the patio were giving way so they were replaced – with pumice block. Fake vigas and pumice block . . . I don't think I'll ever look at the Palace of the Governors the same way again.

1954 is the year that the First National Bank – originally located on the east side of the Plaza, picked up and moved to the west side of the Plaza, taking over the space that used to be – well, pretty much everything – the New Mexican printing plant, a movie theater, a Buick dealership and, coming full circle, the original site of the First National Bank when it first opened in 1871 – right on the corner of Lincoln and Palace where it stands today. That was quite an undertaking but the Plaza was only roped off for one day – the day the money and safe deposit boxes were moved. Levine's moved into the Bank's old space – a beautiful example of Greek Revival archictecture first built in 1912. In 1957, under the guidance of John Gaw Meem, Levines remodeled the building to conform to the prevailing Santa Fe style, trading gothic colums for classic wooden posts.

Around the corner from the Plaza, in Cathedral Park, the Archbishop's old house was torn down, condemned as a firetrap. It was an elegant old territorial structure with a full portal and balcony running the length of the house facing Cathedral Park. At one time, it served as the City's first St. Vincent Hospital, beginning in 1865, and later as an old folks home.

In 1954, La Fonda removed thefountain and pool in the patio, replacing it with flagstone to accommodate the Indian dances it featured every summer. Santa Feans were sad to see that fountain go. Across the street, the Camera Shop installed a drinking fountain, but it just wasn't the same.

Still on San Francisco Street, Evan Wilson opened a new cafeteria and soda fountain, called El Refresco, on the northeast corner of Burro Alley. It was right across the alley from Wilson's old popcorn stand in the Lensic Theater Building. That's where he got the nickname, Popcorn Wilson. Oddly, the new place served only ice cream and malts – no popcorn.

And 1954 is the year the St. Francis Cathedral rectory was remodeled. Old timers remember the old peaked roof and huge concrete steps leading up to the high front door. The remodeling removed the roof, created a new lower street side entrance and made the building more Santa Fe style. It was used, in 1954, as office space for the Archbishop and pastor and included a vault where parish valuables were kept.

Up Washington Avenue, a row of 7 large elm trees in front of the Scottish Rite Temple was removed leaving the street pretty bare. Those trees had been planted in 1912 but elm disease was killing them and they'd been breaking up the sidewalks for years. The Temple reported plans to replant using blue spruces. Around this same time, Washington Street was closed off for several days in the summer of 1954 so the phone company could lay underground cables.

The biggest building project in 1954 was the city's first municipal swimming pool. Most of the city's civic organizations, chiefly the Optimists, organized a drive for the pool, raising enough money to buy a large piece of the Penitentiary land – part of the old dairy farm -- which they promptly donated to the City which planned to build the pool facility with a cigarette tax revenues. While the formal name of the pool facility was the Santa Fe Municipal Swimming pool, Santa Fe kids invariably called it the “munici-pool.” These days the pool bears a new name in honor of legendary coach Salvador Perez.

Another piece of Santa Fe history disappeared in 1954. The Gross Kelly Company – a Santa Fe institution since 1879 – was sold to a Texas company. Dan Kelly, Jr., in his first year as president and chairman of the board – just like his father and grandfather were – confirmed the sale. The business continued the distribution of New Mexico products as before with most of the Gross Kelly staff still in place, but the name --- Gross Kelly & Company – was retired.

In 1954, the second oldest Spanish fort in the nation was discovered in Santa Fe. Or better said, re-discovered. Old timers in the city still remembered the fortification known as La Garita – Spanish for bastion or jail – located on a small rise north of Santa Fe, more or less midway between Fort Marcy Hill and the Scottish Rite Temple.

Historians say that it once was used by the Spaniards to hold political prisoners, a few of which were executed by firing squad against a nearby wall. But it had fallen into disuse by the time the Yankees arrived and, over time, began to deteriorate. By 1900, it had lost its roof. Kids played on it, treasure hunters dug around in it and, in the early 50's, it was actually used as a dump site. There exists an old faded photo, taken in 1912, which still shows one wall standing, perhaps the very wall used for executions.

But in 1954, Bruce Ellis, an archaeologist who lived just 50 feet from the site on Washington Avenue, became interested in the site and, with funding from the NM Historical Society, began to poke explore the ruins.

By the end of the summer, Ellis and his crew had uncovered the foundations, revealing the ancient floor plan. It was roughly in the shape of a diamond with 2 bastion towers at the long ends, with a center hall and rooms and jail cells on either side, all enclosed within 3 foot thick adobe walls. La Garita, Ellis said was probably built shortly after completion of the Palace of the Governors and that was built sometime before 1680.

That's typical Santa Fe, history right in your own back yard.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

U.S.S. Santa Fe

1942 – The Lucky Lady

The US Navy's newest Light Cruiser launched in June 1942, named after our little City, The USS Santa Fe. The honor of christening came to Caroline Chavez, the daughter of District Judge David Chavez and, therefore, the niece of US Senator Dennis Chavez. She was 14 at the time and a big hit at the launching, with a pretty pink dress and carrying a bouquet of red roses.

For the launching, the traditional champagne bottle contained no champagne at all but water taken directly from the Santa Fe River, right off Alameda street, and blessed by the Archbishop.

The USS Santa Fe served with distinction during the war. She was called the Lucky Lady, for fighting in several battles and always escaping unharmed. 13 Battle Stars, she earned, the USS Santa Fe. She's gone now, scrapped at the end of the war. But the ship's bell, all 900 lbs of brass, is on permanent display at City Hall. I always like to give it a little tap as I leave the building, just to hear it ring.

Friday, February 24, 2012