Behind the build
Thousands of Santa Fe homes — the kinds that feature corbels, latillas, vigas and beams — owe their distinctive styles to logs that are milled by Hansen Lumber Company and Spotted Owl Timber.
Both firms are decades-old: Hansen was founded in 1927 by John O. Hansen, and its original mill was on Agua Fría Street, on the site of what today is Aspen Community Magnet School. The operation moved to a 40-acre parcel on West Alameda Street in 1972.
It’s still in the family, run by John’s granddaughter, Nicole Johnson, and two members of the fourth generation: John’s great-grandchildren, Matt Hansen and Alicia Sanchez.
“In the beginning, they would put the sawmills in the woods where they were logging,” Johnson said. “My dad took me to go see the footings of an old mill they had in Chama. And you could tell it was grandpa’s mill because he’d use things like truck springs instead of rebar in the concrete.”
During a tour of the property, Johnson pointed out big piles of Douglas fir, spruce and pine logs. Hansen Lumber ceased logging — cutting trees in the forest — in about 1984, but the company continues to buy whole logs.
The wood is milled into 1- and 2-inch lumber for house framing, decking, walls and floors, as well as the larger-dimension vigas and corbels. The company also does custom pieces.
“We still work with several small-business contractors and pretty much anybody who comes out looking for wood, including artists,” Johnson said.
“Every part of the log gets used in some way or another,” Sanchez said with pride. The mill produces fencing, tongue-and-groove decking, firewood and sawdust that is sold for horse bedding and composting toilets.
Hansen Lumber is known for its work on the old Sears warehouse at the corner of Guadalupe Street and Paseo de Peralta that today houses TAI Modern and two other galleries. The company’s wood also is evident in the food court and center court at the Santa Fe Place mall and in most of the Stamm houses in Casa Alegre and Casa Solana.
Matt Hansen said they have a customer in England who buys aspen latillas every year.
“There was a brother and sister from Japan who came and ordered a lot of different things for a house there,” Johnson said. “I believe Matt’s dad cut corbels that ended up in the wine cellar at the White House. In the 1980s and ’90s, Southwest style was hugely popular and we shipped all over the place. I sent latillas to Saudi Arabia.”
The mill boasts a 52-inch circular saw. The big blade is permanent, but the individual cutting teeth are changeable. “Our sawyer, Reymundo Mendoza, sharpens them once or twice a day, and when they wear out, he changes them,” Johnson said.
Across town at Spotted Owl Timber (located on L Lane near Caja del Rio Road), owner David Lindsey proudly talks about the equipment his firm possesses, including a Wood-Mizer band saw that can cut “the biggest logs in the state.”
Lindsey also is following a family tradition: His father, Frank Lindsey, and grandfather Lloyd Lindsey had sawmills.
“I’ve had this company for 30 years, but I worked for Hansen for years before that as a logger and on the mill,” David Lindsey said. “We’ve all known each other our whole lives.”
Lindsey’s company stopped logging in the early 2000s and now buys from independent loggers.
“We just buy the little pockets,” he said. “I hear about a little pocket that’s going to be cleared to build a house, and I can get some trees.”
His crew makes use of virtually every part of the tree, which can provide everything from fence slats to playground chips to mulch.
A big, dry-erase board in the office is filled with current orders. One is for builder E.J Jennings, who orders living-room beams. Another is for contractor Ed Crocker. He ordered wood to replace the portal at the DeVargas Center.
Crocker said he has used the mill in the past to do work on the old church at Acoma Pueblo, the painted kiva at Coronado Historic Site, the kiva at Jemez Pueblo, and the mission churches at Santa Ana de Tamayá and Isleta Pueblo.
“Over the years, we have bought thousands of board feet from both Hansen and Spotted Owl,” Crocker said.
Another order on the board is for Leaf & Hive Brew Lab, which sells fermented tea. The company requested tabletops with live, or unmilled, edges. “Holly’s stumps” is the label on another order. “She brought cottonwood trunks from Albuquerque and she wanted them cut salami-style,” Lindsey said. “They’re making tabletops. And Chocolate Maven uses similar pieces for plate chargers for cakes.
“We do the old Territorial-style moldings from downtown — instead of fluted, they’re beaded. You have to have the right knives for your molding machine, and they’re expensive, up to $800 for a set.”
Spotted Owl delivers over a wide area, including surrounding states. “I took a load of Douglas fir 12-by-12s all the way to Phoenix the other day,” Lindsey said. “People love the Santa Fe-style details. We make corbels and latillas like mad.”