Regional
6:00 am
Thu January 23, 2014

NMSU Students Move Forward On Nominating Mesilla Park As Historic District

Students from NMSU Professor Jon Hunner's historic preservation class present the results of their preliminary survey to the community of Mesilla Park. Their goal is to nominate the neighborhood as a historic district on the New Mexico Register of Culture Properties and the National Register of Historic Places. (Photo by Isabel Rodriguez)
Students from NMSU Professor Jon Hunner's historic preservation class present the results of their preliminary survey to the community of Mesilla Park. Their goal is to nominate the neighborhood as a historic district on the New Mexico Register of Culture Properties and the National Register of Historic Places. (Photo by Isabel Rodriguez)

  The neighborhood was once home to astronomer Clyde Tombaugh who discovered Pluto and Ralph Goddard, a former dean at New Mexico State University who created a radio station at NMSU in the 1920s, broadcasting one of the first radio signals west of the Mississippi. 

Now an NMSU professor is leading a group of students through the process to nominate Mesilla Park as a historic district.

"We're looking for different significances about the homes - if there was somebody important to the history of Mesilla Valley or state who lived here, the activities that happened here, buildings that have an interesting architectural style. Those are some of the categories we look at," said Jon Hunner, history professor in NMSU's College of Arts and Sciences.

Under Hunner's supervision, the students in his historical preservation class began the first step of surveying Mesilla Park in November with the hope they can preserve the area's cultural heritage by adding the neighborhood to the New Mexico Register of Cultural Properties and the National Register of Historic Places. The state and national registers already include the towns of Mesilla and Dona Ana, the Alameda Historic Depot District and the Mesquite Original Townsite District.

The Mesilla Park district will cover a small portion of Mesilla, as well as Las Cruces, and includes private homes, state properties and county buildings.

"I personally didn't know much about it, and it helped bring context to our survey," said Addison Warner, anthropology student. "I feel adamant about doing this, now that I know more about it. For the most part, people have been fairly interested in it."

The students presented preliminary results of their study in December. Hunner and his students will give another presentation from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Frank O'Brien Papen Community Center in Mesilla Park Saturday, Feb. 1, in an effort to gain more community support for the project. 

"It'll probably take another year or two to finish this nomination," Hunner said. "We're going to be surveying more than 200 homes. This class will probably survey about 70. This is just the start. It's a long, multi-year process." 

A historic district is a geographically defined area that has significant concentration of historic resources. An area may be distinct for the quality of architecture as well as for the story it tells about the community. Some structures in Mesilla Park date back to the 1860s. 

In addition to taking notes about the architectural styles, elevation and add-ons, students spoke to homeowners about their plans for the nomination.

"It should bring a lot of awareness and historical value to the neighborhood," Warner said. "In class we went over the laws and guidelines of how you would look at different buildings, looking at the integrity and significance of structures. We talked about the different values of being on a national register and the history of the area."

History graduate student Julie Wojtko said the most common concern she heard from residents was whether they would still be allowed to make changes to their homes and the answer is yes. Homeowners will still be able to renovate their private properties after the designation. 

Benefits of living in a historic district include eligibility to receive New Mexico tax credit for approved work done to homes. There's also a possibility the real estate prices in the neighborhood would stabilize. Hunner said he hopes it encourages residents to take pride in their neighborhood. 

Hunner has assisted with other nominations and his students have been hired to review other nominations, but the Mesilla Park district will be the first he's been involved with from start to finish.

"What's nice is that students will be able to put this on their resumes," Hunner said. "That's part of the value of this; to have students out in the field."

When surveying and researching is complete, the nomination is submitted to the New Mexico Historic Preservation Division. If approved it will be forwarded to the Culteral Properties Review Committee of the state, where committee members will decide whether it will be added to the state registry. 

"A lot of people who helped make Las Cruces and Mesilla Park what it is, lived and worked here and made the community grow and flourish," Wojtko said. "This district is so important historically. It would be a draw for tourists."