NM seeks uses for historic 'Los Luceros' property

February 27, 2012 • State News

SANTA, N.M. (AP) — When the state bought Los Luceros in 2008, the plan was for the historic 133-acre property in the Espanola Valley to become a retreat center as well as a site for crop testing, environmental studies and film-industry seminars — and an attraction open to the public.

Very little of that has actually happened.

Earlier this month, both the state House and Senate unanimously approved memorials calling on the Department of Cultural Affairs to conduct a use audit “to determine if the property is being maintained and used so as to maximize the property’s value to the state.” The findings are to be submitted to the Interim Revenue Stabilization and Tax Policy Committee and to the Legislative Finance Committee no later than Nov. 1.

Rep. Nick Salazar, D-Ohkay Owingeh, sponsor of the House Memorial, said he had originally tried to get a federal grant to help Northern New Mexico College acquire the property but couldn’t raise enough money. Now, “by and large the place is closed. People tell me nothing is going on there.” And that’s why he is asking the Department of Cultural Affairs for a report on “where they’re going.”

“The point is not to have it closed,” Salazar said. “It’s to have it maintained and have it open to the public. We [auth] need to do something.”

Cultural Affairs Secretary Veronica Gonzales said last week that she was already working on the issue and had asked staff to find funding for developing a master plan for programs at Los Luceros.

“I don’t want that site to sit there un-utilized,” she said.

Gonzales acknowledged that the property is currently only open to the public by appointment. But it has been used periodically by researchers and artists, including basket weavers gathering willow branches. And this weekend, Redford Enterprises will be doing some filming for the Sundance Channel at the site. Gonzales said film star Robert Redford wanted to introduce some of his favorite movies from one of the buildings at Los Luceros.

Because the Legislature hasn’t appropriated operating funds for the ranch, the Department of Cultural Affairs has detailed a caretaker from the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture staff, and the department’s facilities manager has added the property to his portfolio. He visits Los Luceros two or three times a week, Gonzales said. The department also has security officers guarding the site. She added that she has put the director of the New Mexico State Monuments Division in charge of Los Luceros.

The property, located near Alcalde, was first owned by Luis Maria Ortiz, seventh-generation descendent of colonists who arrived with Don Diego de Vargas. Mary Cabot Wheelwright, the founder of the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian and a founding member of the Spanish Colonial Arts Society, purchased it in 1923 and lived there until her death in 1958. Her heirs sold it to the state during the administration of Gov. Bill Richardson.

The structures include the Casa Grande, which at one time was the county seat, an old jail, the Capilla de la Sagrada Familia chapel and a new visitor center.

The orchards, bosque and irrigated pastures provide habitat for at least 162 species of birds, as well as mammals and reptiles. Los Luceros has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1983.

In 2010, actor/director/producer Redford announced the creation of Milagro at Los Luceros, a center for training Hispanic and Native American filmmakers. A series of writing and acting panels and workshops took place at the property during 2010.

The legislative memorials, however, say that the property “currently is closed and unattended, possibly putting in jeopardy the condition of the structures and plantings.”

While that is not entirely accurate, one major reason for the lack of activity there in 2011 was ongoing construction. The Department of Cultural Affairs received $1.75 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to upgrade the complex. The renovations included a new multipurpose room, Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant bathrooms, a commercial kitchen and major improvements to the accommodations. That work ended last fall, according to Gonzales.

Now she is turning to how the property should be used.

“I really hope we can have vibrant programs out there that serve the people of New Mexico,” Gonzales said.

One of her priorities is finding partners. Gonzales mentioned the agricultural extension service, New Mexico State University, Northern New Mexico College (which had been interested in acquiring the property before it was purchased by the state for $2.5 million), as well as a local charter school as potential collaborators. She also said that she had taken Nick Maniatis, the new director of the state Film Office, to the site, and he facilitated Sundance filming there.

The Film Office has been working with Redford’s representative on some technical issues in the Milagro at Los Luceros memorandum of understanding, but the project to develop “above the line” training for writers, directors, producers and actors is “moving forward,” Maniatis said.

“I’m very positive about that space.” he added. “I think it’s a great idea.”

According to Gonzales, some of the pieces of the overall programming could be in place by the end of the year.

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