By Mary P. Davis
Historic Old San Ysidro church might not be standing today and the Corrales Historical Society might not exist if Ward Alan Minge hadn’t moved to Corrales nearly 70 years ago. Minge died this May at his home in Kansas and the well-deserved tributes to his accomplishments were many, but they rarely mentioned his crucial role in saving Corrales history and its landmark Old Church. He was better known for his home, Casa San Ysidro, with its outstanding collection of rare New Mexican artifacts and architectural elements, and for his role in founding New Mexico’s State Records and Archives. Saving Corrales history might not rank with those achievements, but for us in Corrales, it’s right up there at the top.
In the 1960s the Old Church was home to the Adobe Theater group that first leased the building from the Archdiocese of Santa Fe in 1963 and presented plays there each summer during the succeeding years. The Adobe Theater was a vital part of Albuquerque’s theater scene, but the group had little extra money to put into renovating the building. They did what they could to make it function as a theater, sometimes at the expense of the historic character of the building. In 1964 Minge, concerned about the deterioration of the historic church just across Old Church Road from Casa San Ysidro, offered to buy it, an offer he repeated in 1967.
In 1973 Oscar Carter, the chair of the recently recreated Parks and Recreation Board (the Village had incorporated in 1971), asked Minge to form a non-profit historical society to be the recipient of the sale of the church. The Archdiocese of Santa Fe was concerned that the church be owned by a group that would respect its historic role as a house of worship and the interments under its floor. As a result, the Corrales Historical Society was officially formed in 1974; Minge was president and others on the board were Dulce Curtis, Helen Mattison, Lil Kellogg, Mrs. Van Deren Coke, and Alice Glover. Minge served as the society’s president for the first five years and continued on the board for several more, serving as president for another term in the mid-1980s. His early tenure as president was dedicated to raising money to buy and then renovate the building.
They needed $1,500 down and income to pay $2,000 yearly until the $9,500 purchase price was met. They met the initial sum primarily with payment from a movie company for the church’s use in the “burning” of the building for an episode in the TV series Nakia. They held numerous fundraisers —bake sales, musical programs, raffles, postcard sales— and researched the history of the church as well, interviewing old timers for memories of how the church looked earlier in the century. In 1976 the Village, with the full support of Mayor Barbara Tenorio Christianson and the Village Council, provided the rest of the purchase price and became the official owner of the property while the Historical Society was tasked with its management and renovation.
The society could only work on the exterior of the building while it was being used by the Adobe Theater-repairing the roof and removing the cement plaster on the exterior walls and replastering them with adobe mud. Concerned with the church’s interior, Minge wrote a proposal in the early 1980s outlining what was needed for its renovation; he hoped that CHS could continue the work begun in 1981 when they had removed the 1920s tin ceiling. The society asked the Village to not allow the theater to use the church in the summer of 1982 to permit this work to be done, but the Village would not approve it, saying the contract with the Adobe Theater precluded any renovation work.
In these 1982 discussions with the Village, the Adobe Theater was given a five-year lease, extending its tenancy through the 1987 season. However, acrimony about the fate of the church continued and came to a head in late 1986 with the result that a mediation process was organized by the Village. Four contentious meetings with representatives of the theater, the society, and the Village were held in January and February 1987. Ward Alan Minge, Barbara Pijoan and Evelyn Losack represented the society. The outcome was that the summer of 1987 was the last Adobe Theater season in the Old Church.
A June 1, 1987 letter from CHS President Alan Minge to the Village outlined the renovation steps to be taken following the Adobe Theater’s last summer season. The work included installing heating, removing the theatre’s risers and expanded stage, refinishing the interior walls, and redoing the floor. Besides renovating the interior, CHS began construction of an annex to supply restrooms, a kitchen and storage to allow the church to be used for a greater number of functions. The annex was completed in 1988; that same year the annual mudding day was established.
Besides his work with the renovation of the church, Minge also researched and shared information about the history of Corrales. He was not the first Corrales resident to love and write about our history, but he was probably the most effective. The Village owes him a huge debt of gratitude for his successful campaign to save the church and to place her history at the center of the story of Corrales. Alan Minge died May 5, 2021. On November 28, 2021, Corrales Historical Society will present a tribute to his significant contributions to CHS and to the Village of Corrales.