Las Cruces: Past, Present and Future

April 11, 2018 pixelmark

Las Cruces | collage of photos

Interviews by Mike Cook, Cheryl Fallstead, Daniel Gonzales, and Jessica Muncrief
Historical photos courtesy New Mexico State University Library, Archives and Special Collections



Las Cruces | Clyde Tombaugh and Sue DeanClyde Tombaugh and Sue Dean at the Beaux Arts Ball in 1975. According to a Sun-News clipping the event was a “glamourous mystery of a costume ball.”

Las Cruces | Branigan Cultural CenterBUILT IN 1935, the Thomas Branigan Memorial Library outgrew the space in 1979, and the building became the Branigan Cultural Center, the city’s very first museum. Today, it sits alongside the Las Cruces Art Museum and the Museum of Nature and Science.

Las Cruces | two women at a film setThis publicity photograph was shot on the set of a pilot film shot in Las Cruces. Newspaper clippings from around the country in 1968 talk of Cimmaron Strip, a western shot for CBS in Las Cruces with a $700,000 budget.

Las Cruces | Center for the ArtsConstruction began on NMSU’s new Center for the Arts in 2010 and the contemporary, three-story facility opened in 2012. It is home to NMSU’s Department of Theatre Arts and has a 466-seat performance space, rehearsal room, and classrooms.

The Las Cruces Symphony Orchestra Las Cruces | Las Cruces Symphonyhas been going strong for almost four decades. Currently under the directorship of Maestro Lonnie Klein, the symphony orchestra performs a popular classics series, as well as POPS concerts and music under the stars events.

Las Cruces | Art Fair 2014February is
For the Love of Art month and this program gets bigger every year. At the Las Cruces Arts Fair, nearly 100 artists showcase their work, while studios and galleries all over town host special events and tours.

Filming for the independent feature film The Heart Outright 

Las Cruces | Film Set Mesillatook place entirely in Mesilla in 2015. The film, directed by Ross Marks, is a follow up to local playwright Mark Medoff’s 1974 play, When You Comin’ Back Red Ryder.

To say there is a robust arts culture in Las Cruces is an understatement! With all the Mesilla Valley offers–fine art, performing arts, an acclaimed symphony, the film industry, extraordinary galleries large and small, Doña Ana Community College and New Mexico State University arts programs, and the young emerging artists—we have it all! Barbara


Las Cruces | Barbara Reasoner smilingThe Doña Ana Arts Council has moved to Mesilla and opened an Arts and Cultural Center. We’re currently hanging monthly art shows featuring local artists, presenting a “Feed Your Mind” lecture series, and hosting artists teaching two-hour painting “experiences.” The profits from these endeavors go to our goal of supporting and implementing art programs for the children of the Mesilla Valley.
Barbara Reasoner, President Dona Ana Arts Council


Las Cruces | Jeff SteinbornOur community has expanded and diversified into different forms of media. A vibrant arts scene promotes a vibrant and healthy community economically. I see some of the same forces that have been working on it for such a long time, people like Irene Oliver Lewis and Heather Pollard and Ruben Smith, along with other leaders who have been working to showcase and grow not only the arts community, but the entire Las Cruces community. The arts are expressed in so many ways in Southern New Mexico, including visual and performing arts, architecture, and, increasingly, film.
Jeff Steinborn, Board President of Film Las Cruces


Las Cruces | Glenn and Sally CuttersWhen we first came here in 1968, there was a gallery in Mesilla that was very nice and Carolyn Bunch had her gallery, but there weren’t any other galleries. We didn’t have a gallery until 1974 and we had very little art at that time. We had mostly jewelry and gifts. Our art scene has grown a lot. There are more galleries, more art productions, destinations, and events. Much more. For the Love of Art Month has become important and the studio tours are good for the artists.
Glenn Cutter, New Mexico Art Commissioner; Owner of Cutter Gallery

Some of the artists that we showed in the beginning were Rosemary McLaughlin, Stephen Hansen, who was one of our first that we had in the gallery, and Jo-An Smith has been with us since we opened 44 years ago. Back then, Mark Medoff was beginning the theatre arts programs. The American Southwest Theatre Company wasn’t started yet, but theatre was going strong and it was a big focus with the university. The symphony and music programs have been there a long time, too. But it wasn’t nearly the art scene it is today.
Sally Cutter, Owner Cutter of Gallery

LAS CRUCES TODAY IS STILL A “UNIVERSITY” TOWN, and the legacy of all the people that were drawn here to work at NMSU, as well as for NASA and White Sands Missile Range, lives on in the institutions that our small town had that other similar-sized communities didn’t have: our symphony, community theater, and arts council. Las Cruces has always been an interesting mix of diverse cultures and communities, and I think that is a real benefit to any town.
-Bob Diven, local artist


Las Cruces | Loretto Academy1. Loretto Academy was Las Cruces’ original private school. According to the NMSU website, “The Sisters of Loretto arrived in Las Cruces in 1870. Las Cruces was a small agricultural community of around 1,300 people, 94 percent of whom were native born. The majority of the population, were school-aged girls who could neither read nor write, making Las Cruces an ideal environment for a school for young women.”

Las Cruces | history classroom2. In 1905, university students at what is now NMSU, gathered for history lessons in this classroom. Women at the time were more likely to be enrolled in the “domestic economy” courses.

Las Cruces | NMSU Campus Life3. This NMSU publicity photos depicts how students residing on campus lived. Sun-News stories from 1977 chronicle several days of student protests and a confrontation with police over the school’s ban on having members of the opposite sex in dormitory rooms.

Las Cruces | Acton Academy4. Private schools in Las Cruces include Las Cruces Catholic School, with a history dating back to 1927, and Mesilla Valley Christian School, founded in 1974. Las Cruces Academy and Acton Academy both offer tailored curriculums and unique educational philosophies.

Las Cruces | Arrowhead Park school building5. Students attending Arrowhead Park Early College High School and Arrowhead Park Medical Academy have the opportunity to graduate from high school with up to two years of college credit or an associate’s degree. The programs, which have been open since 2010 and 2014 respectively, offer students pathways in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM); health occupations, and entrepreneurship.

Las Cruces | kids in a classroom6. Students explore entrepreneurship through the Arrowhead Center at New Mexico State University’s Innoventure Jr. program, an ever-growing library of grade-appropriate activity books, animated videos, and hands-on classroom projects that introduces students to entrepreneurship, teamwork, communication and other key skills.

We’ve made major strides in Dona Ana County, especially in terms of graduation rates. Las Cruces Public Schools was just ranked number one in the state for four-year high school graduation rates. Our graduation rate being above 80 percent truly reflects the commitment by teachers and school district leadership, and the support from the community.

Many partnerships have launched in the last eight to nine years to foster dual credit for high school students with NMSU and Dona Ana Community College. Both have worked diligently to improve educational access to students in the region.

We’ve also seen a stronger commitment from the local business community to support public education. The Greater Chamber of Las Cruces, Bridge of Southern New Mexico, and MVEDA have all continued to work at partnering with local school districts.
-Michael Morehead, Ed.D; Associate Dean at the Burrell College of Osteopathic Medicine; former NMSU Dean of the College of Education

Las Cruces | LCPS Foundation GrantsIN 2016, the Las Cruces Public Schools Foundation awarded $34,441 in grants to fund 15 innovative, teacher-developed projects to help provide enhanced educational experiences, in a variety of academic subjects, for nearly 2,300 pre- kindergarten through 9th-grade students. This past year, the Foundation has been raising money for their new mini-grant program, through which teachers can apply for grants of up to $100 to purchase classroom supplies.

I HAVE FIVE VERY GOOD REASONS TO FOUND ACTON ACADEMY: my kids Sara, Simon, Emma, Matthew, and Zachary. We wanted a relevant education for our children where they get real world experience and really have a say in their education. Acton offers a project-based learning environment. Our students work at their own pace, regulate the classroom, and vote on rules for the school. As adults, it’s our role to first and foremost, believe that every student is a genius and can do great things in this world, and then to create an environment where they can succeed. We’ve been blown away at how many like-minded families also want this experience for their children.
-Anna Emerick-Biad, Founder of Acton Academy

The Las Cruces Public Schools Foundation’s sole mission is the support of the teachers, students, and staff of the Las Cruces Public Schools. Through our Teacher Innovative Classroom Project, we give $25,000-$35,000 worth of grants every year, and we have given out almost $225,000 in grants since the program started.

Our Senior College Scholarships are funded through private donors and we doubled the number of scholarships available this year to 12. They range from $250 to $1,500 depending on the donor’s requirements.
-Betsy Geery, Executive Director of the Las Cruces Public Schools Foundation


Las Cruces | Clyde Tombaugh telescopeClyde Tombaugh, who discovered the former planet Pluto in 1930, taught at NMSU from 1955-1973 and lived in Las Cruces for the remainder of his life. He is shown here with friends atop the Alameda Avenue telescope he built at his home in 1963.

Las Cruces | Trinity siteThe first atomic bomb was tested near Las Cruces in 1945. Trinity Site is now open for tours just twice a year, on the first Saturdays in April and October.

Las Cruces | Algae FuelIn 2010, Las Cruces magazine ran an article about research being done at NMSU and by local energy company to convert algae into biofuel.

In some ways, the Spaceport is restoring the investment in space travel to its rightful place in Southern New Mexico. Wernher von Braun was testing V-2 rockets at White Sands in the 1940s and they recruited him to Huntsville, Alabama where he pushed for things like investing the highest portion of taxes in public schools and bringing in a symphony. Today they have a great education system and it’s a hub for space investment and research and development. When von Braun left White Sands we lost that, so the Spaceport was kind of a way to regain what we lost.
– John Hummer, Owner Steinborn & Associates Real Estate; President & Co-Founder Burrell College of Osteopathic Medicine

The history of Spaceport America goes back a long time, more than 20 years to the mid-90s when a group of really smart people realized that this would be a good place to develop an inland spaceport. They realized that small and innovate companies were coming along in the entrepreneurial space movement, and that there are a lot of advantage to launching from 4,800 feet above sea level. They very ambitiously pursued Virgin Galactic and landed them as a tenet. There are other companies as well: Up Aerospace from Denver came down here to do launches; EXOS Aerospace & Technology is going to be launching soon.
– Dr. Bill Gutman, Vice President of Aerospace Operations for Spaceport America

In addition to the 41 official launches Spaceport America has done for private aerospace companies, last June they launched an additional 60 at the Spaceport America Cup, the largest intercollegiate rocket engineering conference and competition.

Las Cruces | Intermodal trainsTHE SANTA TERESA INTERMODEL RAMP opened in 2014, nearly a year ahead of schedule. The complex is Union Pacific’s only Southwest facility serving intermodal trains and it uses biometric screening to process inbound and outbound trucks in half the time.

The origin of the United States space and missile activity can be traced back to White Sands Missile Range. Today, according to their website, WSMR “provides America’s Armed Forces, Las Cruces | White Sands Missile Rangeallies, partners, and defense technology innovators with the world’s premiere research, development, test, evaluation (RDT&E), experimentation, and training facilities to ensure our nation’s defense readiness.”


Las Cruces | collage of past and present of Las Cruces entertainment

1. This photo of Las Cruces High School basketball players Katherine Lohman and Sophie Christie was taken circa 1910. One El Paso Herald article clipping from the time said that students traveling to see the games also took advantage of the Las Cruces Roller Rink.

2. Built in 1926, the Rio Grande Theatre was recently handed back to the City of Las Cruces from the Dona Ana Arts Council. They host live performances and screen classic films like Casablanca and the Wizard of Oz. The Mesilla Valley Film Society oversees Mesilla’s Fountain Theatre, which screens independent and foreign films.

3. Local children are big fans of the splash pad at the new La Placita de Las Cruces. Downtown Las Cruces Partnership Executive Director Jennifer Garcia Kozlowski says, “It’s a bit of a crown jewel of Downtown and has given us a home for many family-centric events. Space Walk, Kid’s Night Out, Salsa Fest, Zombie Walk and the Chile Drop have a home and are only getting better.”

4. In the 1970s, Barbara “Mother” Hubbard started bringing in big name acts like Ike & Tina Turner, U2, and George Strait to perform at the Pan American Center by reading industry publications and then, “I just picked up the phone and offered a promoter our 12,000 seat arena,” she remembers.

5. The Las Cruces Country Music Festival draws huge crowds with performers like Kasey Musgraves, Cam (shown here), and Kenny Rogers. Las Cruces born singers, like Bri Bagwell and Josh Grider, make appearances as well.

6. The NMSU Aggie football team ended the 2017 season on a very high note with a dramatic overtime win in front of a crowd of almost 40,000 at the Nova Home Loans Arizona Bowl Game in Tucson. The team finished the season with their best record since 2001. Go Aggies!

“I came to as cruces in 1964 at the age of five. I remember the summer rains would wash out the dirt along Locust Street before they put all the sidewalks in, and the ditch next to University Hills would channel the water right into the Methodist Church across the street. I remember the black metal kerosene lamps the city would leave to mark the big holes next to the road.

There was frequent flooding from summer thunderstorms. The intersection of Idaho and El Paseo would become a lake. Sometimes for entertainment, my dad would pile us all in the car and we’d drive down Solano to watch the big Las Cruces arroyo fill with foamy, brown water. We’d also go play in the ruins of Fort Selden, and go out into the desert to hunt for arrowheads. The annual open houses at White Sands Missile Range, and the airshows at Holloman Air Force Base, were big memories of my youth.”
-Bob Diven, local artist


Las Cruces | Amador PatioIT WAS BUILT IN 1866, and by the 1960s the Amador Hotel was the place to see and be seen. According to the City of Las Cruces’ website, “During most of the 20th Century this grand old building served the community as a social gathering place with fine dining, libations, and entertainment. Numerous celebrities, politicians, military officers, and other notable and notorious figures frequented the Amador Hotel.”

Las Cruces | Pullman CafeThis hot-spot eatery sat on the corner of Griggs & Main Street in downtown Las Cruces. The Las Cruces Rotary Club has receipts from club meetings dating back to the 1920s that indicate they gathered at the Pullman Café, the Tortugas Café, and Carl Holmes’ Club Café.

Las Cruces | WoolworthsNMSU ARCHIVES CAPTIONS THIS PHOTO AS a “downtown Las Cruces street scene with Woolworth’s, C. R. Anthony Company, Boston Café, and State Theater.” One 1968 local newspaper ad entices consumers with a “one-in-a-million record sale” with 1,000 albums marked down to just one dollar, and a guitar on special for $19.88.

“There has been a few iterations of a Downtown program over the years in Las Cruces, but our current DLCP—Downtown Las Cruces Partnership—was established in 2002 with the help of business people and community activists. Our mission is to create a signature business destination that celebrates our region’s rich cultural heritage, local arts and culture, as well as contributes to a thriving, sustainable, and economically vibrant downtown. DLCP has worked hard over the years to educate about and advocate for our downtown district. Every year there is something new and exciting that gives not only DLCP a sense of pride, but gives our community as a whole something to be proud of.

Through our partnership, we are helping to create a vibrant downtown district, where merchants, shoppers, and tourists have a sense of community and belonging. With the help from our downtown district business community, our volunteers, our board of directors, and our stakeholders the sky is the limit.”
– Jennifer Garcia Kozlowski, Executive Director of the Downtown Las Cruces Partnership

Las Cruces | Dicks BurgerOne thing Las Crucens have always loved: green chile! Dick’s Café has been serving up it’s green chile cheeseburger (voted as best in town by Las Cruces magazine readers in 2017!) since 1959. And there are plenty of other mouth-watering green chile options in town. Local Bob Diven says, “You can find really fine Mexican food just about every few blocks!”

Las Cruces | Old Barrel Tea and Spice CoMesilla has long been a shopper’s haven with numerous shops lining the streets surrounding the historic plaza. One of the newest additions is the Old Barrel Tea & Spice Company offering up everything tea-related, along with adorable gifts and trinkets for the home.

Las Cruces | Verde Ale House & DiningVerde Ale House & Dining just opened at Red Hawk Golf Course. This innovative full-dining experience aims to bring the craft brewery culture to the Mesilla Valley. Dishes are cooked with ales and stouts and can be paired with just the perfect brew to highlight the flavors.


Las Cruces | Dr. Boyd and his patientsDR. NATHAN BOYD and his family are shown at the tuberculosis sanatorium he established at the base of the Organ Mountains for his wife who was suffering from the disease. The remains of these buildings can still be viewed today when hiking the Dripping Springs Natural Area.

“My father started practicing medicine in Las Cruces in 1950. He went to medical school at Kansas City University of Medicine and became an osteopathic physician, or DO. When he started practicing in New Mexico, there was a lot of political friction between MDs and DOs. Another DO, Dr. Paul Jones, had been here since 1939. During the 1950s and early 60s, my father and Dr. Jones were not allowed to practice at the hospital, so they established an overnight maternity hospital on the corner of Solano and Nevada. They would deliver the baby, watch them for 24 hours, and send them home. They got out of the baby business in the 60s, but were never allowed hospital privileges.

Dr. Norman Harrision came to the community in 1975, and he was the first DO allowed on staff at Memorial Medical Center. Dr. Guillermo Hernandez joined as the second in the summer of 1980, and in August of that same year, I became the third. Because there was still a fair amount of prejudice against osteopaths, I had to be on top of my game all the time. I had to provide excellent patient care and be very attentive to my patients. That’s how I built my practice and how I still practice today.

These days, healthcare all over the country is like Star Trek; we’re going proverbially ‘where no man has gone before.’ Things are being done in community hospitals that were previously done only in major centers in big cities. When I started MRI wasn’t even in existence, now here in Las Cruces, we have robotic surgery and state of the art cancer treatment.” -William Baker, DO

Las Cruces | young men in a laboratoryTAKEN CIRCA 1900 photographer E.O. Wooten captures male students working in the chemistry lab at the New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanical Arts (it became NMSU in 1960). Today, students and researchers at NMSU and the Burrell College of Osteopathic Medicine are using high-tech tools to make the discoveries of the future.

Las Cruces | students studying on virtual anatomyAt the Burrell College of Osteopathic Medicine, students are taught using Anatomage 3D medical imaging tables. Students are also introduced to the unique cultures in the Southwest region so they can provide the best possible patient care when they become practicing physicians.

Las Cruces | group of people in the operating roomNMSU’s Department of Nursing, the Dona Ana Community College paramedic program, the NMSU Fire and Police Departments, and BCOM joined forces in 2017 for a tiered medical response scenario using a hi-fidelity robotic manikin named Hal.

Las Cruces | Da Vinci roboticIN 2010, LAS CRUCES MAGAZINE captured the public unveiling of the Da Vinci robotic surgery equipment. It was first used for gastrointestinal, gynecological, and urologic procedures. Today, local surgeons are using robotics for heart procedures.

Las Cruces: FUTURE

Las Cruces | NMSU Art Gallery exterior and interior

NMSU’s Department of Art and University Art Gallery is getting a complete overhaul. Julia Barello, art professor and head of the Department of Art says, “The new art building will be a tremendous resource for our community and will actively support the creative economy in Las Cruces.”

The Doña Ana Arts Council has been working with the City of Las Cruces to establish an officially recognized Arts & Cultural District (ACD). After extensive input from community-engagement sessions, a boundary for the ACD was established that includes Main Street from Picacho to Amador (on the north and south) and Mesquite Street to the east and Alameda to the west. The cultural plan will be completed by the end of May 2018. We’re truly excited to be part of the larger collaboration in putting Las Cruces and the Mesilla Valley on the map as an arts and cultural destination.
– Barbara Reasoner, President Doña Ana Arts Council

HOT-SPOT EATERY. By the end of 2019 we will have completed the major infrastructure projects in Metro Verde being funded by Assessment District bonds (a total of $12 million issued in cooperation with the City of Las Cruces), we will have the initial phases of development around the Red Hawk Golf Course ready for homebuilding, and we will be closer to the opening of the spectacular Red Hawk clubhouse. Longer term, over the next decade we will see wide-ranging development—including commercial, multi-family, and several levels of single-family residential, along with new parks and trails—throughout the 2,000-acre Metro Verde master plan.
– John Moscato, Co-Owner Sierra Norte Development and Red Hawk Golf Course

Las Cruces | proposed amphitheaterBarbara “Mother” Hubbard is fundraising for a proposed 21,118 capacity amphitheater complex and event center to host national/regional rodeo events, festivals, and major concerts. “An amphitheater tour is not the same as an arena tour,” she says. “The production is designed specifically for an amphitheater, so it won’t take business away from the Pan Am. These are shows that would otherwise not come here.”

Las Cruces | Downtown Master PlanMEW AND CO. OPENS IN MARCH DOWNTOWN.
Little Toad Creek Brewery and Tap Room, Zia Comics, Thaindia, are coming as well, and the Amador project is finishing up. We are busy bees down here, and these new entities will only complement the wonderful businesses we already have down here. In the next five to 10 years, DLCP’s big goal is to have full occupancy downtown! -Jennifer Garcia Kozlowski, Executive Director of the Downtown Las Cruces Partnership

The biggest project, by far right now is what we are calling, “The Amador Project” downtown that will house four bars, restaurants, a cigar bar, and an outdoor performance venue.

Las Cruces | The Amador project

The Broken Spoke Tap House will feature numerous craft beers, including some from New Mexico breweries. We want to represent and support the cyclist community with this venue, and it will be a fun, family-friendly stop in the heart of downtown. Our rooftop bar and cigar bar will be named JAX ROOF TOP, with beautiful views of Las Cruces. Martino’s is our mixology fusion bar where our guests can experience hand-crafted classic cocktails, as well as new and exciting infusions, and modern mixology trends for those adventurous spirit drinkers and foodies. We also have a sushi kitchen in Martino’s for anyone who wants to grab a quick bite to eat while imbibing their favorite innovative cocktail.

Amador Bar and Grill will be the crown jewel of the complex featuring top-notch steaks, chops, and American fusion cuisine. We plan on this being one of the top restaurants in New Mexico and will feature a distinguished wine list and spirits program to match.
– Win Ritter, restaurant and bar consultant

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