Historic Preservation Commission keeps Taos looking Taos

By Jesse Moya
Posted 1/13/20

Each year, thousands of visitors come to Taos for its architectural wonders and historic feel. A handful of people in town are responsible for that feel and are working to ensure generations are able to enjoy classic Taos.

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Historic Preservation Commission keeps Taos looking Taos


Each year, thousands of visitors come to Taos for its architectural wonders and historic feel. A handful of people in town are responsible for that feel and are working to ensure generations are able to enjoy classic Taos.

Cynthia Spray sits as the chair of the Taos Historic Preservation Commission, which oversees the Taos Historic District. The commission is responsible for the outside of buildings within the district and has a code based on town ordinances as to how these buildings must be treated.

"The historic code building standards are just a little tighter than normal standards," Spray said recently. "It's not restrictive, just careful."

The district stretches north from Los Pandos Road around the downtown Taos area up to the boundary with Taos Pueblo and includes buildings and landmarks that are hundreds of years old. These buildings make up the historical relevance of Taos and are integral to the character of Taos, according to Spray. In order to preserve this look and feel as the decades pass, the commission steps in when buildings are renovated or new construction is proposed.

Partially working with state and federal historic designations, the commission maintains the authentic integrity of the outside of the buildings in their view. Changes to the exteriors of buildings within the district must be approved by the commission in order to ensure the building maintains its historic sense.

"We didn't manufacture our architecture to represent what we wanted the image of the town to be," said town manager Richard Bellis. "Instead, we shape our marketing to reflect what the town and its architecture actually are."

Buildings in the historic district cannot change their character if an addition is needed. Owners are able to make renovations, but the renovations must be distinctly different so as not to mask the new construction as old.

Spray uses the planned renovations of the old County Courthouse on Taos Plaza as an example.

According to Spray, the building will call for a new elevator to assist visitors with disabilities to reach the second level. When the courthouse was rebuilt in 1934, electric elevators were not installed as part of the plan. While installing the new elevators on the sides of the building, the contractors must make the elevators distinctly different from the rest of the building.

"It can't be new and be made to look old," Spray said.

Towns like Taos are able to benefit from the work of these commissions to maintain their look and feel for the future. Taos has seen much of the highlight events of New Mexico history and many of the more than a century-old buildings in the area are still standing to tell those stories.

"More than an important economic asset, our churches, homes, museums and stores of our downtown are who we are," Bellis said. "They are the physical manifestation of our history and our diverse culture and you can see our history from the Puebloans to the Spanish settlers to the American territorial days in our buildings, streets, plazas and alleys and the colors we use."

Through the efforts of Strong at Heart, a two-year study of Taos' community needs based on input from the public, one of the main areas identified for improved walkability and revitalization was the downtown area.

Various entities around the town are currently working on such revitalization and Spray said they all play a role in keeping the district looking its best.

In order for a structure to be designated as historic, it must be proven that the building is over 50 years old. For much of historic towns like Taos, Santa Fe and others across the state, this may seem like an easy step to check off the list.

According to town codes, the building must have proven historical relevance to town history or have had a significant event occur there. Also, the building must be "suitable for preservation" and not a crumble of former walls.

For more information on the historic district or to find out if a property is within the district, contact the town planner's office at (575) 751-2034.

The commission is made up of five mayor-appointed members, two of whom must own a property or a business in the district.

The commission meets at 5:30 p.m. on the third Wednesday of each month if there is business to meet on, in the town council chambers. The meetings are open to the public.


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