La Quinta Cultural Center is a “15,000-square-foot architectural gem.” Photos courtesy of Los Poblanos

Western Landmark: Los Poblanos Historic Inn & Organic Farm

Drive down the tree-lined road at the base of the Sandia Mountains, past sprawling fields of lavender, distant farm buildings, a vibrant chef’s garden and a lotus-covered pond, and you’ll reach the unassuming yet welcoming Los Poblanos Inn. The area was originally inhabited by the ancient Anasazi and later settled by families from Puebla, Mexico, where citizens were referred to as “Poblanos,” in the late 1800s. Here, on the northern outskirts of Albuquerque, New Mexico, the 500-acre Los Poblanos Ranch, originally owned by Ambrosio and Juan Cristobal Armijo, once served as the community hub.

Over the years, the land was parceled and sold. But in the 1930s, 800 acres and the original headquarters were pieced back together by politicians and community activists Albert and Ruth Simms. The couple hired John Gaw Meem to design a new ranch house — now the inn — and La Quinta Cultural Center, a ballroom and gallery space to host community activities. Meem, a renowned Southwestern architect who worked closely with railway hospitality mogul Fred Harvey, was credited with the preservation movement of Santa Fe and placed great importance on Regionalism and the Pueblo Revival style.

In addition to Meem designing the structures, the Simms hired New Mexico’s leading artists and craftsmen. Still intact are Gustave Baumann wood carvings on the large pine doors and over a mantel, and handcrafted iron door handles and latches resembling ploughs are offset with photography by Laura Gilpin and a fresco by Peter Hurd. The inn’s surroundings were designed by famed landscape architect Rose Greely.

These buildings, representing the architect’s residential and commercial inclinations, were eventually split up again when the ranch lands were sold in 1976. Current owners Penny and Armin Rembe, along with other family members, bought 10 acres at that time, and then an adjoining lot in 1997, bringing together the original headquarters and 25 acres.

“Having grown up here, we had a profound respect for the two buildings and the signature works of John Gaw Meem in New Mexico,” explains Matthew Rembe, executive director. “La Quinta was a 15,000-square-foot architectural gem on land that was in danger of being subdivided and sold for home lots. These buildings were important to his work and if put together again, we knew they would make a strong story.”

The family looked at agri-tourism models around Europe and came up with the idea of running the property as an inn to share the beauty and history with the general public. They turned the Meem-designed hacienda into guest rooms and revived La Quinta back into a community center, this time focused on weddings and special events, all with a nod to the agricultural history and an emphasis on the arts of the area.

During the 1930s and ’40s, Los Poblanos was a model experimental farm and the Rembe family wanted to follow that lead.

“It was a progressive American farm estate where they were raising sugar beets during World War II, used turkeys for pest management, were the first to utilize a corn harvester in the state, and reintroduced Navajo-Churro sheep back to the area,” Matthew says. “We started with the goal of being good stewards to the architecture and soon realized being good stewards to the agricultural land was equally important.”

The Rembes planted lavender because it needs far less water than other crops. It’s also tied to Spanish history that’s important to the area, and it has the added benefits of medicinal uses and an overall olfactory appeal for guests.

With 22 guest rooms, a working farm, a farm-to-table restaurant, a retail store featuring locally crafted products and a bustling events center, Los Poblanos reached a point where it had to expand in order to serve the needs of the community and growing visitor numbers.

Renovations, completed in spring 2017, include a newly opened restaurant in the original 1930s dairy building overlooking the lavender fields; a new retail shop and expanded manufacturing space; an artisan bakery; and the addition of up to 5,000 new lavender plants to meet product demands. A large part of the project was adding another 28 guest rooms that are elegant, with fine linens and deluxe touches, while still keeping the Meem spirit alive with front and back doors for airflow, deep portals and arches.

The end result is a full luxury farm experience where guests wake up to roosters crowing, lavender-field views, the occasional peacock strutting by, and meals consisting of food harvested that day or raised nearby.

“It’s a very rich, visceral experience where the building is elegant, and the purpose of the whole property is ag-driven, with the architecture and agriculture so tied together,” Matthew says. “That’s at the core of what we do; we’re rooted in history and planting seeds for the future.”

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