Many people in my age bracket are just old enough to remember a childhood wading in a natural, and larger, Ashley Pond catching mudpuppies. A lot of mudpuppies met an untimely demise. We would catch them on the weekend, give them a name, and on about Thursday or Friday there would be the standard burial in the garden which meant catching a new one on the following weekend. They also think they remember an open space. Well, yes and no. The Old County Courthouse was sitting approximately where the JPJ sits now and there were some barracks and other Project buildings along what is now Oppenheimer. But there is something they don't remember, which I do.
Though the County had been created in 1949 it was more of a legal construct than anything else. In 1959 residents of Los Alamos could not own property. Their voting rights were limited. The Town Council/County Commission could not pass legislation, particularly of a budgetary nature, without final approval from the AEC. For over a decade the Constitutional rights which most people take for granted were limited here in Los Alamos. Then, in 1960, it all started to change.
Los Alamos was to be turned over to Los Alamos! The excitement was palpable. People could talk of nothing else. Families sat around the kitchen table and tried to make decisions about buying the government house they were renting or maybe building a "dream home" in the up-coming new developments of Barranca Mesa and White Rock. Los Alamos was about to make its first moves to becoming a "real" town. This is one of clearest memories I have from my childhood -- the excitement, the anticipation. You had to have been there -- it was truly amazing.
It took seven years to get it done. One of the things that was done was planning what would be the first City Hall of an independent Los Alamos. For years, we had stashed what little local government we had in the Old County Courthouse which was an AEC re-tread from the war years.
That original City Hall, the Los Alamos County Municipal Building, was to be the landmark of the political independence of Los Alamos and its establishment as a true polity - not just a legal construct. The significance of that building was stated by then County Administrator Paul Noland in his remarks at the dedication ceremony June 24th 1967 "This building symbolizes Los Alamos as a normal New Mexico town and a normal New Mexico County". That significance was under-scored by inclusion in that ceremony of the signing of the final documents which gave Los Alamos full autonomy and self-actualizing, self-determining Independence.
It was a time of Hope and Confidence and Optimism in, and for, the Future of Los Alamos -- a time of Civic Pride.
Unfortunately, there was a construction flaw. And, unfortunately, we no longer live in an age of Hope, Confidence, Optimism, and Civic Pride.
Now, the Muni and everything it stood for has been demolished and abandoned for the sake of vague promises of Retail, Entertainment, Creature Comforts and Amenities -- for the sake of a Myopia Statement which says "We will create a vital Downtown with shopping, theaters, and restaurants". Somehow, the Governmental Palace now being concieved is supposed to achieve that objective.
Reality Check: What other town in America would do this? If you were to go to any other town and suggest they demolish their original seat of government, their orginal town hall, the building which was the true birthplace of their existance as an independent polity, and replace it, in a different location, with a non-descript office building for the purpose of perhaps making a few lousy bucks would people in that town ask you to please leave? Maybe wearing a suit of feathers? On a rail? Yet, we'll do it here, and one has to wonder: what is it about Los Alamos? Or, as one long time resident asked me, "Richard, why do people hate Los Alamos so much?"
And consider this: in 2009 Los Alamos celebrated the 60th anniversary of its creation as a legal construct. Yet, in 2007, Los Alamos celebrated the 40th anniversary of its true Independence by demolishing and abandoning the landmark symbol of that Independence. Sorta makes you wonder................