Architecture of the Casa del Gavilan

Photo of the Casa del Gavilan circa 1940

The architecture of the Casa del Gavilan has its roots in the Pueblo architectural style common to northern New Mexico. Walls of straw adobe up to 18-inches thick, massive vigas, and high ceilings all clearly speak to the heritage of pueblos of the Rio Grande Valley.

The basic style of the Casa del Gavilan is Pueblo Revival, though the massing of the structural elements is not as rounded and visually "heavy" as typical later Pueblo Revival structures. While Pueblo Revival in its inception, the Casa del Gavilan strays from the strictly classical Pueblo style in that it also has numerous appointments more common to the Arts and Crafts movement of the Mission/Craftsman style which began in the United States in earnest in the early 1900s with the publication of Stickley's "Craftsman" magazine. Other characteristics of the Craftsman/Mission style include the light wood trim, wide cased openings between rooms, cased doorways, inset book cases, layout of rooms, use of stone and other natural elements, and placement of fireplaces. Outside corners are more squared than round, windows are much larger, and the overall feel of the building is lighter than that of later Pueblo Revival structures.

Interior features are square, clean, and light--more reminiscent of an early Craftsman/Mission style than the heavier feel of the Pueblo Revival. Fireplaces are brick or stone with wood mantles rather than round kiva fireplaces common to Pueblo Revival. Interior wood window boxes, wood trim around doorways, and wood cased openings also separate the architecture somewhat from traditional Pueblo Revival.

While adobe revival architecture today is very common in New Mexico, in the early 1900s such was not the case. Many old adobe buildings of a Pueblo-style would have obviously still stood, but new buildings were typically constructed in a more contemporary style reflecting architecture of the eastern U.S. In 1910, New Mexico was on the path to statehood. Many new residents were moving to the area. Agriculture, ranching, and irrigation were making great strides. There was little interest at the time of returning to the past for architectural styles. Jack and Gertrude Nairn, as well as the architect of the Casa del Gavilan, set out to honor the historic culture of New Mexico by borrowing the architectural style of the Pueblos in the design and construction of their new home. Considering some of the negative reviews of early Pueblo Revival architecture at the University of New Mexico, the Nairns' choice of this architectural style was far ahead of its time. In the end, it would prove to foreshadow the style that would become the signature style of New Mexico.

In the book "American Architecture Since 1780" author Marcus Whiffin calls Pueblo Style architecture  "... one of the few truly regional architectures in what is now the United States...". Whiffin notes the style made it's first appearance in California in 1894. Whiffin further states the beginning of the movement in New Mexico began in 1905 at the University of Albuquerque. Other publications claim the beginning of Pueblo Revival architecture in New Mexico as the 1908 remodeling of Hodgin Hall at the University of Albuquerque. Wiffin notes the first example of the Pueblo Style in New Mexico hotels was at the El Ortiz Hotel in Lamy in 1909. In any event, the construction of the Casa del Gavilan beginning in 1910 was certainly at the forefront of the movement in the state of New Mexico.

The Pueblo Revival style would continue to grow and spread into the 1920s and 1930s--and has since become the signature "Santa Fe Style" of New Mexico known around the world. The addition of the Arts and Crafts sense of design laid over the Pueblo Revival architecture further serves to place the Casa del Gavilan at the leading edge of a unique architectural design when built and as a style that would become more significant as time passed.

Taking into account these important characteristics of the architecture of the Casa del Gavilan, along with the excellent, original condition of the home, the Casa del Gavilan is an important contribution to the history of architecture in the United States in general and New Mexico in particular.

The Nairns always had a special appreciation of the land and culture of the Southwest, and had long been familiar with the Pueblo culture of the area. In 1889 and 1890, Frederick Chapin, Gertrude Nairn's adopted brother, led two expeditions to explore the Mesa Verde area in southwestern Colorado, later publishing "Land of the Cliff Dwellers" in 1892.  Nairn contributed to Chapin's book by working on a map of the area. Chapin was also a photographer of some renown, and took extensive photographs of the ancient cliff dwellings as well as the inhabited Pueblos he visited. Chapin would certainly have shared his photographs with Jack and Gertrude Nairn, along with his observations of the Pueblos. The Pueblos have changed over the years and now appear somewhat different from when the Casa del Gavilan was built. Two historic photographs of Pueblos by Chapin from 1889-1890 in "Land of the Cliff Dwellers" are strikingly similar to the Casa as designed--one photograph of Zuni Pueblo and a second of an unnamed Pueblo.  While the Nairns had been living in Wagon Mound, New Mexico, for several years and were certainly familiar with the Pueblos, Chapin's earlier expeditions would have put the ancient Pueblos and their architecture in a more historic cultural context for the Nairns. It is likely these photographs, along with Chapin's account of his expeditions, contributed to the Nairns' desire to build their home in a style paying homage to the culture of the Southwest.

Both Jack and Gertrude attended an amateur archaeological dig during the summer of 1910 at El Rito do los Frijoles--a cliff dwelling that would later become better known as Bandelier National Monument.  In later years the Nairns were members of The Santa Fe Archaeological Society.  Considering the Nairns' interest and background in amateur archaeology and the historical culture of the southwest, it should come as no surprise that when they chose to build their home outside of Cimarron, they chose a unique design reminiscent of the ancient pueblos that had captivated their imagination for so many years. It's also interesting to note the location of their home - at the mouth of a rugged canyon along the Santa Fe trail which had been in years past, an important link between the traditional culture of the southwest and the culture pressing in from the east - much as their new home would serve as a link between the architecture of the past and the future in New Mexico.

By today's standards, long after John Gaw Meem and others left their imprint on the architecture of New Mexico, it would seem the Nairns' preference for Pueblo-Revival architecture would be the obvious choice. However, in the early 1900s such was certainly not the case. Many old adobe buildings of original pueblo-style would surely have still stood, but new buildings were constructed in a more contemporary style reflecting architectural styles of the eastern part of the country.  Pueblo-Revival was a very experimental style at the time with only a few buildings being recently constructed, mostly at the University of New Mexico. Las Vegas, near where the Nairns were living in Wagon Mound, was typical of the day with its broad assortment of architectural styles including Victorian, Queen Anne, Italianate, Richardsonian Romanesque, and Neo-Classical Revival among others. In 1910 the territory of New Mexico was on the path to statehood. Many new residents were arriving from the east. Agriculture, ranching, and irrigation were making great strides with the introduction of new methods and technology from the east.

The University of New Mexico at Albuquerque - often quoted as some of the earliest examples of Pueblo-Revival architecture - had been building in Pueblo-Revival (then primarily referred to as Pueblo-Style) architecture for only a few years - beginning with the power plant in 1905  followed by two dormitories completed in the fall of 1906. The unique architectural style was championed by University President William G. Tight.  While many appreciated the simplicity of the ancient style, others considered it too primitive--especially for an institution of higher learning.  The Nairns, having their new home designed in the "Pueblo-Style," represented quite an adventurous departure from current architectural norms of northern New Mexico, and was both unique and quite progressive for the day. The Pueblo-Style chosen by the Nairns represented both a respect to the traditional southwest culture of the past, as well as unique insight to the future architecture of New Mexico.