Blacks Crossing Photography and Writing | Sawmill District revival

Sawmill District revival

October 30, 2017  •  6 Comments

Something is afoot in New Mexico's largest city.  My old stomping grounds, Albuquerque, is frequently in the news because of crime, and on the political front due to a troubled mass-transit system, but there is a revival going on in the Sawmill District.  We have seen it in detail during the past several years while staying at the Hotel Albuquerque during the Albuquerque Tango Festival. A very large building seemed to rise from a dirt lot east of the hotel.  The first year, we wondered.  The second year, we walked over to it and realized it was becoming the Hotel Chaco.  We also explored the small businesses and work/live lofts and homes to the north and east of the construction, courtesy of the Sawmill Community Land Trust.  Now, the old Paxton Lumber is poised to become the Sawmill Market, a 25,000 square foot food and market hall, which, if the architectural renderings are true to form, will somewhat mimic detailing of the Hotel Chaco.  Which is where today's blog takes us.

Stepping into the Hotel Chaco for the first time, several things immediately impressed me.  The design is geometric, dramatic, and stunning.  The project is a product of the architectural firm M. Arthur Gensler, Jr. and Associates, Inc. Some might feel it is a bit stark, with detailing coming from its namesake, Chaco Culture National Historical Park.  But it works, incredibly well.  From the sandstone-lined doorways, openings, and light wells to Native American artwork, seemingly nothing was left to chance.  Great intention and care have been given to the building, inside and out, from the entrance to the gift shop, featuring the work of Patricia Michaels' Waterlily fashions, along with the work of other Native American Artists.  


The oculus in the hotel lobby, shown below, was designed by Santa Clara artist Tammy Garcia.

Hotel Chaco oculusHotel Chaco oculus


The south entrance features a ramada or pergola, with wood and Corten steel, creating a latilla and viga ceiling effect.

Hotel Chaco south walkway pergolaHotel Chaco south walkway pergola


Huge advertising photographs for the Level 5 restaurant cover the south and east windows, where future shops will be, adding to the aesthetic.  Steel cable is strung between the uprights along the outside sidewalks, one of the many examples of transitions from thick to thin and chunky to delicate that hallmark the hotel design.  Acknowledgement of the areas's industrial roots is demonstrated in the building materials and large steel architectural elements.  Liberal use of more traditional stone and plaster blend with the metal to make a winning combination.

Hotel Chaco east detailHotel Chaco east detail


The topper on the Hotel Chaco cake is the Level 5 Rooftop Restaurant and Lounge.  Once again, no detail has been left to chance.  From the slabs of wood that serve as bar table tops to the sheet and angle steel legs and supports, this is form and function at its best.  Something seemingly simple like the tableware adds interest and texture.

Hotel Chaco Level 5 long tableHotel Chaco Level 5 long table

Another element of Level 5 is the creative use of indoor and outdoor space. Most of the window-doors slide open to the outside, and in warm weather, people can wander in and out of the restaurant to get a better view of the city. Gas fireplaces dot the area, a modern-day ode to gathering around the fire. While we were having breakfast, a couple was finishing their coffee outside by one of the fireplaces.   Ottomans accompanying the outdoor furniture have the look of huge stones, but are actually made of fiberglass.   In the west wall, openings provide a framed view of west Albuquerque.

Hotel Chaco east Level 5 outside areaHotel Chaco east Level 5 outside area

Hotel Chaco Level 5 west outdoor areaHotel Chaco Level 5 west outdoor area


We actually went to the restaurant because we had heard good things about it from friends who had gone to lunch there the day before.  It exceeded our wildest expectations.  The hotel partnered with Chef Mark Miller of Coyote Cafe and Red Sage fame, and he is the mind behind the menu offerings.  When we told our server Soly that the Sage Scrambled Egg Tartine sounded good, she said "It is like Thanksgiving dinner for breakfast."  The creation combined scrambled eggs, aged cheddar, a spicy tomato jam containing lots of fascinating ingredients, assorted locally-sourced, in-season greens, and seeds and nuts piled on top of a huge slab of sourdough whole wheat bread.  A steak knife is brought to the table for cutting into the crusty mix.  It was unlike anything we have had.  The yummy sounds kept pouring forth.

Hotel Chaco Level 5 breakfastHotel Chaco Level 5 breakfast


This brief tour of Hotel Chaco would not be complete without mentioning the attention to service that is found in each and every part of the Heritage Hotel Group.  As I mentioned, Soly was our server at breakfast, and service is her middle name.  She was amazing.  Here she is, shining like her namesake.

Hotel Chaco Soly at Level 5_Hotel Chaco Soly at Level 5_

Our thanks to her and everyone at the Hotel Chaco and Hotel Albuquerque for anchoring the Sawmill District and making it an extraordinary place.

until next Monday


a passion for the image@





Elida Hanson-Finelli(non-registered)
As always Daryl, your photos are beautifully composed and inspiring. We love ABQ! In fact we were just there last week visiting friends and enjoying the big city! We look forward to exploring The Sawmill District on our next journey there! The Chaco Hotel is definitely on our list of places to see. Exploring architecture, urban renewal and synthesizing cultures into these are so thrilling. Thanks for your enthusiasm and expertise!
Steve Immel(non-registered)
You have your PR chops on full display here, Daryl. What a testimony for the Hotel Chaco! Those folks owe you a night and dinner at Level 5. Your photographs and review are superb. We will check it out next time we're in ABQ for sure. The portrait of Soly (I'm guessing Soledad) is priceless. Just gotta figure out where the Sawmill District is.
Consider offering this to The Chaco as a brochure and/or poster. Outstanding architectural and culinary reviews, plus crisp and colorful photography excite the senses. The Garcia Oculus is so breathtaking it begs to be framed!! In sum, today's blog is a total winner...with great marketing potential, Daryl!
Paule Marx(non-registered)
Wow, that sounds and looks like a wonderful improvement to the area and I'll definitely want to check it out - thanks!
Andrea Szekeres(non-registered)
Daryl, your pictures and design/architectural descriptions are magnificent! The next time I'm in Albuquerque I'll be sure to see it for myself.
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