I learned about an uncommon, unusual design style known as Pueblo Deco as I researched Pre-Nazi Swastika Architectural Details. Native American tribes of the US Southwest such as the Navajo used a symbol that would be mistaken by the general public today as a swastika. That element carried forward to some of the derivative Pueblo Deco buildings constructed prior to the Second World War, which is how I came across the style.
Pueblo Deco arrived at the intersection of two other architectural movements popular during the early part of the 20th Century through the 1930’s, Art Deco and Pueblo Revival. 12MC isn’t an architecture site and I don’t have any training in the field so I won’t even begin to describe the styles. I’ll let the images explain themselves: Art Deco was an unmistakable you know it when you see it design and Pueblo Revival was rather self-explanatory too. Imagine a mash-up of the two. Their spawn became Pueblo Deco.
KiMo Theatre, Albuquerque, New Mexico
Kimo Theater by Mike Tungate, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license
Albuquerque’s KiMo Theatre may best exemplify Pueblo Deco, or at least serve as its most recognizable landmark (map). This was the property I featured in my earlier article that sparked my initial curiosity.
The City of Albuquerque purchased the KiMo Theater in 1977, saving it from probable destruction after years of neglect. It began as the vision an immigrant entrepreneur, Oreste Bachechi, and opened in 1927 during the golden era of elegant movie palaces. As the city’s Kimo Theater History explained, Bachechi wanted a building "that would stand out among the Greek temples and Chinese pavilions of contemporary movie mania." His architect Carl Boller "traveled throughout New Mexico, visiting the pueblos of Acoma and Isleta, and the Navajo Nation" in search of inspiration. Even the name KiMo derived from the pueblos; it reflected a Tiwa word for mountain lion.
Albuquerque seemed to be the epicenter of Pueblo Deco. The Art Deco Society of New Mexico even published a Pueblo Deco Tour of the city.
Arizona Biltmore Hotel, Phoenix, Arizona
IMG_2994 by Daniel Langer, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license
Pueblo Deco spread within neighboring Arizona too. The state’s preeminent example may be the Arizona Biltmore Hotel in Phoenix, now a Waldorf Astoria resort, billed as "The Jewel of the Desert since 1929" (map).
Sometimes it’s mistaken for a Frank Lloyd Wright design. While Wright consulted on the project for several months, the actual architect was one of his former students, Albert Chase McArthur. As the hotel’s history page noted, "Perhaps the most obvious and dramatic design link to Wright is the use of indigenous materials that led to the creation of the ‘Biltmore Block.’ The pre-cast concrete blocks were molded on-site and used in the total construction of the resort."
The Arizona Biltmore anchored a high-end commercial and residential neighborhood that developed around it, the Biltmore District. Famous celebrities and politicians relaxed in the desert over the years. For example "Irving Berlin penned many tunes, including ‘White Christmas’ while sitting poolside at the Arizona Biltmore." The hotel last scored a minor historical footnote as the site where John McCain conceded defeat after his failed 2008 presidential campaign.
(former) Casa Grande Train Station, Casa Grande, Arizona
Casa Grande, AZ train station (destroyed by fire 6/09) by Ron Reiring, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license
Pueblo Deco buildings didn’t need to be grandiose and monumental to fit the general style. The Southern Pacific Railroad constructed a station in Casa Grande, Arizona in 1940 that presented a much more utilitarian form. It was rather simple although it clearly displayed elements of the fusion. Unfortunately despite being listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the building fell into neglect, remained empty for many years, caught fire in 2009 and could not be saved. Photographs of the fire were included on the Casa Grande Firefighters site.
The station used to stand at 201 W Main Street, now a vacant lot. Such a pity. The location still appears on OpenStreetMap for now (map).
Cliff Dwellers’ Apartments, New York City, New York
Cliff Dwellers’ Apartments, New York, NY
While primarily a regional style generally confined to the desert southwest, Pueblo Deco sometimes appeared outside of its natural range. The Cliff Dwellers’ (Cliff Dwelling) Apartments on Riverside Drive between West 96th and 97th Streets in New York City employed a number of similar design characteristics. The New York Times featured this structure in 2002, describing it as "A Terra Cotta Masterpiece."
On the exterior, [Herman Lee] Meader again used terra cotta inventively. His designs of double-headed snakes, the skulls of cows, mountain lions, scowling masklike faces, spears and various American Indian details were worked into ornament. In 1916, The New York Herald praised the Cliff Dwelling’s appearance on a lot that had been considered "only fit for a billboard" and hailed its "made-in-America feeling." The Herald said its name opened up a new horizon for developers who had "exhausted the supply of names and styles from every famous palace, chateau and castle in Europe."
It was an interesting solution to fit a narrow, oddly-shaped lot. All apartments faced towards the Riverside Drive side of the building. CityRealty called it "…New York City’s architectural ode to the Wild West, this narrow and angled building is one of the city’s most eccentric." and noted that the American Institute of Architects had earlier said, it "symbolizes the life of the Arizona cliff dwellers and serves to tie these prehistoric people to Manhattan’s modern cliff dwellers."
It All Gets Confusing
I found plenty of other buildings that had been described as Pueblo Deco, or not. Once again my lack of architectural background made it impossible for me to parse. Was the La Fonda Hotel in Santa Fe a Pueblo Deco structure, or Pueblo Revival? Was Fort Worth’s Texas & Pacific Railroad Passenger Station Pueblo Deco or Zigzag Moderne Deco? I dunno. Sources differed and I didn’t have the knowledge to make an intelligent judgment. I still enjoyed looking at them.
I didn’t even know Zigzag Moderne was a thing. Maybe I should stick to geography.