A building that has served residents since the 1930s will again host community events, according to Bob Rael, executive director of the Costilla County Economic Development Council (CCEDC). Rael notes that when the San Luis Museum and Cultural Center closed due to lack of funding, the community felt the loss.
The building, which has a very rich history, then sat empty and unused for some time. Through the efforts of many, especially the CCEDC, it is anticipated the museum will be open from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Friday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sundays. The museum will also open by appointment basis during other days of the week. For appointments, please call 719-672-0999. If no one answers, leave a message.
In the 1930s, the Works Projects Administration (WPA) erected the building as the San Luis Institute, a satellite of Adams State College offering vocational and teacher training, making it possible for many residents of Costilla County to acquire a trade or college degree.
Several of the graduates went on to serve as teachers at Centennial Schools.
The building was acquired in 1954 by the Centennial School District to house the original Centennial Union High School and then fell into community hands.
When closure seemed inevitable, the county used an adjoining building as the courthouse while its old building was being renovated, and there was sufficient funding to keep the doors open and pay the basic bills, but after being shut down for another two years, it appeared that it might be mothballed.
Water pipes had burst, warping the wooden floors in the main entrance area. The electrical and plumbing systems were very outdated, while the adobe structure, perhaps the largest building in the town of San Luis, sat empty.
It had educated both teachers and students and had served as the keeper of local history and traditions through its museum.
The San Luis Museum and Cultural Center served as testament to the town’s proud history as the first continuous settlement in the State of Colorado. It helped to preserve Hispano history of the region with excellent exhibits, including Cultura Constante (Constant Culture) and the Morada exhibit, devoted to Los Hermanos Penitentes.
It also housed a good collection of santos from different historical periods and regions. Rael reported that many local residents had taken their family treasures to be exhibited, including a tribute to the many veterans that have come from the county. These exhibits and artifacts remain and have been preserved.
The Costilla County Economic Development Council, Inc., (CCEDC) under the direction of Rael made a deliberate effort to save the museum. Board President Felix Romero led a group of dedicated local residents to seek funding to re-open the museum.
Thanks to a special initiative created by History Colorado’s State Historical Fund, the CCEDC was able to acquire funding to begin the long road to restoring the building — inside and out.
Since it was such a large building, with complex and varying needs, it has taken several grants to restore the building and prepare it for a multi-purpose, multi-use facility. The board of directors decided to rename the facility the Sangre de Cristo Heritage Center.
The Centennial School District agreed to lease the building for a nominal amount on a 99-year lease, granting CCEDC permission to restore the building and re-open it at a future date. As the work progressed, many of the residents wondered when and if the museum would ever open. The restoration was more complicated than anyone had anticipated.
Several phases of the restoration have been funded by History Colorado’s State Historical Fund and the Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area has provided consistent funding, as have foundations such as Anschutz Family Foundation, El Pomar, Trinchera Foundation, Gates Foundation, National Trust Preservation Fund, and the Costilla County Lodging Tax Fund. Costilla County government and the town of San Luis have also contributed in-kind support, ensuring local buy-in.
After seven years, the Sangre de Cristo Heritage Center will be beginning Phase II with a grant from the State Historical Fund.
This summer, there will be electrical upgrades and installation of a heating system in the theater portion of the building. The building will then be able to be used in the winter as well as the summer.
In addition to restoration work, the CCEDC is establishing a community kitchen through the Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) and USDA funding.
The planned community kitchen will be available for Centennial School students for classes and projects, community events, family gatherings, professional catering, professional meetings and small conferences.
Work on the community kitchen will likely be in progress during the coming summer as well.
According to Rael, the restoration of this historic building would not have been possible without the State Historical Fund. Total funding over the seven years is $740,027.
The Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area has also provided consistent funding for a total of $83,195. Foundations have contributed $138,714, Costilla County, $7,500, Costilla County Lodging Tax Board, $3,250 and USDA, $51,750. The total funding for the Sangre de Cristo Heritage Center is $1,024,436.
As the museum opens, there will be many needs, chief of which will be volunteer support.
At this time, the Center does not have operating funds. Fund raising will shift from restoration needs to operation needs.
Human resources and funding will keep the doors open when all of the restoration is finished until a permanent funding stream can be established. a membership program, individual and corporate donor program and program funding.
The first proposal is for a planning grant from the State Historical Fund for an exhibit on the Hispano Farm System, which will include centennial farms and the centuries old acequia system.
If the grant is funded, scholars and community tradition bearers/practitioners will plan a permanent exhibit in the museum section of the center.
Another part of the restoration this summer will be to upgrade the theater, previously known as the Carlos Beaubian Theater. The theater will be outfitted for multi purpose uses such as live theater, conference seating, lectures, cinematic presentations and community meetings.
A wish list is being created for short and long term needs. In the short term, the Center is in need of a gently used couch and chair set for the reception room, an up to-date cash register, and a large coffee maker for meetings. Items will be added as the need arises.
Volunteers are needed to help create a website, Facebook and twitter administration and marketing activities. Volunteers are also needed to staff the museum Friday through Sunday and to assist with collections care, cleaning and proper packaging and storage of artifacts not on exhibit.
The CCEDC is also involved in other projects in the community including preservation work as well as traditional job development.
For additional information, please call Rael at 719.672-0999 or Rick Manzanares at 719-588-4602. Emails are welcome as well. You may write to the CCEDC at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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