Taos Plaza Alert: Town Plan Dishonors Vets, Erases History

By: Bill Whaley
6 July, 2016

Tonight’s Planning and Zoning meeting at the Town of Taos Council Chambers will consider the following:

D. Case No. PZ 2016-40:

“Discussion, consideration and possible recommendation to the Town of Taos Town Council for the formal adoption of the Cultural Landscape report to serve as the guiding policy document for the future redevelopment of the Historic Taos Plaza.”

I will say that there are many good ideas in the report but the Mayor, Manager, and Council have proven “untrustworthy” when it comes to P&Z matters and/or “cultural sensitivity.” For example, see Smith’s debacle, the elimination of public participation in the Design and Review process, and how the Town ignores an ordinance that forbids closing the Plaza except for the annual Fiesta.

There is an obvious bias in the report toward, you know, cleaning things up and restoring the Plaza in terms of its pre-1950 character. What “newcomers” can’t understand in terms of the obvious is how the community has evolved not just as an “art community,” or product of “20th Century Tourism” with historic trade-center roots, but as the epitome of “Taos Funk,” wherein custom prevails over the rule of law and rule of design.

When you see a trailer home with attendant junk cars parked next to a million-dollar Santa Fe home, or the out-of-tune guitar player caterwauling on the Plaza, you have a good example of the community’s tolerant mores. (Even the local murderers run free until the APD picks them up on traffic stops.”)

Just as politicians lie about where they live or betray their constituents, so pop art and Sunday painters,  fine art and recycled art live side by side. Call it kitsch, call it history, call it funk.

Here’s the problem and the challenge for locals, whether native or newcomer, who live her because they like it. The agents of the “Taos Historic Plaza Cultural Landscape Report,” serve politicians and bureaucrats who have every intention of imposing a “vision” on the community.

Councilor Hahn has made it clear he envisions closing the Plaza to traffic year round: bye bye low riders, funky trucks, vintage autos, and your average Neon filled with tattooed gang-bangers.

This dangerous idea forecloses the historic and cultural affection, basic to rural and northern New Mexico Taosenos, who love their automobiles and cruising. Perhaps the council wants to “ban” locals in favor of creating one more quaint village park celebrating the monolithic culture of mainstream America.

The agents of cultural subversion, despite their good intentions, wrote in the report at the urging of the Town Council under

“Small Scale Features.”

“Potentially relocate, in collaboration with the community, non-contributing features with special significance including the War Memorial(s) and the Padre Martinez statue. If the War Memorial is removed, replace the flagpoles, since a flagpole occurred historically within the Plaza.

“If the War Memorial is retained, consider modifying its visual presence by removing adjacent walls and steps, and allowing for circulation around the memorial.

“If the Padre Martinez statue is retained, consider resetting the statue on a new plinth that is compatible with the historic setting. “

Though both the Bataan “War Memorial” and the statue of “Padre Martinez” are recent additions, one could hardly make an argument that either of these two cultural icons should be minimized and removed from the Plaza, unless one were trying to erase living breathing history.

In 2004 I wrote: “On a happy note, the council voted to allocate more than $9,000 to the Bataan Event in May. The living Bataan Veterans will be honored in May per the national story of New Mexico’s 200th and 515th coast artillery, the most highly decorated unit in world war 11. Sixty years after the Bataan Death March less than 44 of the 1,800 men that deployed to the Philippines in 1941 remain from New Mexico’s 200th and 515th Coast Artillery.

“For perhaps the last time, these honorable men will gather in Taos, New Mexico on May 7th, 8th, and 9th to relive their valiant efforts to hold off Japanese forces on the Bataan Peninsula, endure the Bataan Death March, three and a half years of Japanese captivity and their liberation by American forces in 1945. Only five Taos County Bataan Vets are still alive: Valdemar DeHerrera of Costilla, Tony Reyna, Mike Romero, and Robert Medina.”

After the event mentioned above, Robert Medina sat down and told me all about his life prior to and after WWII. He downplayed Bataan in comparison to his hardscrabble upbringing in northern New Mexico.

When I arrived on Taos Plaza in 1969 as the operator of the Taos Plaza Theatre, I met Bataan survivor Dow Bond, a local plumber, when he was knee deep in sewage downstairs in the girl’s bathroom. Then Bataan Survivor Major Jack Boyer served as mayordomo of the Kit Carson House and was a treasure of history and living history.

As we all know Tony Reyna is 100 years old and still as charming as ever.

Senator Carlos Cisneros pushed for a legislative grant to fund the statute of Padre Martinez. Padre Martinez himself could be the most famous historical Hispanic New Mexican. The famed educator taught both boys and girls and printed schoolbooks on his printing press, the first one in the Territory. That press was loaned to the First Territorial Legislature so lawmakers could print laws. Padre Martinez, ever controversial, was present behind the scenes at the “1847” Bent Massacre and served as the model for the “outlaw priest” in Willa Cather’s famed novel “Death Comes for the Archbishop.”

Come to the meeting tonight, Wednesday, July 6, 2016, at 6 pm and help Taosenos preserve the Plaza from the preservationists, who would erase history from the Plaza.

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