The Los Alamos area, sprawled over several north central New Mexico mesasin a region known as the Pajarito Plateau, is historically characterized by remoteness. Many undisturbed prehistoric Pueblo Indian ruins still dot the region. After the arrival of Europeans in the mid 1700s, the Plateau slumbered for some 150 years as a secluded grazing and timbering area. The few homesteads and ranches that arrived in the late 1800s and early 1900s were mostly seasonal.
In 1917, an elite preparatory school for boys took over the year-around Los Alamos Ranch, which occupied a large, central portion of the Plateau. The Los Alamos Ranch School operated until 1943, when outside events forced it, along with a number of homesteads, to vacate the premises. The Jemez’ isolation and beauty had attracted the attention of Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer, who was seeking a secluded site for a top-secret World War II military program, the Manhattan Project; he had visited the school on horseback during his youth.
The Manhattan Project dramatically transformed the Los Alamos area into a bustling scientific and military complex with several outreach sites, much of it fenced and all of it guarded by U.S. Army patrols on horseback or in jeeps. Staffed by many of the world’s top scientists, the Los Alamos weapons laboratory designed, built, and tested at White Sands, New Mexico, the world’s first atomic bomb. The U.S. dropped two atomic bombs on Japan in August 1945 to end World War II. Ramifications were immediate, immense, and worldwide.
After the war, the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission assumed responsibility for the Laboratory. It also mandated a closed, civilian town built by government contractors. Los Alamos became a county in 1949 but remained closed until 1957. White Rock, initially opened in 1949 to house Laboratory construction workers and intended to be temporary, was reborn in the early 1960s for permanent homes. The Los Alamos National Laboratory continues to design and provide oversight for the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile and nonproliferation activity. Basic medical, energy, and technical research have considerably expanded the Laboratory’s initial focus.
Clearly, the development of Los Alamos did not follow a familiar American West scenario. Nor is the County similar to other communities within northern New Mexico. The cultural and technical ramifications of its unique events and personalities have had profound worldwide significance. Preserving the community’s physical history is important not only to the people of the County, but to those of the state, nation, and world.
Overseeing historic and cultural resources is a cooperative effort incorporating overlapping spheres of official influence.The National Historic Preservation Act serves as an overall guide to local levels of preservation activity and the New Mexico Cultural Properties Act sets state standards of preservation policy. The State Historic Preservation Division is the liaison between communities and national policy makers. The Fuller Lodge/Historic Districts Advisory Board, the Los Alamos Historical Society, and other groups – including but not limited to local enterprises, volunteer organizations, Los Alamos County, and Los Alamos National Laboratory – contribute to local historic preservation.