Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Territorial Style Architecture Traits

Taos Territorial - note many Territorial houses use white details in lieu of turquoise
When the Santa Fe Trail opened in 1821, things began to slowly change for New Mexican architecture.  Still considered a vastly primitive place, New Mexico was growing and evolving, and architecture began to reflect its “civilization.” In 1815, French and American fur Traders arrived in Taos, which would become the southwest gateway to the ports of trade in the central states. 

From the transfer of New Mexico from Spain to Mexican hands in 1821 to the American “Occupation” in 1846, the center of commerce and social development was centered at the regional trading posts, where money, goods, and ideas changed hands.  As the raids by Indians were quelled, people began to move to the areas just outside of the town proper and build their homes around small placitas.

In the Eastern US, Greek Revival was in very much vogue. While the rest of America was dancing to the beat of Grecian drums, it was not until the opening of Fort Union’s new officers’ quarters in 1869 and Fort Marcy’s construction in 1870 that Greek Revival would take firm hold in New Mexico in an unadulterated state. The introduction of American forces was intended to quell tensions between the many people claiming New Mexican lands, and of course, to protect the Santa Fe Trail which provided both a financial incentive as well as supply support for the US expansion into the frontier… and with the arrival of the army came access to a much higher degree of skilled workmanship, as well as the most significant intervention for New Mexican architectural design before the railroads – sawmills - which allowed for much finer detailed trim and carpentry, and the second and third most significant donation to the cause of New Mexico's architectural development - nails and window glass. It was not uncommon for Greek Revival influenced homes to use the concept of a separated front and back parlor - usually one large rectangular room separated by a structural wall and some curtains - so we look for this hallmark in renovated buildings from the time period to determine their period of influence.
The early efforts to introduce the ancient Grecian temple-influenced style to New Mexico were deeply affected by the existing architecture of the region, and her inhabitants propensity for ignoring trends of style. The resulting architectural form - a fusion of vernacular models and Greek-influenced parts and pieces - is called Territorial. In this period, wealth was not grandiose. Wealth was indicated by having good wool blankets and rugs, iron locks on the doors, and larger rooms.

Territorial style architecture is characterized by:
  • Constructed of thick courses of sun-dried adobe bricks, and/or sometimes framed in one or two stories
  • A central hall plan with rooms placed somewhat symmetrically across the hall from one another.
  • Sidelights and transom windows around the front entrance door
  • Small, unassuming wooden pediments placed over exterior doors and windows.
  • Whitewashed interior walls, with gingham or similar fabric wainscot, OR brightly painted upper walls with a neutral base at the wainscot
  • White painting of wooden cornices, corbels, brackets, and trim on exterior
  • Brick copings and/or firewalls
  • Centrally-located on an end wall, brick-constructed fireplaces with wooden mantels and mirrors above in most cases
  • Square porch columns
  • Planed wooden floors
  • Larger doors and windows than previous styles, and many of them faced the street.
  • Double-hung windows
  • Wood trim in beautiful details
  • Paints not of earth tone or fabrication
Places like Las Vegas, NM became highly Americanized, following Colonial and subsequent design styles with pitched roofs and fine shingle details, while Santa Fe and other more indigenous locales preferred dirt-covered flat roofs and brick details. 

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