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About Espanola, New Mexico
Community spirit is growing by leaps and bounds. With that growth, a vigorous new era may be just ahead for the city.
When people think of Northern New Mexico, it's Santa Fe that often comes to mind. But if you want to experience the true essence of traditional norteno culture, you'll find a much better sampling in Espanola.
Twenty miles north of Santa Fe on Hwy. 285, Espanola has for a century been the heart of New Mexico's northern mountain and pueblo communities, a place where indigenous people red and brown, along with a few descendants of early Anglo settlers, have done their business. In comparison, modern-day Santa Fe, at least on the surface, is a sort of fantasy - an out-of-control invention of some clever public relations whiz, with its carefully-packaged mud look and smooth, marketable charm.
In rough and ready Espanola (long the source of a somewhat racism-tinged institution known as the "Espanola joke"), you'll find no historic-adobe building code. Trailers sit squarely beside adobes, which rest alongside tract and even luxury housing. Low riders still jam up traffic on the main avenue, rumbling alongside old pickups stacked high with firewood. Abuelas y abuelos hunch on storefront sidewalks, pausing to talk about old times and new changes, of deaths and births, family triumphs and tragedies. Just as they've done in the area for nearly four centuries.
These days, those old folks often talk about change. Profound changes are coming to this town of 10,000, which serves as the business and cultural hub for numerous mountain villages as distant as the Colorado border. Close to 60,000 people rely on Espanola to satisfy their basic and other needs. Lately, more and more business owners have taken note of that expansive market; many are investigating the possibility of starting up or relocating here. New residents are coming too, as evidenced by five new housing developments that have sprung up in the past few years.
With Santa Fe and even Taos grown too expensive to justify the overhead, many tourism-oriented and other entrepreneurs are considering a move to Espanola. That impulse has been aided recently by a decline in tourism in the state, which makes the two main tourist centers less attractive as high-rent commercial sites. Indeed, according to Espanola Chamber of Commerce manager Liddy Martinez, the Santa Fe Plaza will soon be short a few tenants. They're already packing their bags, escaping rents that now exceed per square foot in favor of Espanola's more blood pressure-friendly rates. Those moves may well be the start of a trend.
Martinez reports a swelling of business interest in Espanola: "People are coming in, and I have a big stack of letters from potential businesses. These are follow-up letters. They've been doing their homework." An Arizona-based arts and crafts company will likely build a store in town soon; a major health food grocer is also expressing interest in building an Espanola store. Computer and communications firms are moving in, some planning new buildings, others starting-up in home offices. Both the city and Santa Clara Pueblo were courting Wal-Mart. Many here believe Espanola residents make trips to Santa Fe specifically to visit the discount department store, leaving food, gas and other money in the capital city instead of in their own community.
At Espanola Industrial Park, Nambe Mills (relocated from Santa Fe in what will be a multi-phase move of their entire silver working operation) is in the forefront of an industrial expansion that may soon see a host of businesses taking advantage of the city's relatively low-cost industrial land.
Ironically, the tourism side of business growth in Espanola may actually precede the development of tourist destinations in town. Despite its status as a way station for tourists visiting pueblos, ruins, natural areas and other attractions in the region, Espanola has never offered more than a smattering of tourist attractions within its own history-rich borders. That will soon change.
Espanola's history is long and colorful. It was founded as a railroad town along with construction of the Santa Fe Railroad, which operated in the area from 1889 to 1941. Legend has it that a Spanish woman sold food from a tent on the present town site. When a worker was hungry, he was advised to "go to La Espanola." The name stuck and the city was born.
But history in this region runs back well before railroad days. Native Americans have inhabited the region for over a thousand years, and maybe for ten times that long. Nearby Bandelier National Monument is just one of numerous prehistoric ruins in the area.
New Mexico's first Spanish community was established by Don Juan de Onate in 1598, just north of city limits on San Juan Pueblo land. That settlement was short-lived as Santa Fe took over as the focal point of conquering Spaniards. But the village of Santa Cruz, now a sort of Espanola suburb, has been an active norteno community for over two centuries, its ancient church a landmark in the area.
Moving the Economy
If optimism is a measure of potential change, Espanola is in for a groundswell of new activity. "Local pride is at an all-time high," says Espanola Chamber of Commerce manager Liddy Martinez. The reason for - and the result of - that pride is a series of efforts to reinvigorate the town's image and attractiveness as a business and tourism center.
New blood is stirring up fresh opportunities. Many younger people, tired of having to leave their beloved homes and families to seek out opportunities, are striving to create new ones here. Education rates are rising, and with them the size of people's dreams.
To give the "new Espanola" an initial facelift, Espanola Main Street, Inc. is playing a big role in refurbishment of the city's historic downtown area. Through a proposed 0,000 grant for ISTEA (state transportation) funding, an historic five block stretch between Espanola Plaza and the Rio Grande Bridge may soon see widened sidewalks, railroad-era lighting and small gathering areas, along a boulevard leading to a newly-developing park and plaza.
Main Street director Steve Justrich says support from the community is widespread and growing. Sunwest Bank, for one, offers low-cost loans for downtown property renovation.
The upgrading of Espanola's historic downtown has already begun to draw new business to the area. Half a dozen entrepreneurs have opened shops on the street within the past year. Building owners are encouraged both by main Street (which provides architectural support) and the city to improve at least the exteriors of unoccupied structures. Cleaning up the area is part of an overall effort to re-invent a downtown that had been allowed to run down and fragment.
Mission Convento, a centerpiece of plaza tourism development, will be a replica (as close as historians can determine) of the original church built in 1598 at the San Gabriel settlement founded nearby during Onate's reign. That million-plus museum will be flanked by other museums chronicling Indian and Spanish culture in the area, along with shops and a cafe. Santa Clara Pueblo is also considering moving the annual Northern Pueblos arts and crafts fair to the area.
Games People Play
Espanola's proximity to the northern pueblos enhances its cultural richness. But that proximity also fosters what may be clouds on the city's bright horizon. Indian gambling is a dominant influence on the city, though the verdict is still out on its ultimate impact. On both ends of town, large casinos have sprung up from humble bingo operations. Cities of Gold Casino in Pojoaque, seven miles south of Espanola, and San Juan's Ohkay Casino at Espanola's northern border, draw nightly crowds that jam the parking lots. (A third casino at Tesuque Pueblo is also in operation.) Many of the patrons are local.
First Security Bank's Espanola branch manager, Rudy Roybal, reports that local banks have seen a rise in bad checks, savings and casino ATM withdrawals, a trend he and other bankers trace directly to gambling. That money, which once went into retail tills throughout the city, has helped fuel a variety of economic and social benefits for the tribes. At the same time, some city businesses have felt the sting of lessened revenues. And the city itself receives no direct share of gambling proceeds in the form of gross receipts.
On the pro side of the issue, hundreds of Native American and other workers have found well-paying jobs at the gambling halls, adding their incomes to the local economic base. Pojoaque alone, with its casino and other aggressive commercial ventures (including a new 75-staff sports bar), employs around 700 workers, some from Espanola. San Juan's casino employment runs at over 200. Some local car dealers have reported that sales to casino employees are up (though others report a severe sales decline over the past year). Also, gamblers may be arriving from outside the community, shopping and eating in town with what money they manage to hang onto after visiting Pojoaque or San Juan. That money benefits the entire city.
Gross receipts in Espanola are up nearly 0,000 from last year, growth that seems to parallel nearby gambling expansions. Espanola mayor Ross Chavez isn't sure yet how to interpret the recent rise in tax revenues. Non-gambling businesses have also entered the area in recent years, including two motels, several restaurants and a variety of other small ventures. "We need a little more time for this all to shake down," he says. "Then we'll get a better reflection of the impact of gambling on this community."
Chavez doesn't favor gambling in the community, he says, "but if it's going to be here, I only hope the pueblos will contribute to the city and its people.' He points out that local Pueblans benefit from city services. "And after all," he adds, "if it wasn't for Espanola, there would be no casinos." He would like to see local tribes arrange "mini-compacts" with Espanola, guaranteeing a slice of the take to support city operations.
Likewise, city officials are concerned that Santa Clara Pueblo has recently purchased Big Rock Shopping Center, the largest commercial center in town. Again the dominant concern is gross receipts. For the city, the question of whether a tribal operation within city limits is taxable remains unclear.
The Los Alamos Influence
Recent Los Alamos layoffs represent another potential cloud over the community. But thus far, says Chavez, there hasn't been any noticeable downturn in the economy due to those job losses. The estimated impact of some 67 Rio Arriba workers laid off from the Lab has resulted in an economic impact of .3 million. But many of those people have likely found other employment, some launching new businesses that may ultimately improve Espanola's economic picture.
Under recent public pressure, the Department of Energy has increased its role as an economic development source, with a recent grant of million to the Espanola Valley (which includes Los Alamos).
Close to 0,000 of Espanola's share of that money is already earmarked for construction of a "business incubator" at the Espanola Industrial Park. Unlike many such "incubators," this one offers a slight twist. Like those in Taos and Santa Fe, it will help local small-scale entrepreneurs find low-cost space and shared administrative support. But the Espanola Trade Resource Center will focus its benefits as much on recruiting large and small firms from out of town as it does on incubating local startups.
The first tenant will likely be a fledgling HD-ROM manufacturing operation headed by a Santa Fe entrepreneur. The relocation of part of Nambe Mills' silver tableware operation to the park, says mayor Chavez, was clearly a force in attracting additional interest in the Espanola site. Their move from Santa Fe represents what may be one of Espanola's greatest business assets: inflation of land and other costs in Santa Fe (and Taos). By allowing land and tax inflation to run rampant, the capital city may have begun to squeeze itself out of the business recruitment business. Santa Fe's loss will likely be Espanola's gain.
Northern New Mexico Community College is also responding the accelerating high tech presence in Espanola, helping create a pool of techies who will likely find jobs in town and in other parts of the state. With support from Intel Corp., based in Rio Rancho, NNMCC has recently launched an effort to upgrade the high technology course offerings available there. The effort is part of Intel's course sponsorship at all five New Mexico community colleges.
Response has been strong at NNMCC, with a doubling of high tech students this year (up to 58 from 1995) attending intel-sponsored classes in microelectronics, robotics, semi-conductor manufacturing and other technological skills. Course instructor Juergen Przyllas reports more than 100 phone inquiries regarding his electronics courses within a recent four-month period.
Intel entered the college recruitment and instructional scene primarily to bump up the number of qualified workers for its expanding Rio Rancho facility. There, Intel projects a need for 500 trained employees in 1996, estimating that only half that number are now available within the state. The company's efforts will increase its own employee pool and some of those workers will likely find employment in the expanding Espanola job market.
Chamber manager Liddy Martinez points out that despite the poor reputation Espanola has suffered in the past, "People who come are pleasantly surprised to find a community that thrives, and to see that we really do represent three cultures who can live together peacefully, with mutual respect."
The community spirit of Espanola is growing by leaps and bounds. With that growth in pride, a vigorous new era of economic growth and opportunity may be just ahead for the city.
And that's no joke.
The New Mexico Business Journal
Espanola was founded in the 1880s as a stop on the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad. The railroad has disappeared, but the city has grown and prospered as the commercial center for the Valley's smaller villages.
A community rich in tradition and values, the cultural quilt of Espanola encompasses many centuries of history. From the moment Don Juan de Oñate established the first new-world capital here some 400 years ago, Espanola has been defined by diversity and cultural mobility-everything from extraordinary lowrider automobiles to world -class dining and sightseeing. Deep Hispanic family roots coexist easily with contemporary values and practices, giving Espanola its own unique personality. In July the City commemorates the Valley's founding in 1598 with the Fiesta del Valle de Espanola. The farolitos and luminarias lining the streets give Christmas Eve a special New Mexican flavor.
Near the Junction of the Rio Grande and the Chama river, across the bridge from San Juan Indian Pueblo, the ruins of San Gabriel de Españoles overlook a broad valley. Here, Captain Juan de Oñate settled his colony July 11, 1598.
Oñate laid out the first "acequia", or irrigation system. Tradition gives the present San Juan acequia as the first one established by the colony and therefore, the oldest irrigation canal in the United States.
He brought from Mexico about three thousand head of sheep for breeding and one thousand to be slaughtered and eaten or used to feed the group. His livestock included 1000 goats, 300 black cattle, and 150 mares and colts. The San Juan Indians had welcomed the Spanish in 1598. In 1680 they took the lead in expelling the colonists.
The Indians had been under Spanish rule for three or four generations. Finally a San Juan Indian with great administrative ability, succeeded in organizing many of the natives and planning an uprising. Tradition gives as the immediate cause of hostilities, the caving in of a silver mine with great loss of life by the enslaved Indians.
Because mining had been carried on by the Colonists, the Natives destroyed all traces of the mines.
In April of 1695, De Vargas personally led the settlers from Santa Fe to Santa Cruz. The resetlement of the valley by DeVargas was named La Villa Nueva de Santa Cruz de los Españoles Mexicanos del rey nuestro Don Carlos Segundo. It was called Villa Nuevo because the original Vialla built by Oñate colonists had been largely destroyed by the Indians qho raided it in 1669. It was usually referred to as Villa Nueva or La Cañada. Espanola became a city in 1880 when the Denver and Rio Grande Western RailRoad, the famous "Chile Line" arrived.
Nestled between the Sangre de Cristos and Jemez mountain ranges, Espanola is made up of three great civilizations: Indian , Spanish and Anglo. The Espanola Valley and its surrounding country is a fascinating spot for those who love color and romance as well as beautiful valleys and the trails of the high mountain country.
Here in the Espanola Valley, Spanish-settled villages and Indian Pueblos are connected by a continuous thread of history, rich culture and deeply rooted traditions. More than many places, there’s a visceral feeling of walking in the footsteps of ancestors, yet standing very much in the present.
Bond House at 710 Bond Street in Espanola is entered in the National Register of Historic Places. Built between 1887 and 1911 by an early railroad pioneer, Bond House is a fine example of regional architecture unique to North Central New Mexico. Information: (505) 747-8535.
Map of Espanola
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