Taos Style #3: Franco- & American-ization


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. These hunters and trappers fared well in the unruly town that Taos was back then, and amassed their wealth and power in several homes along Le Doux street, which was an alley in those days. The front of the homes have been rearranged to face the popular and famous street. Gardens burst to overflowing with flowers in the summer, while it is Christmastime’s Lighting of Ledoux where thousands of farolitos are lit, when it seems the entire town comes out from its respite for a night together.

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. You can see this influence today while strolling the shopping district at Paseo del Pueblo Norte, as well as in the neighborhoods behind and around La Loma Plaza. In fact, the infamous Taos Inn is one such place, only its courtyard has been partially enclosed, forming an incomparable bar and lounge inside, complete with corner fireplace. The original well sits inside, covered up in a sculptural fountain and skylight.

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. Taos had Greek Revival and Colonial Revival influenced structures on its plaza before the plaza burned several times over the 1920s and 1930s. 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.