When I was growing up in Santa Fe we all referred to the Scottish Rite Masonic Temple on Paseo de Peralta as the Pepto-Bismol building. Even today, there aren’t many pink buildings around town. When I was researching my book, The History of spirituality in Santa Fe, the City of Holy Faith, I asked the folks at the temple how their building got that unusual color, that’s when I found out that it wasn’t the intended hue. Not only was there too much red in the pigment, it caused the death of an industrialist. When Mr. Wellborn, a lifelong mason, came out to see the completed buidling he had a heart attack and died at the sight of the pink structure. I was never able to confirm the validity of that story but it makes for a colorful yarn.
Like the Mexican War of 1846–1848 that brought a new breed of spirituality to Santa Fe, the Civil War brought freemasonry. In 1909, Harper Cunningham, a former private in the Union army and attorney general of Oklahoma arrived in Santa Fe. A member of the Freemason organization, he began work on establishing a chapter for the Masons. Although freemasonry is not a religion, the Masons believe in a Supreme Being and work for the betterment of society. In Santa Fe they have supported the work of hospitals and clinics and work with children with dyslexia.
Scottish Rite Temple Opens During Statehood
Harper Cunningham died in 1911, one year before the Scottish Rite Temple was built. The building was erected in 1912 at Paseo de Peralta and Washington Avenue. It was built to resemble the Alhambra in Spain, where Santa Fe’s name was christened by Queen Isabela. The buildings pink facade has always stood apart from the rest of Santa Fe’s architecture. Many peope refer to it as the Pepto-Bismol building. Although Cunningham never got to see his dream realized, many well-known New Mexicans continued his work, including Richard Henry Hanna, a New Mexico Supreme Court justice, and Edgar Lee Hewitt, the founder of the Museum of New Mexico. Harper Cunningham and his wife, Eva, are buried beneath the stairs of the temple entrance.