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Featured Project: St. Augustine Mission, Isleta Pueblo, New Mexico



                       St. Augustine Mission                                   Isleta Pueblo with St. Augustine in Background





            St. Augustine is the major contributing resource of the National Register Historic District within the Pueblo of Isleta, which meets the criteria for national significance in the areas of architecture, art, exploration/settlement, politics/government, and agriculture. The mission has been an essential part of the cultural and religious activities of the people of Isleta for almost 400 years. It is one of oldest and longest used mission complexes in New Mexico and the United States. The mission was established as San Antonio de Padua in 1613 by Franciscan friars as part of the Spanish colonizing of the Southwest, and the site is notable for having been laid out in accordance with the New Township Ordinances of the Spanish Empire (town-planning rules established in 1573 by King Phillip II).  During the Pueblo Revolt in 1680, the church was damaged but not destroyed, and after the Spanish reconquest, the substantially intact building was repaired by the reassembled people of Isleta, at which time the titular patron of the mission was changed from St. Antonio to San Augustin (St. Augustine). The church has remained in continual use since approximately 1710.

            In the mid-nineteenth century, as part of Archbishop Jean Baptiste Lamy’s attempt to invigorate the role of religion in New Mexico territory, St. Augustine became the focus of a well-documented series of architectural alterations. Although the essential form of St. Augustine has remained the same, certain architectural elements—in particular its bell towers and roof—were repeatedly changed to reflect the tastes of the French-influenced Catholic clergy in New Mexico. Until the 1950s, only local materials and labor were employed in these transformations—each of which stands as a significant example of the pueblo’s unique vernacular response to architectural ideals imposed by the hierarchy of the Catholic Church.

            In the 1970s, the church was deeded to the Pueblo of Isleta by the Catholic Archdiocese and thus became a cultural property of the tribe. When it was determined that St. Augustine was at risk of structural failure, a community initiative authorized by the Isleta Tribal Council was formed to spearhead its preservation. In 2005, Isleta hired Cornerstones to perform a comprehensive conditions assessment and create a preservation plan.

          Cornerstones’ investigations revealed that urgent action is needed to preserve St. Augustine. Core samples taken at various locations throughout the complex determined that the bases of the walls of the main nave of the church, exterior buttresses, the sacristy, and the museum have been reduced to powder. This unfortunate situation resulted from a combination of circumstances. Leaks in the roof, negative drainage at the site, and the growth of vegetation introduced moisture into the adobe walls over a period of decades. In the 1960s, inappropriate concrete collars were attached to the exterior wall bases in an attempt to stabilize them. During the same period, impermeable cement-based stuccos were applied to exterior walls and a gypsum-based product to the interior walls to reduce the frequency of routine maintenance required by traditional mud and lime plasters. All of these interventions contributed to the accelerated entrapment of moisture in the adobes. Additionally, Cornerstones found no evidence of a foundation, thus determining that the wide adobe walls of the complex sit directly at grade. As a result, there is nothing to impede the natural moisture in the soil from wicking up into the sod and adobe walls. Moisture now invades the walls to a height of four feet. If restoration of the adobe bricks at the base of the walls is delayed, settlement leading to collapse is imminent. The weight of the structure above the deteriorated areas will compress on the sandy remains of the adobes and cause failure of most of the walls.

           Cornerstones has been retained as technical consultant on the project and will provide preservation expertise, technical training, and project development assistance to the Isleta crew to restore and maintain St. Augustine. Cornerstones will coordinate involvement with all necessary professional consultants such as architects and engineers. We will provide instruction in applied learning programs for Isleta youth so they can learn about the importance of cultural and historic preservation and work with crew members to use the knowledge they have learned. Cornerstones’ Preservation Plan will guide the work. The Preservation Plan includes preliminary cost estimates and a proposed construction schedule. Key personnel, including master masons, carpenters, plasterers, and community volunteers, will be supervised by Cornerstones staff members knowledgeable in the proper procedures and techniques used to conserve earthen architecture. This is a highly specialized area within historic preservation, and the importance of selecting qualified individuals for this undertaking cannot be overemphasized.

            All work will conform to the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation and will follow techniques and procedures set forth in Cornerstones’ Adobe Conservation: A Preservation Handbook. By following the Secretary’s Standards, Cornerstones’ Handbook, and the recently compiled Preservation Plan, every effort will be made to retain the original design, materials, and workmanship of the building while structurally preserving it.

Preservation work is expected to commence in the Spring of 2007.  The following will be the immediate tasks:

  • Concrete Collar Removal and Basal Stabilization

  • Cement-Based Wall Stucco Removal and Site Drainage Plan

  • Basal Stabilization of Interior / Viga and Corbel Repair











Cornerstones Community Partnerships
227 Otero Street
Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501
Phone: (505) 982-9521

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