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New Mexico State University

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New Mexico's "Most Endangered Properties" get boost from NMSU

Five of New Mexico's 11 Most Endangered Properties have received a shot in the arm thanks to the efforts of the Public History Program at New Mexico State University.

The five "properties" -- the Manhattan Project buildings in Los Alamos, the Mesilla Historic District, San Esteban del Rey Church and Convent at Acoma Pueblo, the Waterworks Building in Silver City and the New Mexico night sky -- have benefited by being named on the state's 1999 Most Endangered Properties list.

About a year ago NMSU's Public History Program, on behalf of the New Mexico Heritage Preservation Alliance, solicited nominations of historical or cultural areas to be considered as the state's Most Endangered Properties. The New Mexico Historic Preservation Division and the National Park Service funded the project. The Public History Program, made up mostly of NMSU students who are pursuing degrees in history, received 35 applications from throughout New Mexico, including buildings, structures, ruins, districts and cultural landscapes. Of those 35 sites, 11 were chosen by the Preservation Alliance for the 1999 list.

"The list is intended to help in two ways," said Public History Program director and NMSU assistant history professor Jon Hunner. "One, it educates the public about the importance of these sites and that they are endangered.

"And then there's the advocacy aspect," he said. "We're now able to point to the list and focus attention on the properties that are in need of protection."

The New Mexico night sky is one such "property" that received attention after being named as one of the state's Most Endangered Properties.

It was placed on the list because of its importance to New Mexico's cultural heritage. Throughout mankind's existence, from mammoth hunts at Clovis and Folsom to Apache Point astronomers studying the universe, the New Mexico night sky has "provided guidance, companionship, and a window into the purpose of human existence for millennia," according to its Endangered Properties application. Yet the state's night sky has seen an increase in light pollution.

After the night sky was named an "endangered property," the Night Sky Protection Act was passed during the 1999 legislative session. The act will help reduce some of the light pollution that affects New Mexico's pristine night sky.

Hunner said the Mesilla Historic District, already on the state and national historical registers, "is endangered because new buildings are compromising the historical characteristics of the community."

After the district was named to the state's Most Endangered Properties list, the NMSU history department, Mesilla Town Trustees and a historic preservation committee in Mesilla designed posters that incorporate the architectural elements of Mesilla. The posters and an architectural style guidebook that will be completed this fall are intended to help builders incorporate Mesilla's historic beauty into new construction projects.

"The fact that Mesilla was on the Most Endangered Properties list was a red flag to us here at the Public History Program," Hunner said. "We thought, Here is something that's close to home that we can work with and help in its historic preservation.'"

The Manhattan Project buildings in Los Alamos, Santa Fe and Socorro counties have been out of service and in disrepair for several years. After they were named to the Most Endangered Properties list, the federal government allocated $700,000 to renovate the buildings and help preserve them.

The Waterworks Building in Silver City, one of the oldest municipal waterworks buildings in the state, is another property that has been out of service and in disrepair for a number of years. The city of Silver City has expressed interest in preserving it and, in May, a group of about 100 citizens volunteered to clean the building. "There's interest in preserving it," Hunner said.

The San Esteban del Rey Church at Acoma Pueblo received national attention in May when First Lady Hillary Clinton toured the church and announced its inclusion on the Savings America's Treasures List. That list is a federal government historic preservation initiative that shows 64 buildings around the country that are in need of preservation.

The massive adobe mission was built about 350 years ago and is the oldest continually used church in New Mexico. It is in danger of eroding because of a leaky roof.

The remaining six sites on New Mexico's Most Endangered Properties list for 1999 are the Moradas of the Mora Valley, the Old Town Residential Area in Las Vegas, the historic railroad depots and related buildings statewide, the San Gabriel del Yunge Oweenge at San Juan Pueblo, the San Miguel del Vado Customs House at San Miguel del Vado, and Shakespeare Ghost Town.

Hunner said NMSU's Public History Program will seek nominations this fall for the 2000 list of New Mexico's Most Endangered Properties. The applications are expected to be available in August and will be accepted through October. The Public History Program will collect the list and present qualified properties to the Preservation Alliance. Hunner said the alliance will release the 2000 list by the end of January.

"We have wonderful, historic sites in New Mexico and some of them are in danger of being lost through neglect, through development, through a lot of different reasons," Hunner said. "So, we're hoping to educate the public in the jewels that we have in our state. If we can help with passing state as well as federal initiatives to help preserve some of the treasures we have here, that's all the better."