San Miguel Chapel ~ 21st Century Preservation
History of Emeritus Director Dave Blackman's involvement with the preservation of San Miguel Chapel
Dave became a member of the Board of Trustees of St. Michael's High School (SMHS) in 2001. SMHS is the owner of San Miguel Chapel, a centuries-old adobe structure and the still-point origin of Santa Fe. San Miguel Chapel, located at 401 Old Santa Fe Trail, is the significant historical structure within the Barrio de Analco Historic District.
The SMHS Board of Trustees became aware by 2002 that there were significant structural problems with San Miguel Chapel caused by ongoing water damage. As a Board member, Dave volunteered in 2002 to get involved with the preservation of San Miguel Chapel (SMC). Dave was aware that Cornerstones Community Partnerships -- a local, preservation-focused, non-profit -- was the one organization that could help SMHS solve the structural problems it was facing at SMC. He knew that Cornerstones would be able to provide technical expertise in restoring adobe structures as well as expertise in grant-writing and organizing preservation projects. Dave contacted Jim Hare, the Executive Director of Cornerstones, to propose that Cornerstones enter into an agreement to partner with SMHS on the preservation of SMC. Cornerstones agreed to the idea, and a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) was finalized for Cornerstones and SMHS to work collaboratively on a project to restore and preserve SMC. The SMHS Board approved the MOA with Cornerstones in 2003.
To prepare for the preservation project, SMHS commissioned a material investigation, and Cornerstones applied for and was awarded a Getty Foundation Grant to fund this work. Dave worked closely with Pat Taylor, Cornerstones Program Director at that time, throughout the assessment process. He briefed the SMHS Board as the assessment proceeded and gave them a final report of the extensive findings, which were described in the San Miguel Chapel Conditions Assessment and Preservation Plan, published in March 2009. The assessment revealed that San Miguel Chapel was in immediate need of preservation. The exterior cement stucco had reached the end of its useful life and had developed cracks that allowed water to seep into the adobe walls, causing major deterioration. A failed drainage system had caused further water retention in the walls. Vigas in the roof urgently needed repair and restoration. Works of art inside the building were in need of conservation. Site conditions and structural systems had reached a point where major conservation, maintenance and repair would be required to preserve San Miguel -- a multi-year preservation project. The Preservation Plan included project information, preliminary cost estimates, and a construction schedule proposal.
Dave was very persuasive and instrumental in convincing the Board to give their approval for the San Miguel preservation project. The main decision facing the Board was whether to re-stucco the Chapel after repairs were completed, or to restore it to its origins as an adobe structure. Dave explained that returning the Chapel to its historical adobe construction would require regular maintenance of the adobe exterior after the project was completed, but that Cornerstones would be actively involved in these efforts and would engage the community in the seasonal "mudding" projects. Dave successfully argued that restoring SMC to a purely adobe building would be the more desirable course and would allow SMHS to partner with Cornerstones on the project.
With Board approval to proceed, Cornerstones then applied for a National Park Service (NPS) Save America's Treasures matching grant (50% federal funds, 50% matching non-federal funds) to fund the work. The grant was obtained, and the work began in 2010. As the work proceeded, Dave worked closely with Jake Barrow (the Cornerstones Program Director) and provided progress reports to the Board. Dave informed the Board when it was time to apply for additional grants and to release SMHS funds to continue the work. In the face of Dave's passionate advocacy, the Board supported these requests. Cornerstones very generously did fundraising for SMC on their own platform, tapping their own donor base, and they provided 50% of the required matching funds to pay for the preservation of SMC, with SMHS providing the other 50%. Throughout all phases of this project, all of the funding required from SMHS has been generated by San Miguel Chapel through donations, Masses conducted at SMC, donations from community members and visitors, and "in-kind" contributions of time and resources on the part of members of the community -- the same way that efforts to preserve and restore San Miguel have been funded throughout its history.
San Miguel's drainage problems turned out to be very extensive and complicated, and the remediation effort, which began in the fall of 2009, required input and approval from multiple constituencies and the involvement of various experts, including engineers and archeologists. The massive project to repair and restore the exterior of SMC began in 2010 and took three years to complete. The project involved stripping off the old cement stucco that covered the building, repairing or replacing the adobe bricks that had deteriorated, and plastering the repaired external walls -- a long, laborious process that could only be carried out during warmer, drier times of the year. Most of the repair and restoration work was completed by 2013, with the exception of the bell tower, which was structurally unstable and needed significant reinforcement and restoration to full adobe construction with a plaster finish. The bell tower project was completed in 2014.
Throughout the preservation process, Cornerstones has proven to be an excellent, indispensible and fully-committed partner every step of the way. SMHS also has received tremendous support from the City of Santa Fe and from the State of New Mexico (which owns property adjoining SMC). All in all, the entire multi-year project has been a positive example of community collaboration and cooperation.
Since then, Dave has continued to work closely with Jake Barrow, the current Executive Director of Cornerstones, to ensure the funding and completion of necessary projects, including a new roof for the SMC gift shop, as well as annual adobe maintenance work, involving training opportunities for students, preservationists, and interested community members.
Dave's role goes well beyond his work as the liaison between the SMHS Board and Cornerstones for the preservation of San Miguel Chapel. He has introduced new ways of expanding the community of people who support SMC. He worked with members of the Santa Fe Opera orchestra (2020-2022) to bring top-rate chamber music to San Miguel in a series of concerts performed by SFO musicians, with concert proceeds supporting the preservation of San Miguel. Dave also instituted a San Miguel Scholarship Program for SMHS students, funded by contributions to SMC. Dave also managed the docent program at SMC, with dedicated volunteer docents available to greet and educate the many visitors to the Chapel.
Photography: Laurianne Fiorentino