East side of Plaza
This impressive business block was completed on the northeast corner of the Plaza in 1891 for powerful lawyer and politician, Thomas Benton Catron. It was designed for stores on the first floor and offices on the second, and for many years Catron's office afforded him a commanding view of the Palace of the Governors and the Plaza. His large collection of books contained what was reputed lo be the most extensive law library west of the Mississippi River.
A native of Missouri, Catron came to Santa Fe in 1866 at the age of twenty-six and entered the practice of law. Almost immediately he began his swift political rise that included appointment to the top judicial posts in the territory, a term as mayor of Santa Fe, four terms in the territorial legislature, and that culminated with his election at the age of seventy-two to the United States Senate as one of New Mexico's first two senators after statehood.
Catron's name was long associated with leadership of the "Santa Fe Ring," a powerful and shifting alliance of primarily Republican political and business leaders, who for many years were said to control the business and political life of the territory. The "Ring" was particularly active in land grants and Catron himself was estimated to own millions of acres. Of the business ventures in which he was involved, perhaps the most successful was the formation of the region's first bank, The First National Bank of Santa Fe, which today is the oldest bank in the Southwest.
The Catron Block was built by the local firm of Berardinelli and Palladino in the Italianate, or, as it is sometimes called, the railroad commercial style, which in this period represented to Santa Fe's business leaders the urgently needed modernization of the commerce district. Brick, stone, or cast iron facades, and large display windows were favored on the Plaza; adobe and portales were scorned. Half a million bricks went into the construction of the Catron building, and forty thousand pressed bricks were ordered from the penitentiary for the front. A galvanized metal cornice and fifteen or more huge plate glass windows were shipped in from the East.
On the ground floor in 1912 Emil and Johanna Ulfelder opened the White House, offering Santa Fe's first ready-made fashions for women. After Emil's death, Johanna married Morris Blatt. In 1927, two years after Catron's death, the Blatts bought the building from the Catron heirs, and for many years it has been known as the Blatt building. Today it is owned by a family partnership headed by the Ulfelders' daughter, granddaughter, and grandson. The closing of the Guarantee in 1988 brought to an end seventy-six years of stores in the building owned and managed by Ulfelder descendants. Only a year earlier the law firm of Catron, Catron, and Sawtell, headed by Thomas Catron's grandsons, moved from the second floor to offices on the south side of town. However, the building's legal tradition continues; the law office of Emil Ulfelder's great-grandson occupies part of the second floor.
The exterior of the Catron Block has been altered at the ground level over the years. In the late 1960s a Territorial Revival portal was added. About ten years later large display windows were replaced by smaller windows of varying size and stucco was applied to suggest the contours and color of adobe. Nevertheless, on the second story, adobe-colored paint has not obscured the striking features of the building-the arrangement of pilasters and arched windows with exaggerated keystones, as well as the overhanging cornice with its dentils, ornamental brackets, and central pediment. The least altered of the buildings that faced the PLAZA in 1891, the Catron Block is today a unique reminder of the architecture that dominated the PLAZA in the late nineteenth century.