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Shards of history found under Santa Fe building

October 29, 2012 • State News


Theo Raven, from Tesuque, N.M. looks through boxes of artifacts excavated from beneath her downtown building on Oct. 22, 2012 in Santa Fe. The items were recovered six years ago during an archaeological dig beneath Raven’s building at the northwest corner of Water Street and Don Gaspar Avenue, which houses Doodlet’s and the Sign of the Pampered Maiden on its ground floor. The three-story adobe building, dating to the 1880s, once was a hotel rumored to house prostitutes. (AP Photo/The New Mexican, Sánchez Saturno)

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Theo Raven may have found a home for the artifacts excavated from beneath her downtown Santa Fe building.

They are hardly spectacular, but what you would expect in a city at least four centuries old: Chipped stone, animal bones and teeth, scraps of deteriorating leather and newspaper, shards from Pueblo Indian pots and other ceramics, locks of hair or fur, nails, spikes and other corroded metal objects, pieces of glass, beads, a piece of aluminum foil with a piñon shell inside. The state Office of Archaeological Studies believes the items could be used in educational exhibits.

“I really don’t want them,” Raven said recently as she went through two boxes of the items on the back patio of her Tesuque home. “It’s time to clear things out.”

The items were recovered six years ago during an archaeological dig beneath Raven’s building at the northwest corner of Water Street and Don Gaspar Avenue, which houses Doodlet’s and the Sign of the Pampered Maiden on its ground floor. The three-story adobe building, dating to the 1880s, once was a hotel rumored to house prostitutes.

In early 2006, Raven hired Lockwood Construction to begin a project to turn the top two floors of the old building into three two-level condominiums. Crocker & Associates’ architectural renovation plan involved reinforcing the adobe walls with steel supports held in place by 22 helical anchors — large corkscrew-like devices twisted into the ground, each requiring holes about 13 to 16 feet deep. The borings turned up bones, triggering an investigation.

“It was scary as hell because I had to borrow a ton of money for that project — a lot — and they found a bone, and, of course, they had to report it, and I was terrified,” Raven said. “I thought, ‘Oh, my God!’ because had it turned out to be something special, they would have had to postpone the project and go on and on and on with it. It turned out to be an animal bone that had washed down. . So that saved my life.”

Contract archaeologists Tom McIntosh and Bettina Kuru’es quickly determined that the bones were not human, but from cows, pigs, sheep and goats — probably from a butcher shop that faced San Francisco Street in the 1880s when waste was dumped in the back. But the excavations also turned up pre-Columbian pottery washed down by the Rio Chiquito — the stream that once followed what is now Water Street — plus thousands of artifacts from subsequent centuries.

McIntosh said most of the artifacts were from the Territorial era (1846 to 1912), mostly from after the coming of the railroad in 1880. Much of the pottery, he said, is “transitional Tewa polychrome, post-1700s through the 1800s, painted pottery used as tourist items. . Since there were so many artifacts — I mean, thousands of them — we recommended that any future work be monitored by archaeological personnel.”

David Snow, an archaeologist who analyzed the ceramics from the site, once the home of early 19th-century real-estate tycoon Don Gaspar Ortiz y Alarid, said the building was started in 1883 as the National Hotel, which in the 20th century became the Normandie Hotel, then the Montezuma Hotel. “The story is that during the ’30s, it turned into a whorehouse,” he said. “During that period, it was rumored to host a number of ladies of ill repute.”

Eric Blinman, director of the state Office of Archaeological Studies, said he would be interested in Raven’s artifacts for educational exhibits. But the state Department of Cultural Affairs agency that is authorized to accept donations of artifacts is the state Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, which shares with Blinman’s agency the new Center for New Mexico Archaeology southwest of Santa Fe.

Museum curator Julia Clifton said this week that she would propose accepting the donation at the November meeting of the museum’s collections committee.

Raven, 81, is one of Santa Fe’s characters, known for Doodlet’s, the eclectic knick-knack and folk art shop she ran for decades.

Born in Santa Fe three years after her mother, Helen Ruthling, came to Taos to be the governess for arts maven Mabel Dodge Luhan’s grandchildren, Raven grew up at her mother’s “Rancho Arroyo” in Tesuque with her fraternal-twin brothers, Carleton and Ford Ruthling, the latter a well-known artist. Helen Ruthling, who ran summer camps where children slept outside and learned to make crafts by hand, was a featured guest on the television show This Is Your Life in the late 1950s.

Raven, who still lives on her family’s property in Tesuque, started out waiting tables in Santa Fe restaurants. In 1955, she opened Doodlet’s Christmas Shop (Doodlet’s being a variation from her late mother’s nickname Doodles) in Prince Plaza on East Palace Avenue. She moved the shop to the building at the corner of Don Gaspar Avenue and Water Street after purchasing that property in 1966. In 1968, she married Peter Raven, an arts professor at the University of Washington, and lived with him in Seattle for a decade. He died in 1987.

Two years ago, Raven sold Doodlet’s to Lisa Young. Raven continues to own the building and is seeking to sell the three unfinished condominiums on the second and third floors. Santa Fe Properties has the listings, with prices ranging from $668,300 to $1.1 million.

“I don’t want to rent them,” Raven said. “I don’t want to be a landlady. I’d rather sit on it and wait.”

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