By Todd G. DicksonLas Cruces Bulletin
A group of New Mexico State University students spent the 2013 fall semester researching the history of older buildings in the core of Mesilla Park, and what they learned has only brought more credence to an effort to create an historic neighborhood district there, said NMSU history professor Jon Hunner.
As part of their final grade, the students gave their reportsmid-December 2013 in the Frank O’Brien Papen Community Center, a former school building and a model for the kind of historic preservation that can be found in the NMSU bedroom community. Designed by Henry Trost in 1907, the school building had additions that incorporate the same designs, especially in the exterior windows, according to student reports.
That’s important, Hunner said, because renovations or
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improvements to a building have to be in character with the original designs for a neighborhood to land a historic designation. That has been the case with most of the buildings surveyed by the students, who used forms provided by the state’s Historic Preservation Division, he said.
One of the first buildings researched was a home owned by Ralph Willis Goddard, a pioneering engineering dean at NMSU who built the first student radio station in New Mexico – with the call letters of KOB – and turned it into the largest student radio station in the world by the time of his death on Dec. 31, 1929. As Goddard was preparing for the New Year’s Eve broadcast, his hand accidentally brushed an exciter, which was connected to the large direct current generators, sending 12,000 volts of electricity through his body.
Hunner said it is the history of people who inhabited these homes – such as Goddard – that could possibly gain the neighborhood a national historic designation.
In addition to researching the lives of people who lived in the homes, the students documented the property lots and original site plans and assessed the extent of alterationsover the years. In terms of restrictions imposed by a historic neighborhood designation, Hunner told residents they would be free to make any needed renovations on their property, as long as they weren’t using government funds.
Although it at one time sought to be its own separate community, Mesilla Park is partially in both Las Cruces city limits and Mesilla town limits, with the rest simply a part of Doņa Ana County. Even with significant repairs, a building can keep its historical integrity, Hunner and the students said. Such was the case of what’s called the “station master’s house” on Union Avenue, which was a brick building originally built for the railroad station master. While there have been some repairs and additions, “the bones of the house are still fully intact,” said Julie Wojitko, one of the students who conducted the research, There are also uniquely constructed homes, such as several using local volcanicrocks. By finding old aerial photographs, the students could also trace the conversion of isolated ranch and farm homes into some of the homes now found nestled along the tree-lined streets of Mesilla Park.
Because of the area’s closeness to NMSU, many of the older homes belonged to people whose names now grace academic halls at the university, such as George Gardiner, a physics professor who founded NMSU’s Physical Science Laboratory.
Thebones of the house are still fully intact.
JULIE WOJITKO, New Mexico State University history student on the status of the station master’s house in Mesilla Park
New Mexico State University students Jo Ingle and Scott Foster tell about what they discovered in researching a house once owned by Ralph Willis Goddard, the pioneering engineering dean at NMSU in the 1920s. They gave their presentations in mid-December, 2013, at the Frank O’Brien Papen Community Center to residents interested in getting Mesilla Park established as a historic neighborhood.
Las Cruces Bulletin photo by Todd Dickson