Spending public funds on saving historic clubhouse in Las Cruces would be a value judgment
I find myself listening to both sides regarding possible preservation of the Henry Trost-designed former Las Cruces Country Club.
We destroy meaningful historical structures in the name of “progress” far too often. We should consider the options carefully before allowing demolition, if we legally can. (I favored buying the country club land and building when that was available in 2012.)
The building matters because it was designed by El Paso’s world-renowned Trost & Trost and is unique among the Trost structures still standing. (Among them: Albuquerque and El Paso high schools, buildings at NMSU and UTEP, and hotels in Socorro, NM, Marathon, TX, and Douglas, AZ.)
But although Cruces is quite solvent, spending public funds on this would be a value judgment among competing public goods, such as public housing, better pay and training for police, gaining some control over police misconduct, improving our library system, more public restrooms and pickleball courts, and protecting small businesses.. Evaluating this issue in that context, rather than an automatic thumbs up or thumbs down, makes sense.
A wild card (inconvenient for us preservationists) is the building’s use as a country club, into which many in a largely Hispanic town, may not have been allowed. I doubt many Blacks were, although its last president was Afro-American.(Most country clubs barred Jews, but Klein and Freudenthal helped found this one.) Would we be preserving a symbol of exclusion? How much weight should we give that factor? Was this country club mostly “white Anglos only!” For that matter, were unmarried women eligible to join? Were wealthy Hispanics, but not Blacks?
How many who still live here give a damn? One mature Hispanic woman born in this county told me it wouldn’t matter, while another says preservation would hurt. When I asked an octogenarian friend, born in Las Cruces and later prominent here, he vaguely recalled being told as a teenager that the country club didn’t take Mexicans, but added, “How they used it has nothing to do with the historical importance of its architecture. It’s not the building’s fault.”
Part of the context is our very poor record at protecting items of cultural/historical importance.
Effectively,Mayor Miyagashima’s “solution” – that the developer ($40,000) and the city (around $125,000) would contribute to the cost of moving the structure if some business or private group would pay the rest and relocate and restore the building – likely means demolition. Some question the feasibility of moving the building, and want it preserved where it is.
Advocates should recognize that the city has limited power to dictate the outcome, without buying the property. This structure is not on the National Historic Register, and is on private land. (I don’t know how much it’s been altered.) No government has designated it a historic property. The city has not; and while it’s the “work of a master architect,” it might not be eligible for the National Historic Register.
Municipal Code section 40-09(B)(4) requires the owner’s consent for city designation. Section 40-15 (somewhat poorly written) requires Historical Preservation Society Review of any proposed demolition, but the outlined procedures cover only previously designated cultural/historical properties.
It’s a political longshot, but a city purchase of the building could create a real community asset if it were moved somewhere appropriate and repurposed as a cultural museum (Denise Chavez’s Museo de la Gente?) – open to all, and honoring the local community that the country club excluded decades ago.