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The Roots of Museum Hill

A Guide to the Architectural History and Development of Museum Hill, Santa Fe, New Mexico

History of the Laboratory of Anthropology and its Directors Residence (1931)

Museum Hill first developed when businessman and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller Jr. (1874-1960) traveled with his family to Santa Fe in 1924. Rockefeller was interested in archeology and anthropology and met with Dr. Edgar Lee Hewett (1865-1946), Director of the School of American Archeology and the Museum of New Mexico. Rockefeller offered to fund an anthropological research institution in the Southwest, enabling scholars to study the region’s historic artifacts without relocating them to facilities back East. Hewett and Rockefeller selected Santa Fe for its favorable climate and central location in an area rich with important archeological resources.  Rockefeller pledged $300,000 to construct the initial laboratory and administration unit of a proposed campus meant to include research labs, exhibition buildings, lecture halls, living quarters and a library. An additional $200,000 was donated to operate the institution for the first five years.

A board of directors for the Laboratory of Anthropology Inc. was formed in 1927, representing leading national academic and anthropologic institutions including Yale, Harvard, Columbia, University of Chicago, University of Michigan, University of New Mexico, the Museum of Natural History in New York and the Museum of New Mexico. The Santa Fe-based, De Vargas Development Corporation (1924), owned by sisters Elizabeth White (1878-1972) and Martha White (1881-1937), donated a 50-acre plot for the proposed campus. A national competition to choose an architect for the project was launched and in January 1930 Santa Fe architect John Gaw Meem (1894-1983) was selected. Meem’s rendering for a 38-building campus was exhibited at the Natural History Museum in New York City in recognition of the important project.