Giving new life to old buildings in Patagonia

By Ray Diaz/ El Inde

Classrooms that used to host children attending elementary school are now filled with artifacts that depict the history of Patagonia. The Patagonia Museum is one of a handful of historic buildings that have been restored to serve a different purpose with hopes that they will continue to teach visitors the value of preserving the town’s history. 

The building, known as “Old Main,” served as a school from its opening in 1914 until May 2014. The museum opened 2016 and it has remained open even through being patched and painted in the fall of 2019.

The school was originally a brick building but was stuccoed over in about 1950. It’s been painted white and with maroon shutters that match the color of the Spanish tile roof. Through repainting and reconstruction, a building that could have been a ruin is now revitalized.

German Quiroga, president of the Patagonia Museum, says that visitors are pleased to see it being maintained, especially those who grew up in the region and went to school there.

“People come to be inside the building where they went to school or their mom and dad went to school,” Quiroga said. “I don’t know what it is about it, but people enjoy it. They are happy to see it kept up and kept in place.” 

Beyond the infrastructure, there is more behind just the restoration of a building.

As you walk around the museum, the old brown wooden planks make a squeaking noise with each step. Large LED lights hang from the ceiling to brighten the rooms. Each former classroom is now used to display what made the town of Patagonia unique.

The “Ranching Heritage” room showcases old leather cowboy boots and leather saddles used by people who once ranched in the nearby areas. The “Centennial Celebration” room honors the town’s centennial in 1998. It displays black-and-white photos including scenes from area mines and soldiers marching in town during World War I. The “Journey Stories” room holds some of the old school supplies that students and teachers used, like individual chalkboards, rusted metal compasses with No. 2 pencils attached to them and well-thumbed dictionaries with cracked spines.

Most of the artifacts have been donated, according to Quiroga.  “It gives our community a sense of place and something to remember so we don’t forget what it was like,” he said. “Anything we can do to promote our history, spread the word about our history and appreciation and awareness of our history.” 

The Patagonia Museum was the second historic school building in eastern Santa Cruz County that Quiroga helped restore. His first project began in 2009, when he found out that the Lochiel Schoolhouse was in disrepair and had been vandalized. Before the renovations, the schoolhouse had shattered windows and even bullet holes in the walls. 

Most of the work that was done on the Lochiel Schoolhouse was completed by local volunteers, though people from as far as Wisconsin participated in the renovations. “We do have a volunteer list; I have counted it, it’s easily over 100, maybe reaching 200 people,” Quiroga said.   

Patagonia reuses a lot of its vintage buildings. A former meat market is now a Seventh-Day Adventist Church. The old railroad depot is now the Patagonia Town Hall. The Patagonia Lumber Company building now hosts a pilates studio. 

Another building that has been repurposed is Cady Hall, which opened as a hotel in 1901 and now serves as the Patagonia Public Library. The establishment used to host guests for a night’s stay, but now it hosts interested minds, offering them books and digital items to read as well as opportunities to learn more about the local history.

According to the Patagonia Public Library website, its restoration began in 1990 when the Cady Hall Restoration committee raised $250,000 in donations and grants. “Through donations and a lot of advocacy, they were able to save the library,” library director Laura Wenzel said. 

The restoration process has been going for years. It needed much more than just basic building restoration to keep the boat afloat. The foyer, one of the bathrooms, and the kitchen had to be completely rebuilt.

The L-Shaped brick building is one of the oldest structures in Patagonia. Even though the role of Cady Hall may have changed, it still provides services for guests. 

“I do think it is important for people to still be able to access and use these amazing feats of architecture,” Wenzel said, adding that preservation is important to Patagonians.

“At some point, you have to listen to what the community wants and the community wants these buildings to be preserved and taken care of for as long as possible,” Wenzel said.

Editor’s note: A version of this story will appear in the summer 2020 special issue of the Patagonia Regional Times.

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