The November 28 tribute to the man largely credited for saving the Old Church, historian Alan Minge, included little-known facts about how that was accomplished. Among Minge’s written recollections was the Corrales Historical Society’s approval for the church to be set on fire, or to be filmed as if burning, for a television production. Not long after, the Old Church did catch fire, for real, although that was thought to be caused by lightning, he recalled.
Minge was not only the driving force for saving the Old Church, he also was the primary founder of the Corrales Historical Society and Casa San Ysidro Museum across the road. He was celebrated as a visionary at the Historical Society’s event November 28 when a plaque honoring his achievements was unveiled.
Minge died at his Waterville, Kansas home May 6 of this year, having moved to his native Kansas in 1998. He was 97.
For 30 years, Minge served as chief historian for Kirtland Air Force Base, chronicling the research activities of the Air Force Special Weapons Center and the Air Force Weapons Laboratory. He was also a contract historian for several Pueblo governments documenting their land and water rights claims.
Minge was co-founder and first director of the N.M. State Records Center and Archives in Santa Fe. He wrote the draft legislation creating the State’s 1959 Public Records Act that established the Records Center and Archives. He was honored with the State’s Distinguished Public Service Award in 1969.
At the tribute last month, some of his correspondence and notes about the long struggle to save the Old Church were read by the society’s Alice Glover. A second part of the event were remembrances by his long-time neighbor, Michelle Frechette.
In a July 2010 letter to the society’s then-President Glover, Minge laid out what it took to protect the structure that has become Corrales’ primary icon. “For fear a developer or worse would take over the Old San Ysidro Church property, Shirley [his wife] and I made offers to purchase it. We did not receive an answer directly until our mayor, [Barbara Tenorio Christianson, first mayor of Corrales] approached me to form an Historical Society of Corrales.
“The Village government was suggesting the society as manager of the property after the parish agreed at last to sell the Old Church to the Village.”
In the early 1970s, the Old Church had been de-sanctified by the Archdiocese of Santa Fe which owned the property. So after the new San Ysidro Catholic Church was built where it is now, the Old Church was leased to the Corrales Adobe Theater.
Minge’s narrative for Glover continued. “Once formed, the society’s immediate challenge was to come to terms with the Adobe Theater group renting the premises for theater productions during the summer.”
The society membership was prepared to pay the Village of Corrales to replace income it would lose from the theater’s rental.
As other correspondence read by Glover at the tribute demonstrates, Minge’s interest in preserving the structure began long before the Historical Society was established. The society’s archive include a January 6, 1954 letter from Minge to a priest in Bernalillo explaining his motive. “Nearly two years ago, my father and I visited you in Bernalillo with an offer to purchase the Old San Ysidro Church in Sandoval [then the name of Corrales]. At that time, you asked a number of questions regarding an equitable price and also regarding my motives.
“I felt the interview was very satisfactory for you and me, and I was sure you understood my interests were twofold: that our land bordered on those church lands and, secondly, that my wife and I have been most interested in Spanish culture and preservation of what little remains in Corrales. As our home across from the church stands in mute testimony, I am sure the parish can have no doubts as to our respect, care and interest for these things.”
In that January 1964 letter, Minge wrote that he had heard rumors that the Old Church might be sold soon to some other party. “I beg of you to consider my standing application that I be given the opportunity to purchase this property under whatever terms may be decided in the future.”
In a January 1967 letter, Minge explained how he would use the old church if he was allowed to buy it. “I should then wish to see it used by the community of Corrales as a meetings, lecture and concert hall. My utmost concern for owning it, and the concern of many who have approached me, is to prevent its being destroyed, becoming a commercial venture, or being used as a storehouse for junk.
“We have watched with growing alarm the rapid deterioration of the church building over the past few years.”
In that letter, he pointed out that his own property [now Casa San Ysidro Museum] is adjacent to the cemetery, and that he would be willing to give up some of his land for future use for the campo santo if an expansion of the cemetery was desired in the future.
But those overtures for a Minge purchase were rejected. It was only when Corrales’ first mayor suggested the Historical Society be formed as a more appropriate new owner that a way forward opened.
In his recounting of those formative developments in the July 2010 letter to Clover, the historian explained that Village government finally agreed to terminate lease of the Old Church to the Adobe Theater in 1978.
“It was about this time the Corrales Historical Society received several thousands of dollars (I am not sure of the exact amount) from a production company initiating a television series called Nakai in which a Pueblo Indian sheriff succeeds in protecting a small village and its church from developers,” Minge wrote.
He said the TV producers paid the Historical Society about $2,000 to use the Old Church for some of those scenes. “Some members were hesitant to have the company working in the plaza, particularly setting fire to Old Church. Negotiators assured us that the fire would be harmless, that creating the illusion of burning the building would cause no damage whatsoever.
“Because the series was being made on a ‘shoestring,’ the company offered $3,000 and no more. That sum, along with the story being filmed of an Indian sheriff saving the village and its church from developers, seemed heaven-sent, and the society agreed to allow the company to proceed.” He wrote that “shortly after filming Nakai, the upper attic area over the southern transept caught fire. Most of us believed lightning to be cause, but the area required replacing some timbers and considerable cleaning.”
His history of the long-running effort to save the Old Church included the effort in the 1980s to build an annex for public restrooms, a kitchen and storage for chairs and other equipment.