Strolling Our Streets: Mesquite Historic District
Mesquite Street runs through the oldest part on Las Cruces on the same route that brought conquistadors from what is now Mexico City to Santa Fe, and, some say, was an even older pathway for indigenous and pueblo peoples
Editor’s Note: Strolling Our Streets is a continuing series focusing on local history and ambience during one-mile ambles in neighborhoods around the Mesilla Valley.
LAS CRUCES – Within less than a mile, you can stroll past some of the oldest adobe homes in the area, visit popular restaurants, enjoy a variety of cutting edge art at several galleries and play with your kids in two pretty little parks.
Mesquite Street runs through the oldest part on Las Cruces on the same route that brought conquistadors from what is now Mexico City to Santa Fe, and some say was an even older pathway for indigenous and pueblo peoples thousands of years ago. Today it’s part of El Camino de Tierra Adrentro (The Royal Road of the Interior Land) National Historic Trail.
A stretch of Mesquite Street from Spruce Avenue to Amador is the el corazon del corazon (the heart of the heart) of Mesquite Street and the historic neighborhood.
Sylvia Camuñez believes it’s an irreplaceable piece of history that could also be a boon to the future of Las Cruces.
Members of Las Esperanzas, a nonprofit neighborhood group founded in 1999, remain bullish on the neighborhood’s potential, said Camuñez, who joined the group in 2000, and helped create city ordinances to protect, preserve and restore the area and bring stylish lights, historic district street signs and a commemorative park, Jardín de Mesquite, to the neighborhood. The park, which features tiled murals by Glenn Schwaiger and his students documenting the history of the neighborhood, is a great place to start your stroll.
Downtown urban renewal destroyed much of the city’s original townsite created after the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo made New Mexico a U.S territory in 1848. In 1849, Lt. Delos Bennett Sackett used rawhide ropes to plot lots, which Don Pablo Melendrez, mayor of the village of Doña Ana, offered as free land to those willing to move south. More than 100 citizens, including “a mix of Mexican-Americans, Pueblo Indian descendants and Eastern Americans” gathered to draw numbers from a hat for the best homesites in what would become Las Cruces, according to a National Park Service/U.S. Department of the Interior history of the region on www.nps.gov
With her sister, Irene Oliver-Lewis, Camuñez said she has recently led several tours of the neighborhood for interested visitors that include consultants developing a new exhibit for the Branigan Cultural Center and delegates to a statewide conference of zoning officials interested in historic preservation.
“It could be the whole focal point of a creative artistic and historical and business economy. There is such an important historic connection of the areas from Doña Ana to Las Cruces and Mesilla. There are homes that date to the early 1900s and late 1800s and a lot of the relatives and descendants of the original settlers still own family homes and live in the neighborhood,” Camuñez said.
“We have a gem here that we’re not displaying as well as we could,” said Oliver-Lewis, who lives nearby with her sister in a family adobe compound restored and expanded by her late parents.
Artist Michael Ponce returned to his hometown to restore and live in a house nearby and to establish a gallery on the corner of Mesquite and Hadley, which he currently shares with artist Noah MacDonald. The establishment is now known as Camino Tattoo and Fine Art Studio. Another building that also offers both art exhibits and tattoo services, Real Inx Fine Art Tattoo, is close by at 420 N. Mesquite St.
“I moved here in 2007. I think more young professionals are buying houses and opening businesses in the area,” Ponce said.
Some think Mesquite could be “the Canyon Road of Las Cruces,” a reference to Santa Fe’s thriving street of art galleries in historic adobe homes. In recent years, there have been attempts to hold periodic studio and gallery tours in the area, which has attracted a group of artists from Australia, Belgium and throughout the United States who have established residences, studios and galleries on Mesquite Street.
Among the galleries that offer rotating shows and exhibits are fine art photographer Mel Stone’s Mesquite Gallery, 340 N. Mesquite St., Cactus Flower Gallery & Consignment, 517 N. Mesquite St., and Unsettled Gallery and Studio, 905 N. Mesquite St., which offers contemporary works by leading regional artists and has hosted two international exchange exhibits with Australia.
Victor Gallegos frequently hosts group art shows and arts and crafts workshops at Nopalito’s Galeria, in a renovated adobe owned by his family for generations, next door to his popular restaurant, Nopalito’s, at 310 S. Mesquite St.
Other neighborhood favorites for a meal or snack include La Nueva Casita Café, 195 N. Mesquite, which like Nopalito’s, features picturesque murals, and Beck’s Coffee House, 130 N. Mesquite.
Or pack a picnic and plan a leisurely hour at Klein Memorial Park on the block surrounded by Mesquite, East Organ Avenue, East Griggs Avenue and San Pedro Street. It’s the site of periodic events throughout the year, including concerts, Christmas holiday gatherings and the recent Zoot Suit Pachanga.
Dolores Archuleta, president of Las Esperanzas, said the first phase of a Klein Park spruce-up is just about complete. “The walls and the stage have been painted in beautiful colors and we’ve added electricity,” Archuleta said.
Over the past two decades, the nonprofit neighborhood group has “initiated and completed more than $1 million in neighborhood projects” to help improve the neighborhood according to las-esperanzas.com
Sunshine Grocery & Grill at Mesquite and Hadley is an iconic neighborhood landmark that inspires paintings and photos and visionary speculations about new uses. Though vacant for many years, the beloved market sometimes hosts workshops and events.
Whether you’re interested in history, new visions for the future of downtown Las Cruces, inspirational art experiences, or just a quiet amble with family and friends, there is something timeless and lovely about the heart of old Mesquite Street that’s perfect for a leisurely stroll.
S. Derrickson Moore may be reached at 575-541-5450, email@example.com or @derricksonmoore on Twitter.