This is the story of a house. A house with history, character and charm. A house of secrets and dreams.
Across the Highway from the St. Francis de Assisi Church, behind what is now Martina’s (Hall), is another, smaller Plaza which is connected to the larger one both historically and literally. The main building in this former compound, is a hidden gem of a Hacienda.
Originally part of the Serna Land Grant, the land surrounding this gracious home and its enclave, included all of present day Ranchos de Taos, Llano Quemado and Talpa. The Southern boundary was Picuris Peak, the Eastern boundary the Rancho del Rio Grande Grant, and the northern boundary, Cruz Alta Plaza. The Serna Land Grant was a very large parcel, given to Captain Christobal de la Serna in 1710 by the Provincial Governor under the authority of the (Spanish) Crown.
In 1724, the Serna Grant changed hands when two of Serna’s children signed a deed to Diego Romero, known as El Coyote. The following year in 1725, the growing settlement South of Taos, that was originally called Las Trampas de Taos became the permanent Spanish settlement of Ranchos de Taos.
“I don’t know exactly how old the house is,” Ernest Romero says, “I do know that by all accounts my mother was born in that house and perhaps even I was born there.”
Ernest Romero is the husband of Norris Romero, the founder of Century 21 Success, one of Taos’ most respected Real Estate Companies. Ernest’s (a former Town of Taos Manager and 10th Generation Taoseno) family were until quite recently the long-time owners of the Hacienda built on the land owned by El Coyote. “All these houses and buildings,” Ernest draws a diagram of the Plaza and the buildings surrounding the (now fenced in) Hacienda, on a yellow legal pad as he speaks to me, “all of these buildings were once part of the original compound
“They date back to before the Plaza with the Church,” he informs me. “This was the original Plaza, the center of commerce in what is now Ranchos.”
He hands me a stack of books, some falling loose from the bindings; the old vellum and leather-bound covers coming apart at the seams. He opens up what appears to be a ledger, and points to an unlikely name. Harris. “They were Anglos,” he explains, “there were a few Anglo families here early on.”
“Traders?” I asked him.
“Yes, they must have been.” He nodded.
I am in Ernest Romero’s office because earlier that week, I received a call from the Hacienda’s listing agent, Pedro Gonzalez. “You need to talk to Ernest about the house,” he told me. “Can you come by the office in an hour?”
But I digress. Let me begin at the beginning.
About a month or so ago, near Summer’s end, Pedro Gonzalez called me. Pedro was someone I’d known a long time, ever since he was the Maitre D at the Trading Post Cafe in Ranchos, when for a while, one of my teenage daughters bussed tables there.
When the Trading Post first opened, I worked in a gallery (the Hacienda de San Francisco) that shared a long space in the Church Plaza with the restaurant’s annex, now the Plaza Grill. The Restaurant’s Swiss Chef, Rene and his wife Kimberly lived in an adjoining apartment. We all smoked in those days and during winter, their then partner Marco (the current owner of Stella’s Restaurants), would invite me into a room filled with bookshelves containing dozens of large cook books and art books, to smoke by the fireplace so I wouldn’t have to be out in the cold.
I loved the way the art books and cook books shared space. It seemed quite right, fitting somehow. A library unlike any other. I’ve thought of it often since. Marco would let me borrow books to look at while the Gallery was slow and when they moved quite soon after, taking the books with them, I wondered if the shelves were as strong and as high and if they could support the weight of those heavy tomes?
I needn’t have worried.
“I have a house for you,” Pedro told me when I answered his call. “I think it’s right up your alley, perfect for your blog.”
Pedro didn’t make blanket statements unless it was so. A Shaman, a Sun Dancer, a Healer and a gentleman, Pedro had come to Taos from Acapulco where he had worked in the Service Industry, but his spiritual side was well-known to the many he healed and helped over the years.
He and his wife Kirsten Wing had gone up to Standing Rock to support the Tribes on the Front Lines early on.
He parlayed his experience in the Food and Beverage Industry into Real Estate, and was very successful at it. His powerful intuition was a huge asset in connecting people with places. I had contacted him a couple of years earlier to help my friend Janie Romer find a property here. He showed her the infamous Stakeout up on Outlaw Hill, and the rest is soon to be History! Pedro was also the listing agent on taoStyle’s very first Chic Shack post.
“Where is it?” I asked, “who does it belong to?”
“It’s Rene and Kimberly’s house,” Pedro said. “Can you come look at it tomorrow morning and bring Bill (Curry) to photograph it?”
When I arrived the following morning Pedro came to the gate of the compound to greet me. Bill was already shooting the property, his eyes filled with wonder. “Wait till you see this place,” he said when he saw me. “Its’s magical.”
The Wonderland I’d just entered was as if I had awakened from a surreal dream; trees and shrubbery had been pruned to resemble Japanese Bonsai, sculptures of every shape and medium along with wrought iron and old New Mexican primitive wooden furnishings decorated this Garden of Dreams that had been laid out with a quirky formality. Imperfect geometry in the pavings between plantings, fruit trees bent over with the weight of fruits that looked like jewels plucked from Alladin’s Cave, indicated this was no ordinary house and garden.
A pond filled with gold fish the size of salmon, was shaded from the sun by a sail-like awning. Behind it a sheltered Japanese Rock Garden beckoned. A rake leaned against the wall as if just used. Ahead of me, a riot of Russian Sage and Sunflowers raised their heads to that same sun from shadeless beds.
“Who did all this?” I asked Pedro.
“Rene.” He said with quiet finality.
Speechless, I followed him into the house, through the kitchen that could only belong to a serious chef – the juxtaposition of modern stainless appliances with old world comfort and charm pervaded the entire space. Rene’s European roots tempered by Kimberly’s need for modern American comfort.
“There were a lot of dinner parties here,” Pedro recalled as we stood there, “a lot of poker games and cigar smoke.” He smiled at the ghost of a memory. “This house has a lot of secrets in its history,” he remarked. “Secrets and dreams.”
And then he led me into Rene’s first studio. “There’s another in an outside building,” he explained. And there were the books.
As I said earlier, I needn’t have worried. The shelves were big enough, high enough and strong enough to bear the weight of Centuries.
Now as I write this, I leaf through these old books that Ernest loaned me, two of them were used to teach children to read.
“Learning to read was important, education was important,” Ernest remembered as he handed them to me.
I imagine they once lived on these same shelves.
As I left Century 21 with the pile of books in my arms, Pedro drove up in his truck. “Oh good, you’ll have plenty to write about now,” he laughed as I put the books on the passenger seat in my car. “That should keep you busy for a while.
It was a Friday afternoon, I headed home and spent the weekend pouring over the books. I had my youngest grand-daughter spending the night on Saturday and planned to spend Sunday writing about the house.
I wrote a rough draft about the Territorial style of the home, obviously rebuilt over time and added onto with the birth of new Generations and the passing of the Old. I noted the gracious proportions, the windows and skylights added to allow light and warmth to flood the spaces, given that most adobes of the era were tiny, dark and ill lit. It didn’t sit well with me so I decided to let it sit for a bit. I’d come back to it later.
On Monday morning I checked my emails and posted a new article on my blog which I shared to Facebook along with the other Social Media I use. I messaged Bill on Facebook letting him know I was working on the house post.
He responded immediately. I’m still in shock about Pedro, he wrote.
What? I queried. The phone rang.
Pedro had passed away that weekend suddenly and without warning. Like an eagle his soul took flight and was gone from the naked eye in a flash.
Life is but a flicker, I thought as I said a silent prayer. When Pedro had opened the gate to greet me at the compound, he asked how i was.
“Fine now,” I told him, “now that the cancer is under control.”
“What cancer?” He asked. “There’s no cancer in you, I could see it if there was.”
The next day I went down to Santa Fe for my monthly treatment. My oncologist skipped me to every two months after reviewing my blood work. “There’s nothing there,” she said. “It’s just maintenance now.” Pedro was right. He could “see”.
Pedro followed a couple of his compadres who had passed away months earlier. Arturo Ramos (whose Taos office was the fireside table at the Trading Post Cafe) and Chef Rene, who departed soon after Arturo. His widow Kimberly recently acquired the Bent Street Deli at the end of the John Dunn Shops, and the Trading Post continues to run smoothly, but she’s ready for a change in living arrangements; with Rene gone who is going to prune the faux Bonsai?
With Pedro gone and the fireside table no longer Arturo’s office, it’s the end of an era.
Tomorrow I shall return the books Ernest loaned me.
For more information about this truly extraordinary Hacienda, please visit Century 21’s site listed below this post and contact Paul Romero for all details pertaining to this property. You can reach Paul directly @ 575-770-7581.
Photographs by Bill Curry