April 2, 2015

Saving the Palace of the Governors is Personal

When the National Trust announced the Palace of the Governors would be named a National Treasure in January 2015, I was elated to have the opportunity to help save a place that means a great deal to me. I was born and raised in Santa Fe, and to me (and many New Mexicans), the Palace is an institution.

Everyone who has lived or spent time in Santa Fe has a memory from the modest-looking adobe “Palace,” which, in addition to being the oldest continuously-used public building in the United States, holds the equally important distinction of serving as the backdrop of fond memories for many generations of New Mexicans over its 400-year life.

Some of my earliest childhood memories involve the Palace of the Governors -- from field trips in elementary and middle school, to summer days spent on the front portal chatting with artisans and enjoying some roasted corn-on-the-cob on the historic Plaza. The Palace was an integral part of my childhood, even if it wasn’t obvious at the time.

The Palace’s front portal has long been a place for local Native American artisans to showcase and sell their work.
The Palace’s front portal has long been a place for local Native American artisans to showcase and sell their work.

That’s why it was disappointing on both a professional and personal level to learn last week that the state legislature did not approve capital outlay funding for any project in the state, let alone the much-needed work for the Palace. Despite strong public support, the efforts of state and local leaders and elected officials, and the tremendous work of our local partners, our efforts now must shift toward the 2016 legislative session for securing the funding necessary to address deterioration and deferred maintenance for the Palace.

That’s where my disappointment ends, though. Since its inception, our National Treasure campaign for the Palace of the Governors has both encouraged and inspired me as I had the opportunity to hear stories and memories from other locals: Sydney and Tilman, two seventh-grade students at my alma mater, Santa Fe Preparatory School, reminded me what it was like to discover the Palace for the first time.

“Actually coming to the place is kind of cool,” Sydney told me. “Because you’ve learned about things that happened and now you’re actually here. That’s a really cool part of learning.”

Indian Detours personnel group photo with Harvey cars lined up in front of Palace, c. 1926 - 1930.
Indian Detours personnel group photo with Harvey cars lined up in front of Palace, c. 1926 - 1930.

Stephen Post, an archaeologist who worked to excavate portions of the Palace told me that for him, the Palace is like a time machine. “Every time I come to the Palace, I feel like I’m walking through a portal, and it takes me back to different eras every time I visit.”

Nancy Sue Dimit, a docent for the Palace since the mid-1980s, decided very early on that she wanted to live there. “I was 4 years old and didn’t understand that I couldn’t actually stay there,” she told me. “But I have loved it forever.”

And for the New Mexico History Museum’s event coordinator, Tay Balenovic, the Palace played a part in her love story. “I first saw the Palace while on vacation in 1998. I was struck by the decorations on the outside during Fiestas week, and on it were plaques with all the founding families’ names,” she explained. “I moved here and ended up falling in love with one of the descendents of one of those founding families. Essentially, the Palace emphasized a new beginning for me.”

I spoke with many more admirers of the Palace, with many appearing in the video (see above) we made for the campaign, and many more sharing similarly moving and fun stories about this amazing building.

Discovering a shared passion for a place with so many people is a special feeling. That’s why, between now and the next legislative session, it will be a true labor of love for me to keep fighting for the Palace and make sure it’s able to provide for future generations the stories and history it has given me and my fellow New Mexicans.

Tom Wall is the associate manager of Community Outreach. His background includes television production, journalism, nonprofit communications, and marketing. Originally from Santa Fe, New Mexico, Tom is a graduate of the George Washington University, with a B.A. in Journalism and Mass Communication.

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