SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — The Palace of the Governors is already billed as the oldest continuously occupied public building in the United States.
Now, the historic structure — with its worn planked flooring and thick adobe walls — has been named a national treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in an effort to raise awareness and money for much-needed repairs.
The official announcement was made Wednesday afternoon before a crowd that included Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales, several state senators, cultural affairs officials and history buffs.
New Mexico history professor Jon Hunner tried to sum up the building's significance and the varying roles it has played over the last four centuries. He called it a living place that continues to draw people today.
"This building is the end and the beginning of historic trails to Mexico City, to Kansas City, to Los Angeles and many points in between and beyond," he said. "For 400 years, the Palace of the Governors has been the governmental capital, the military command post, the commercial center, the religious headquarters, the transportation nexus and the cultural destination for millions of people."
Built in 1610, the palace sits at the edge of Santa Fe's historic plaza. Under its portal, dozens of Native American artisans from surrounding pueblos gather each day to sell their handmade wares to passing tourists.
Inside, the building is filled with exhibits that highlight New Mexico's history. The artifacts range from arrowheads that are thousands of years old to an 18th century family tree that suggests Santa Fe was settled by the Spanish before 1610.
The national trust and state officials are concerned however that the building is deteriorating and improvements need to be made so it can remain a fixture for generations to come.
New Mexico Cultural Affairs Secretary Veronica Gonzales said she plans to ask the state Legislature for a $1.5 million appropriation that can be used to leverage more than $3 million in private funding to pay for restoration work at the palace. Its new designation as a national treasure should help the cause, she said.
Gonzales called the building the "crown jewel" of New Mexico.
Barbara Pahl, a regional official with the national trust, said the palace joins 55 other national treasures around the country. That list could grow to 100, she said.
"While there's no doubt about the national significance, the international significance of the palace, there are many properties that are owned by states across the country that are in this same boat where state revenues are down and there's a constant search for revenue and competition with other priorities."
Pahl said the trust can help build the coalitions needed to preserve those places on the list. Successful campaigns include the Washington National Cathedral in D.C., the White Grass dude ranch in Wyoming and Joe Frazier's Gym in Pennsylvania.