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Isaac Hamilton Rapp and New Mexico Architecture

Isaac Hamilton Rapp was a pioneering architect in what came to be known as the Spanish-Pueblo Revival style.

By Paul Weideman

Isaac Hamilton Rapp (1854-1933) was a pioneering architect in what came to be known as the Spanish-Pueblo Revival style or “Santa Fe Style.” 

Illinois natives, Isaac Rapp and his younger brother William Rapp, worked as architects although they weren’t school-trained in that discipline.  Instead, they apprenticed under their father, a builder who also owned a mill that produced doors, windows and molding.

Working out of Trinidad, Colorado, during a time when architecture was about to be identified as a marketable hallmark of New Mexico, Isaac Rapp designed dozens of significant buildings, including Santa Fe’s domed state capitol (drawn in 1896), the First Ward School (1906) and St. Vincent Sanatorium/Marian Hall (1908). 

In the second decade of the century, Edgar Lee Hewett and his associates at the Museum of New Mexico put together the “New-Old” building style based on Pueblo precedents.  They believed it was historically appropriate – and thus a fitting antidote to the Americanization that threatened to put a Colonial-style bank on every available corner – but they also thought it would attract visitors and badly needed tourist dollars.

Incorporating the suggestions of some of the more ardent conservationists within the local civic-minded community, Rapp designed both the main building at Sunmount Sanitarium and the Gross Kelly Almacen, the first commercial building employing the style in 1914.

Gross Kelly & Co. evolved from the pioneering forwarding and commission houses that set up businesses at the railheads of the westward-advancing railroad, according to an article in the October 1989 Bulletin of the Historic Santa Fe Foundation.  These firms served the important function of transferring goods manufactured in the Eastern United States from railheads to final destinations, and of facilitating their exchange for livestock, timber, wool and the other raw materials of the Western frontier.

For Gross Kelly’s Santa Fe warehouse, president Harry Warren Kelly chose Rapp & Rapp, whose major commissions already included the company’s headquarters in Las Vegas, New Mexico.  Rapp employed a symmetrical façade with side towers inspired by mission churches such as those at San Felipe and Acoma pueblos.

The building’s walls were made of brick but the architect added exterior stucco and other simulations – decorative viga ends projecting from exterior walls and concrete-formed battering to simulate the contours of adobe in concord with Spanish Pueblo Revival style.

 Over the next six years Rapp designed the New Mexico Building at San Diego’s Panama-California Exposition (1915), the Fine Arts Museum (1916), New Mexico School for the Deaf (1917) and La Fonda Hotel (1920) – the latter in the same year as the arrival in Santa Fe of John Gaw Meem, who today is most often associated with the Spanish Pueblo Revival style.

Rapp’s Museum of Fine Arts has long exemplified fine Southwestern architecture.  The design of the sensuous exterior he based on forms found in the various Hispanic churches along the Rio Grande.  The old mission church at Acoma Pueblo inspired the two belltowers flanking the museum’s main entrance.

The museum was the third replica of the Mission of San Estevan at Acoma, the first a warehouse at Morley, Colorado, and the second the New Mexico Building at the 1915 Panama-California Exposition.

Other style-distinctive elements of the impressive museum building include exterior buttress masses and deep window openings that accentuate the impression of solidity; rows of projecting vigas whose shadows play on the earth-toned surface; a fully enclosed placita (courtyard); and beams and corbels with bullet-carved decoration.

When architect Steven Robinson designed the massive, new Gerald Peters Gallery, he studied drawings of battered adobe walls such as those employed by Rapp and Meem.  As a result, some walls in the gallery are four feet thick in the base.

Rapp also designed the Rio Arriba County Courthouse in Tierra Amarilla which was the site of a famous 1967 raid by land-grant activist Reies Lopez Tijerina.

[Reproduced from the Santa Fe Real Estate Guide (January 5, 2003), pp. 48 & 113. Copyright 2003 The New Mexican, Inc.  Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.]