The historic building that some long-time residents still refer to it as “the old post office” is awaiting its upcoming transition from municipal court building to Las Cruces Museum of Art.
The building, with a cornerstone from 1917, is located at 135 E. Griggs Ave., just east of the downtown plaza. It’s first floor and basement were a Las Cruces post office, with U.S. District Court housed on the second floor for 50 years, until 1974. It later served as magistrate and district court and how houses the courtrooms and chambers of Municipal Judges Kieran Ryan and Joy Goldbaum. The north side of the building includes city storage space and the office of Doña Ana County Senior Olympics Coordinator and Registrar Mike Simione.
The building was placed on the New Mexico State Register of Cultural Properties in 1986. Some of the original interior remains, including staircase, windows and much of the basement.
The City of Las Cruces has about $6 million in its current budget to construct a new municipal court building, which likely will be built in the downtown area, Las Cruces City Councilor Greg Smith said Jan. 24 during a tour of the building that was led by Court Manager Lisa Almaguer.
Smith, who has a background in architecture, said he hopes the historic structure of the century-old building can be preserved in its conversion to a city museum. “It’s an iconic building,” Smith said, with marble, bronze and copper preserved from its original construction. The building’s original wood is solid oak, Judge Ryan said.
The building has undergone a number of renovations, Smith said, including additions in the 1930s and ‘50s and structural changes in 1979.
Smith said he hopes the renovation includes an outdoor sculpture garden and annex on the building’s north side, with perhaps a glass gallery connecting the building and the annex. The new structures, he said, would “incorporate some of the things we need to be seeing for the museum.”
The museum could include “multiple galleries,” Smith said, including balconies and a large gallery on the second floor, overlooking the plaza. Smith said he is hopeful the museum renovation will preserve the historic second-floor courtroom now used by Ryan.
Here is information about the National Register of Historic Places nomination form submitted in May 1986 and provided to the Bulletin by State and National Register Coordinator Steven Moffson of the New Mexico Historic Preservation Division:
“The 1917 Georgian Revival Style with Mediterranean Style details Doña Ana County Courts (as it was known in 1986) building is a two story, linear plan building. (It is) located at the edge of a Shelbyville style court square. The older section (1917) of the brick and concrete courthouse has a truncated hipped, clay tile roof, with one chimney in the southwest corner. The non-contributing rear addition (1979) to the building has a truncated hipped clay tile roof to match the front, with a flat roof connecting the two. Windows are 8-over-8 double hung wood sash, some with fanlite transoms.
“The older part of the building has concrete keystones and decorative concrete medallions.
“Doña Ana County was founded in 1852, with the county seat in the small town of Doña Ana. It remained there for approximately one year, until it was moved to Las Cruces, where the courthouse was in the Amador Hotel. Las Cruces remained the county seat until 1855, when it was moved to Mesilla.
“In 1882 the county seat was moved back to Las Cruces, where the courthouse was again in the Amador Hotel.
“The next year Doña Ana County built a brick, Italianate Style courthouse for $30,000. This building remained the Doña Ana County Courthouse until it was demolished in 1938, the year the present Doña Ana County Administration building was erected as a post office with partial Public Works Administration funding. In 1979, the Doña Ana County Courts were moved to this former Post Office, where they remain today.”
Mike Cook may be contacted at email@example.com.