This Italian Renaissance Revival style home was the residence of Edith Shephard Fabbri, a great granddaughter of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt. It was designed by Grosvenor Atterbury, an American architect trained at L'Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. The home is decorated with Italian Renaissance and Baroque furnishings and architectural fragments. More to come later on this blog at Fabbri Home.
Santa Fe’s Oldest Hotel is on the National Register of Historic Places
The historical Hotel St. Francis has the distinction of being Santa Fe’s oldest hotel and holds a spot on the National Register of Historic Places. Built originally as the De Vargas, Hotel St. Francis offers its guests a unique experience through its use of simple Franciscan traditional sacred art, New Mexico artifacts, and historical black and white photographs of the city’s early history, visible throughout its lobby and hallways. Colors are the natural shades of wool from the churro sheep brought to New Mexico by early Spanish settlers. Guest rooms are furnished with handcrafted furniture created by many of Santa Fe artisans. Most guest rooms now have had their original hardwood floors exposed and refinished.
Hotel Interior Design Reflects Simplicity of Franciscan Order Monastic Life
The Hotel St. Francis design throughout the halls and rooms reflects the simple and spiritual style of the Franciscan Missionary Order. It exemplifies serenity, spirituality and simplicity in the heart of the vibrant city of Santa Fe. Its elegant white, Mexican marble of the lobby reflects the flickering light of candles spaced throughout. A stone baptismal font serves as the lobby’s focal point. Various handmade crosses and historical religious prints and images throughout this unique hotel celebrate Santa Fe’s spiritual history.
Original Hotel and the Mysterious Fire
The De Vargas Hotel's demise was as famous and mysterious as its guest list. On a cold evening in January of 1922, the hotel burned to the ground leaving a sole brick chimney to mark the location. It was the biggest fire in Santa Fe in 300 years. There were no high winds to keep the blast alive and the six-hour fire was across the street from the "then" fire department. So unpredictable was the impending destruction that guests were still checking into their favorite rooms while the hotel burned. The mysterious explosion heard by the owner, William Sargent, was rumored to be a copper still in the basement. One of the hotel's permanent guests frustrated with Prohibition was experimenting with peach brandy. According to the rumor, a peach clogged the copper pipe and the "booze blew up". The spectators called the fire "the darnedest show ever."
The new hotel opened its doors in 1924 as a first class hotel with a spacious lobby where men wore top hats and ladies wore full-length dresses. The bellhops escorted the guests to their rooms, after the couples had shown their marriage licenses, and the house detective ensured that all guests stayed in their own rooms. The hotel boasted a wonderful dining room and a bar. Anyone wanting to meet almost any high-level politician in the 1930's and 40's could probably find him at the De Vargas Hotel Bar.
De Vargas Hotel Becomes the Hotel St. Francis
The hotel purchased and remodeled the hotel and reopened it as the Hotel St. Francis in 1986. Heritage Hotels and Resorts acquired it and fully renovated the hotel in 2009. Heritage opted to create a new experience for the hotel finding its inspiration from the patron saint of Santa Fe, St. Francis of Assisi. In 1610 when Don Pedro de Peralta founded the city of Santa Fe under the direction of the Viceroy of Spain, he gave it an official name – La Villa Real de la Santa Fe de San Francisco de Assisi, or The Royal City of the Holy Faith of St. Francis of Assisi. St. Francis himself was a wealthy nobleman raised in privilege, who chose to give up this life to follow the teachings of Christ. In 1209 he founded the Franciscan Order. The Franciscan Order provided for a simple mendicant’s existence. The Franciscan missionaries were significantly involved in the settlement of Santa Fe and New Mexico, bringing their religious, architectural, agriculture, artistic, culinary, and other traditions to the region.
Famous Hotel Bar, Secreto Lounge: Winner of Best Cocktails in Santa Fe
Hotel St. Francis is home to the award-winning Secreto Lounge. Guests learn about the ancient wine-making traditions, which were introduced by Santa Fe's Franciscan monks, or enjoy a wide array of modern, award-winning, hand-crafted cocktails. Secreto is fortunate to feature the unique concoctions of Santa Fe's #1 Cocktail Blogger and Mixologist, Chris Milligan. Chris' knowledge of mixology is exemplified in his unique "garden-to-glass" cocktail creations. If you tell him what type of alcohol and fruits or vegetables you prefer, he and his team will concoct a special cocktail exclusively for you. Secreto's signature drink is the Spicy Secreto (First Place Winner of the Las Vegas 2010 "Shake It Up”). The drink is a tantalizing blend of organic Novo Fogo cachaca and St. Germain elderflower liqueur with fresh cucumber, jalapeño, lime juice and cane syrup, and rimmed with red chile salt. The Spicy Secreto and many other distinguished cocktails like the Smoked Sage Margarita and the Agave.
On warm days, Secreto’s seasonal patio and loggia extend the bar to become Santa Fe’s living room, providing a vantage point to watch an enjoy the vibrant Santa Fe street scene.
Tradition of the Zozobra, Burning of the Year’s Worries
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—
Only this and nothing more.”
Though Edgar Allen Poe did not live to see William Shuster’s Zozobra tradition take form in 1924, perhaps the above first verse of “The Raven” would have crossed his mind. The toothless, empty-headed specter has been made, staged, and flamed since 1964 as part of Santa Fe’s 303 year-old Fiesta season’s tradition. Last year marked Zozobra’s break out attempt to brood in quiet, then grow fierce and fiery on the Friday night of Labor Day weekend.
Inspired by Mexico’s Yaqui Indian’s effigy of Judas, Zozobra gains his namesake from Will Schuster’s and E. Dana Johnson’s collaboration to bring physicality to anguish, angst, or dread. Zozobra, literally means “anxiety, or gloom” in Spanish - an apt name for the literal embodiment of our collective worries. Guests of Zozobra are invited to place their worries in a jar. The collection of worries is burned along with the effigy of Zozobra.
The six-foot puppet has since grown to fifty feet. Made of muslin and stuffed with shredded paper, Zozobra is an eerie, groaning, flailing character, which appears as part ghost and part monster. Amid fireworks and the ceremonial dances of ghosts and fire, a growling Zozobra is set ablaze and, it is said, as the fire consumes the beast, so go the feelings of gloom and doom from the past year, the flames renewing the hope and optimism of the gathered celebrants. The ever-howling Zozobra can be heard echoing throughout Santa Fe.
Videos of the hotel interiors, an interview with mixologist Chris Milligan on creating award-winning cocktails and the Zozobra Festival are below our photo gallery.
Video Inside the Hotel St. Francis:
Video Chris Milligan's "Garden to Glass" Cocktails:
Video Santa Fe Burns Zozobra's Gloom and Doom:
Apartment for Rent: With or Without a Ghost?
Chambers Architects doesn’t usually post articles about ghosts or the supernatural. But, when the spirits of the dead are a major part of the psyche of a culture and add value to marketing campaigns focused on architecture, we take notice.
On a recent trip to the French Quarter as research for a book, the number of tours and signs advertising live-in ghosts, or the absence of phantoms, impressed us. One retail store posted this sign at their entrance, “Good Spirits Allowed.” Not knowing whether we were good or bad for business, we dared to enter. At Marie Leveau’s home, we were asked to use “Only Positive Magic Please.”
One of the Finest Street Museums in the World
The evolution of house forms, from French Colonial Plantations, Creole Cottages, Entresol, Townhouses and Shotguns to Cornerstone Storehouses, can all be seen in and within walking distance of the Quarter. Only three solely French structures remain in the eighty-five block area of the National Historic Landmark district known as the French Quarter.
The Great 1788 New Orleans Fire destroyed 856 of the 1,100 structures in New Orleans, Louisiana while it was a colony called New Spain. Rebuilding continued in Spanish style, and most French-style architecture disappeared from the city.
Had the French held on to more than the name in the rebuilding of the Quarter architecture, most buildings in the Vieux Carre would have retained French influences. After forty years of Spanish rule, the settlers abandoned the character of their homes, keeping only the French language and customs. They still make the sauces of their ancestors, drip coffee the French way and dance in the streets long after their children have fallen asleep. The Quarter's par terre gardens remain French in style with flowers in the middle of yards and walkways along the boundaries. Grassy lawns are not common and considered lacking in imagination.
What Remains of Quarter Architecture is Primarily Spanish.
A semi-fortified streetscape, common-wall buildings, narrow alleyways and secluded patios abound. The Spanish also gave New Orleans their flat tile-roofed buildings and entresol houses with hidden mezzanines. The use of repeating arches, Arabesque ironwork, covered passageways, and attempts to guard the privacy of building inhabitants are all Spanish in nature. Creole townhouses have the Spanish addition of a short middle level or entresol between the shop and the residence that was used for stock and storage. The mezzanine spaces get light and air from extra high, arched and barred, first-story transoms. They were an experiment with full-service vertical living in the growing 18th century city.
Some Famous Ghosts
The ghostly tale of the Lalaurie Mansion dates back to 1832. Madame Lalaurie was known as the most influential French-Creole woman in the city. But there was another side to Madame. The finery of her household was attended to by dozens of slaves and Madame Lalaurie was brutally cruel to them. There were whispered conversations among neighbors how the Lalaurie slaves seemed to come and go quite often.
In 1834, a terrible fire broke out in the Lalaurie kitchen. Fire fighters discovered a secret barred door to the attic. Many slaves were found chained to the wall. Most in Madame Lalaurie's "Torture Chamber" were dead.
The stories of ghosts and a haunting at 1140 Royal Street began almost as soon as the Lalaurie carriage fled the house. In 1837, the house was purchased by a man who kept it only three months. He was plagued by strange noises, cries and groans in the night and soon abandoned the place.
It was never easy to keep tenants in the house and finally, after word spread of the strange goings-on, the mansion was deserted once again. Today, the house has been renovated and restored as luxury apartments.
While no house in the Quarter has a past as grisly as the Lalaurie House, many houses and apartments are still considered haunted. Sightings at the end of the strange dark passageways in the Pontalba Apartments, where several literary ghosts are said to still hold their ‘salons,’ are often reported. The eccentric Madame the Baroness Pontalba would be pleased at the notoriety of her eponymous apartments.
Why NOLA Has So Many Ghosts?
We’re not sure, but we have a few ideas. Living in a city simultaneously located at or below the level of the sea and the mighty Mississippi River must facilitate a bond with the unseen world. How does a city manage to hang on to its resources and beauty when every day is a walk with capricious elements? Each of the French, Spanish, Caribbean African and Acadian immigrant cultures brought with them their own superstitions and folk remedies for ‘bad spirits.' The early inhabitants must have started each day with a prayer, a treatment and the hope that nature wouldn’t get angry and wash away their city. The new arrivals wanted to appease the bad spirits and encourage the good ones to safeguard their precarious balance in nature. One has to wonder if the spirits born from all of the city’s tragedies and continuing battles with nature can ever really rest, when there's so much work to do?
More pictures by Chambers Architects in the gallery, below.
There were no injuries or loss of life at the Pulley's two historic Craftsman-built stone cabins on the Blanco River, because of the good judgment of the owners. David and Tegwin Pulley knew of the wild reputation of the normally lazy and shallow river. When an historic Texas drought was broken by three weeks of steady rain, the couple decided to skip their annual Memorial Day trip to Wimberley. The two fine examples of the playful 1920s Hill Country stone work were destroyed by the recent flooding of this Central Texas river. Their cabins were sited at twenty-seven feet above the Blanco. The river broke the flood gauge at forty-four feet. The previous flood record was at thirty-three feet in 1929. The roofs and walls of their stout solid masonry cabins were submerged and swept away, washing against the nearby Highway 12 bridge. The highway was subsequently closed for repairs. Chambers Architects was lucky to have spent many wonderful evenings at the cabins on the Blanco River and document these beautiful examples of 1920s stone craftsmanship. We're saddened by the loss of historic treasures, "Rocky "and "Woody," but thankful we still have our dear friends. Photos of cabin damage, below. The story of our visit to the cabins several years ago to document the stone work follows.
HISTORY OF THE CIRCA 1920 STONE CABINS
In the early 1920’s, stone weekend homes were designed and built in the Texas Hill Country on small ranches and rural property. As urban dwellers used the improved highways and automobiles to retreat from Austin and San Antonio, the area drew some residents, but many more vacationers and weekend visitors. Because of its natural beauty, relatively high altitude, cool rivers, and wildlife, Wimberley was known as an attraction for artists, musicians, and sportsmen.
CHAMBERS ARCHITECTS VISIT TO THE CABINS IN 2012
Several years ago, spent time visiting with friends who own two 1920’s vintage stone cabins on the Blanco River.As an architect who specializes in designing homes, I spend a lot of time studying historic structures. And although I have visited these properties previously, on this occasion I spent more time examining the details of these quaint masonry structures. The owners’ sensitive renovation of these river cabins provides modern comfort, yet shares the rustic ambiance and charm of early Texas cabin life. A close observation of the stonework reveals the masons’ attention to detail and their artistic whimsy. Though most likely not directed by an architect, the crafstman's inclusion of various exotic and contrasting stones: petrified wood, geodes, quartz, and a blend of various colors and textures of local limestone, is aesthetically pleasing. One can still see the ‘hands of the masons’ in the tool marks around corners and openings where they cut the stone and finished the edges with bush hammers and other tools to blend them in with the native stone surfaces. The construction of the buildings is a curious combination of wood framing and masonry. It appears that a 2x4 framework, apparently without sheathing, was built and then masonry added to the inside and outside, in some cases extending through the wood framing. The end result is a wood structure braced by stone that resembles a solid masonry building.
While many lavish weekend houses have been added in recent years to the landscape of this Hill Country retreat, they pale by comparison for those of us who seek a built environment that introduces us to the authenticity of the past rather than sanitizing it. Few capture the honest character as well as these craftsman-built 1920’s homes.
The small number of Norwegians who came to Texas in the 1850s were from the agrarian areas of Norway and became farmers in their adopted homeland. Bosque County in the Texas Hill Country reminded them of the rolling landscape of rural Norway. Those who founded the community of Norse, Texas, came seeking economic and social advancement. Their old-world customs and language were maintained into the 1920s. By 1940, their descendants, wholly integrated into the fabric of Texas culture and used English exclusively.
St. Olaf's Kirke is located on a rise overlooking Meridian Creek valley, four miles east of Cranfills Gap in Bosque County, Texas. Built in 1884 of native limestone, it originally had a dirt floor and the pews were planks laid on wooden kegs. Designed by Andrew Michelson, St. Olaf's Kirke was constructed from limestone quarried from the surrounding hills. It was recently refurbished.
Norwegian was the primary language used during church services into the 1920s. Today, St. Olaf Kirke serves as a historical landmark with special significance for the descendants of the Norwegian settlers of the area. Special events, such as weddings and funerals, continue to be held in the church. The church was designated a historical landmark by the Texas Historical Commission in 1974 and entered into the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.
Texas residential architect, Steve Chambers, considers Italy his favorite travel destination because of its concentration of well-preserved architecture from many periods of history. Central Italy’s topography and climate are akin to what we experience in the Texas Hill Country. The Caves of Orvieto are so unusual we feel our architectural blog readers will want to make this city on a volcanic tuff a future travel destination.
Orvieto, an Italian city in southwest Umbria with the aura of a fairy tale, is situated on the flat summit of a large butte of volcanic tuff called The Rupe. It was founded by the Etruscans in the 9th century B.C. Rising above vertical-faced cliffs with defensive walls fabricated in the same stone, the city’s site is one of the most dramatic in Europe. How this stunning hilltop city managed to endure on such a precarious site is a story of creative ingenuity. Its particular constellation of geological features causes landslides that impact the cliff’s perimeter. Mass movements over time have wrought a slow but unalterable degradation, progressively reducing the size of the historic village.
At the end of the 1970s, an immense landslide took a huge bite out of Orvieto’s Rupe, not far from its famous Duomo. The landslide from the Rupe alarmed the world that the city, the Duomo (one of Italy’s most important pieces of Gothic architecture) and its works of art might not survive. But, the disaster intrigued a small and experienced group of local cave experts. In the city's urban legend, Orvieto was mythicized to be hollow beneath its Rupe. The landslide exposed mysterious gaps, windows with regular contours, in some of its high projecting walls. Like black holes in space, these "empty and dark eyes hinted at an inexplicable and unexplored world"(1) became an irresistible attraction for cave specialists.
The More Surprising Truth
The discovery of an incredible underground reality began when the elevated holes appeared. After securing ropes to trees in the gardens that ring the majority of the city’s upper perimeter, speleologists scaled down the many-sided butte. Thrills awaited them inside the rupestrian grottos. Square rooms were linked together by galleries illuminated by the small windows to the outside. Room after room followed in succession by means of overlapping levels joined by short wells and chutes. In the more internal walls were narrow tunnels leading to the heart of the Rupe. One person could navigate the tunnels on all fours or lying down.
Why Did the Etruscans Need Caves in Orvieto?
Orvieto was a well-known major center of Etruscan civilization. Why did they construct such an intricate warren of tunneled chutes and ladders? The city captivates many visitors to Italy, but few are aware that twelve hundred caves lie below the volcanic tuff.
At the time of founding on the high plateau, the ancient civilization called the town Velzna. It had great protection from enemies, but unfortunately no water. The Etruscans dug deep slender rectangular wells in search of underground springs. The longest walls of the wells have regular intervals of small notches, pedarole (foot holds), which made movement within the vertical channels possible. The Etruscans also created cisterns for holding rainwater as well as an extended network of tunnels for its conveyance. The caves allowed them self-sufficiency, as well as protection. They could live within them for months on end without the worry of provisions. Velzna finally fell to the Romans in 264 B.C., but only after withstanding a lengthy two-year siege. Over successive centuries the digging continued.
Four hundred of the caves have been used for millennia by the citizenry for wells, refrigeration, and, during Roman and barbarian sieges, as dovecotes to encourage the Umbrian specialty, Palombo (pigeon), to roost in the caves. The birds provided access to fresh meat without leaving the city walls. (2) The caves also sheltered the township from bombs that were dropped on the valley below during WWII.
During recent excavations, the subsurface of the city revealed enormous pits from which tons of volcanic ash were extracted, wells and cisterns of all ages and sizes, galleries, cellars, shelters, litter wells that still provide fragmentary samples of refined medieval and Renaissance ceramics.
Chambers Architects' Journey Through the Caves
Arriving by sharp turns off the main road from Viterbo, Orvieto has an intriguing appearance from afar. At the southern end, The Rupe stands out in the landscape like an isolated ship. The block appears to have been dropped from space.
We happened on the caves by accident. After a tour of the breathtaking Duomo, we stopped for a lunch of pizza and wine on the patio of a taverna across from its steps. We spotted a sign that offered tickets to “Underground Orvieto.” Having visited the city several times, we’d never seen the signs offering this opportunity. Rushing over to the biglietteria, we discovered the next tour was leaving in thirty minutes. We ordered slices and cups to go, hitched up our backpacks and headed to the meeting place, a gate near a narrow walkway around the city. Upon entrance into the first cave, our eyes adjusted to the dark in the vast underground world that had been dug, used and forgotten. A dark labyrinth had been rendered and subdivided into a thousand grottoes, tunnels, wells and reservoirs, created by the scrapes of men over three millenniums. The trek won’t disappoint those seeking an out-of-the-ordinary understanding of the origin of Italy’s profoundly creative culture.
A Most Fascinating Discovery Near Orvieto's Duomo
The most fascinating discovery was made in a cavity near Piazza Duomo. A medieval oil press for olives was found, complete with millstones, press, furnace, mangers for the animals working the grindstones, water mains and cisterns. The big system of vaults calls to mind the patterns of many hypogea (underground cellars and tombs) ofthe Etruscan era. One of the “not to miss places” of historical and archaeological interest that allows us a touch of the past. In fact, every day, starting with the offices of the Tourist Promotion Company in Piazza Duomo, qualified staff accompany visitors on an easy route for about an hour called “Orvieto Underground”, which unwinds through two of the biggest and most important grottoes hidden in the Rupe. Here, in search of ancient secrets preserved by the silent darkness of the grottoes, everyone can discover, to his surprise, engagement with 9th century ingenuity in this underground wonder.
In the late middle-ages, as the city began to stabilize and prosper, these underground caverns were expanded and converted to also house workshops for the local ceramic production (cooling cisterns and the remains of a kiln can still be found) and quarries to excavate the soft stone to mix as cement (which continued into the early 20th century). One of the biggest caverns was most recently used as an olive oil press, and the massive millstones and presses still on view make it easy to imagine the room crowded with pickers and workers pressing out one of Umbria’s most prized product each fall.
One Thing to Remember When Parking the Car
There’s one caveat to travel in Italy’s cities built in antiquity: parking is frustrating. It becomes humorous after recalling the incident later with a bottle of wine. Central parking garages near the centro antico require you to pay immediately after parking your car. The exit meters do not take credit cards or cash. You’ll need the ticket to exit the garage and the old town. Good luck trying to get out of the garage without a pre-stamped bigliette! It took us at least an hour to explain our dilemma to the carabinieri and get the car out of the parking garage. Italian police non capisco greenhorns!
Photo Credits: Stephanie and Steve Chambers, Chambers Architects, Dallas, Texas
Click into second photo gallery for more Underground Orvieto