Preserving history

By Tova Fruchtman

Gloria Wicker is full of stories about some of Clovis’ older, more historic sites, many of which are now falling into ruin. Like the pool at Hillcrest Park where some residents used to spend much of their summers. Or the Lyceum Theatre, once a stage for famous artists and singers.

She remembers when Ronald Reagan stepped off a passenger train in Clovis, walked up the street to the Clovis Hotel, sat down and read the paper.

“You have to be able to look beyond some of the graffiti on the walls to remember what that used to be,” Wicker said. “It used to be a grand hotel.”

Wicker, a Clovis native, drove around Clovis this summer with John W. Murphey, the architectural historian at the New Mexico Historic Preservation Society, picking out buildings that could possibly be registered as historical sites in Clovis.

Currently, there are nine Clovis and six Portales sites on the historical register.

Murphey and Gary Wolff, director of the New Mexico Heritage Preservation Alliance, were in Clovis on Tuesday with other state experts for a workshop on how to register and restore historical sites. They said there is plenty of potential for restoration in Clovis.

Though Wolff said funding is difficult to attain, with strong efforts from residents restoration is possible, and important for understanding the history of an area.

“We can read about it, but the reality is the structures are the real experience and make it a lot more impactful to appreciate and understand the past,” Wolff said.

Like Wicker, people often have memories attached to places, and being inside restored buildings often brings back those childhood memories, Wolff said.

These memories help teach young people about the community they live in, too.

“People’s lives are enriched by knowing the stories, the challenges, the heartbreaks, the joys of the people that lived in their area before,” Wolff said. “I think often the stories share important values in which we can learn how to be a member of the community.”

Wolff said he hoped the workshop would help give Clovis residents the information they need to start the restoration process for various buildings. Murphey encouraged Clovis residents to register some of their historic buildings.

A site must be over 50 years old to be eligible for registration. There should be a significant community event, national trend, person in the community or architectural style associated with the building, Murphey said. The question is, Murphy explained, “does (the building) have enough integrity to tell that story?”

A nomination form and history of the building must be turned in, and if approved the building can receive historical status on the state and national level.

Julie Charters, program director of the Clovis MainStreet program, said her organization is not pursing historical status for any buildings or areas at this time, but she encouraged interested private building owners to look into it.
“It’s something we would encourage them to look into, and we could help facilitate the process,” Charters said.

The MainStreet program will be offering grants to merchants who wish to restore their buildings, and Charters said preference will be given to those who want to restore with historical integrity instead of modernization projects.

Claire Burroughes, assistant city clerk, said city officials would like to see the ambiance of downtown remain the same.

“We’re trying to revitalize the downtown area, while at the same time hold to the integrity of the downtown area,” Burroughes said.

Wolff said he hoped the workshop Tuesday would spark a greater interest for historical preservation in Clovis, although many of those attending were from surrounding towns.
Wicker had hoped so too.

“I think you are taught in school that history is vitally important. If you don’t preserve things than how do your children and people that come after you know what preceded them?” she said.

She is hoping people in Clovis will volunteer to help restore Clovis buildings.

“I’m a Clovis native,” Wicker said. “I was born here. I was raised here. My father was a railroad engineer. My mother came to Clovis in a covered wagon. I’m interested in everything about Clovis.”