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Honoring a historic ranch house

May 12, 2019 GMT

It wasn’t the most popular building at El Rancho de las Golondrinas, but it’s finally getting some respect.

The owners of the living-history museum in La Cienega have embarked on an effort to restore the historic Pino Ranch House. There are other buildings on the property that are much older, but they’ve been substantially changed.

“This building has the most historic integrity, and that’s because it was lived in. It wasn’t abandoned or turned into a barn,” said museum Director Daniel Goodman. “It’s significant. It’s the last Hispanic ranch house that was built on this property.”


The adobe house was the home of the ranch foreman when the property was purchased in 1934 by Leonora Scott Muse Curtin (1879-1972) and Leonora Francis Curtin Paloheimo (1903-99). After the younger Leonora married Finnish consul Yrjö Alfred Paloheimo, the couple pursued their vision of establishing an outdoor living-history museum dedicated to the story of Hispano life in 17th- and 18th-century Northern New Mexico.

But Leonora Paloheimo once wrote that, “From the museum point of view, it [the ranch house] simply glared at us with its high, pitched roof, dormer windows, ungraceful shape and recent history.”

“She hated the building because it didn’t fit the fantasy of a little Northern New Mexico village,” said Alan “Mac” Watson, a contractor, adobe expert and chairman of the Historic Santa Fe Foundation board of directors.

The foundation commissioned a University of New Mexico graduate student to write a nomination for its Register of Resources Worthy of Preservation. Kelly Finley Davis worked on that project last summer.

In her detailed nomination, she wrote that the old ranch house combines the traditional Hispano building material, adobe, with very “American” design elements like the basement and a hipped roof with dormers and wood shingles.

In an interview, Davis added, “Something that is classic in American design during that time was symmetry. The original interior floor plan has a long corridor that separated the house, very mirrrored, which was an American style.”

She also thinks the two screen porches are important features. One was a later addition to the house, but she believes the screened-in porch on the south side is original. “It’s kind of derelict,” she said with a laugh.

Davis, who is working on her thesis for a master’s degree in historic preservation and regional studies, said the Pino Ranch House stands out from the many other buildings at El Rancho de las Golondrinas.


Beginning in the 1940s, the Paloheimos restored the existing buildings on the property, built some new ones that were designed to look historic and moved some buildings in from elsewhere.

“You have these log cabins on the site that were moved from near Las Vegas, and preservationists now cringe at that because location is one of the seven aspects for evaluating historic integrity,” Davis said. “But the Pino house was built on-site for ranching purposes, and it is a historic building.”

She noted in the nomination that “seeing the Pino Ranch House as contributing to the historic rural landscape [of La Cienega] is integral to its preservation.”

The original ranch was strategically located on the Camino Real, a historic trade route that extended from Mexico City to Santa Fe. Elfego Pino owned Las Golondrinas for 15 years beginning in 1919, and he built the house before 1925.

The first job in the restoration involved the roof, which was originally sawn pine but had been covered with asphalt material. “Last year, we stripped off the asphalt roofing and put on a new cedar shingle roof,” Goodman said during a recent site visit. “That’s what kicked off the whole project. We wanted to do it right.”

Another big job will be addressing the exterior walls, which were covered with cementitious stucco in the 1980s. The load-bearing adobe walls underneath rest on a knee-high stone foundation. In the summer of 2018, a square was cut out of the stucco to reveal the rows of 8-inch by 16-inch adobe bricks.

The work of removing all of the cement stucco on this wall and an adjacent wall will be underway in mid-June, with help from the Historic Santa Fe Foundation’s Faith and John Gaw Meem Preservation Trades Internship program. This year’s intern is Ramon Dorado Mendoza, a UNM graduate student in architecture.

“He will come out and work on the foundation and he will strip the cement stucco off of these two walls,” Goodman said. “He’ll also inspect the building and make any repairs to the adobe, then we’re going to replaster with mud.

That work should be complete by late August. Golondrinas staff are also working on a linseed-oil paint recipe to recoat the rafter tails and decking under the house’s eaves.

“We want to fix up both porches, too,” Goodman said. “We want the house to be for public use and perhaps for exhibits. It just needs a little love.”

The Historic Santa Fe Foundation board voted to put the Pino Ranch House on its register in March.

For more information about El Rancho de las Golondrinas and its programs and events, visit www.golondrinas.org or call 505-471-2261.

Next door to the 47-year-old living-history museum is the Leonora Curtin Wetland Preserve. The 35-acre natural preserve features a large, spring-fed pond and is open from May through October.

Events coming up at the Curtin preserve include a Full Moon Walk on Friday, May 17, and a Bird Walk on Saturday, May 25. Find out more at www.santafebotanicalgarden.org or call 505-471-9103.