Literary Landmarks Tour
Coming to town? Click on above image for a viewable map of this tour. Click here for a downloadable, printable PDF version.
Last century, a group of writers trekked to Santa Fe, finding inspiration in the region's majestic landscape, cultural diversity and rugged remoteness.
These writers formed a literary colony that, during its heyday from the 1920s to the 1940s, produced bestselling books as well as hundreds of articles, essays and poems that reached readers around the country, helping to promote Santa Fe as a popular tourist destination.
Some of the most prominent writers connected to this colony included novelist Willa Cather; author, playwright and essayist Mary Austin, poet Witter Bynner and British novelist D.H. Lawrence. The legacies of this literary colony remain strong today, as many of the writers' books are still in print as local bestsellers. The sites where they once lived and gathered still stand as strong testaments to this remarkable literary era.
This tour of Literary Santa Fe takes you to the homes and gathering places of these writers, revealing the rich legacies of Santa Fe's golden literary era.
The tour begins on the Santa Fe Plaza at the oldest extant public building in the country, the Palace of the Governors, located at 100 Palace Ave.
Lew Wallace, who served as territorial governor of New Mexico from 1878 to 1881, wrote one of the best-known books to be written in New Mexico, Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ. Published in 1880, it became an instant bestseller and has never gone out of print. According to legend, Wallace completed Ben Hur while living at the Palace, and his chair and writing table are part of the collection of The Palace of the Governors.
Just a few steps away you'll come to Sena Plaza, a courtyard located off of Palace Avenue. This was once the home of the Villagra Book Shop, which opened here in 1927, having relocated from its nearby spot inside a stationary store. (Today, the shop houses Gusterman Silversmiths.)
The Villagra was a famous gathering spot for local and visiting writers, who often stopped by for a daily tea time, which featured martinis and gossip. A chair placed by the corner fireplace was usually occupied by famous browsers, including Willa Cather, who wrote the classic novel Death Comes for the Archbishop, about the life of New Mexico's first archbishop, Jean Baptiste Lamy. Lamy is responsible for Santa Fe's best known landmark, the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, which he had built in the Romanesque style starting in 1869.
The Plaza, the heart and soul of downtown Santa Fe, was the setting for Ride the Pink Horse, a popular mystery by Dorothy Hughes published in 1946. The Plaza played a prominent role in this novel, and the title makes reference to a carousel called Tio Vivo, which was a mainstay on the plaza during the Santa Fe Fiesta celebrations. A major motion picture version of Ride the Pink Horse was released in 1947.
La Fonda, located across the street from the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi is a former Harvey House that has lodged many famous visitors, including Willa Cather, who came up with the idea to write Death Comes for the Archbishop while she was a guest here. La Fonda was one of the most popular gathering spots for local and visiting writers during the colony era. They frequently met for lunch and drinks here, and also held their annual masquerade balls, which featured themes such as the 1932 Jungle Ball, which drew 500 guests dressed as explorers, missionaries, monkeys and tribal natives dressed in grease paint, grass skirts and feathers.
Walk a few blocks north of the Plaza to 342 Buena Vista St., the home of poet Witter Bynner, now the Inn of the Turquoise Bear. The innkeepers have lovingly maintained the house much as Bynner left it.
Bynner moved to Santa Fe in 1922 and purchased this property, which then included a three-room adobe and outside shack that he converted into a writing studio. Over the next 40 years, he added rooms to create this sprawling adobe, including a second story addition that he financed by selling manuscripts of short stories by O. Henry. He aptly named this second floor "The O. Henry Story."
Bynner threw legendary parties with guest lists that included many of the era's movers and shakers, including Willa Cather, Robert Frost, W.H. Auden, Ansel Adams, Alduous Huxley, Martha Graham, Georgia O'Keeffe and Thornton Wilder. Possibly his most famous guest was esteemed British author D.H. Lawrence and his wife Frieda, who spent their first night in New Mexico here in 1922.
A few blocks away, at 438 Camino Monte Sol, is the former home of Mary Austin, one of the mainstays of the Santa Fe writers colony. Austin was a celebrated novelist, playwright, essayist and the first feminist, naturalist writer who moved to Santa Fe in 1924 and built an elegant adobe home she called "Casa Querida," Spanish for "beloved home."
Austin was devoted to Native American rights and historic preservation. She was a co-founder of the Spanish Colonial Arts Society and filled her home with Native American and Spanish Colonial art. Her best-known works about New Mexico include the non-fiction book, The Land of Journey's Ending and the novel, Starry Adventure. Today, the building is home to Chiaroscuro Contemporary Art, but in Austin's day, Casa Querida hosted many literary readings, salons and a fine arts school.
If you're looking for books by these Santa Fe writers, here are a few excellent places to visit:
The Southwest Reading Room of the Santa Fe Public Library, at 145 Washington Ave., is a great resource for books by and about the authors of the Santa Fe Writers Colony. There are also contemporary fiction and nonfiction works by Santa Fe authors, as well as books about New Mexico that are hard to find or out of print.
The Fray Angelico Chavez History Library, at 120 Washington Ave., is named for the Franciscan priest and Santa Fe resident who was a prolific author of fiction, nonfiction and poetry. The library contains many literary treasures, including copies of conquistador Villagra's1610 epic poem, and notebooks and papers of anthropologist Adolph Bandelier, namesake of the Bandelier National Monument.
The following books served as sources for this tour:
Walks In Literary Santa Fe: A Guide to Landmarks, Legends, and Lore by Barbara Harrelson.
Santa Fe and Taos: The Writer's Era, 1916-1941 by Marta Weigle and Kyle Fiore
Literary Pilgrims: The Santa Fe and Taos Writers' Colonies, 1917-1950 by Lynn Cline
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