The South Door
A Deep Dive
by Rebecca Ward
For the next couple of blog posts, I will be doing a deep dive into each door. Specifically, the design elements of the doors, how they look close up, and what we think we know about them. I want to preserve what we think we know right now because many of our assumptions and much of our knowledge on the doors may change. When we discover something new about a door, I want to recognize that we have learned something new, and acknowledge that my interpretation of the site will change. All good researchers and historians should be willing to acknowledge that what we know to be “true” can change.
I am starting with the South Door. This door, we are pretty sure, was commissioned by Mary Cabot Wheelwright during her time as the owner of the house and current property. It has a certain 1920s/30s feel to the design. The asymmetrical elements, the circles and lines, all point to something that was not made with Spanish Colonial or Iberian themes in mind. Apart from the coloring of the door (which could be a more recent addition) this door does not match the North Door in the least. Not in the design and not even in the way that the door was constructed. This door even has 2 locks in addition to a metal handle. The North Door doesn't have any locks on it.
How Old is the South Door?
The South Door is probably close to 100 years old. While we think it is about 50 years newer than the North Door, it has more examples of unique craftsmanship. As you can see in this close-up photo the circle and line designs have been etched into the wood.
We do not know if Mary Wheelwright really did commission this door, let alone the name of the carpenter who built it, but we think it was added during her era of ownership. This information is something we are trying to find, whether in receipts that Mary’s estate kept for bookkeeping, or in a letter from Mary to any one of the numerous pen pals, friends, and relatives she kept in contact with throughout her life. Our best guesses about the South Door come from word-of-mouth stories and assumptions based on the differences that are apparent between the South Door and the North Door. Mary instigated such an extensive restoration and renovation project on the property with the house that the story that we have of the South Door is very much in line with what we think about how Mary would have wanted her New Mexico home to look. Basically, this door fits in with Mary’s aesthetic and that is our main clue about its age and origins.
What Are the Concerns We are Addressing in the South Door?
Another reason we think this door was commissioned in the 1920s or 1930s is because this door is much thinner than the North Door. In fact, this door is so thin that is has not weathered its years nearly as well. There are holes in this door. Holes that are large enough to see through from the inside to the outside of the storehouse. These holes are of great concern to Rae, the conservator, because they will need to be fixed or filled in order to preserve the integrity of the door and stop anymore degradation. Holes allow for more moisture to enter the wood in areas that wouldn’t normally be exposed. Moisture is the enemy. It causes mold and rot and generally ruins preservation attempts. Plugging these holes is imperative to the longevity of the South Door, especially if it is going to be put back on the storehouse.
Because of the light in the pictures below it is not apparent where the holes are. They are concentrated on the bottom half of the door, where most of the other weathering is seen in paint loss on the front of the door. The largest hole (when looking at the back of the door) is on the lower left decorative panel. There are smaller holes along some of the other connections between the pieces of wood that make up this door. As you can see from the back, which is not noticable from the front, this door is made up of different pieces of wood and are not secured to a main larger, whole piece of wood. This explains why there are more holes in this door: it has more weak spots where water and pests can gain access and harm the door.
Further projects for the South Door will include paint restoration or replacement. Like the North Door, the paint on the bottom of this door is flaking away. Replacing the paint and sealing the door against more weather damage could be a potential solution to how the door looks right now. I would personally like to see the doors in their former glory: completely repainted and sealed but whether that happens as a reproduction or the original is yet to be determined.
Do you know something I don’t about historic doors?
You probably do! I certainly am no expert in historic decorative doors. I would love to have my research helped! If you have any personal insights or recognize the artwork of the door, please feel free to email me. My contact information can be found here: http://nmhistoricsites.org/los-luceros/team
Originally published on March 5, 2021 as part of the Adobe Speaks series.