By Bethany Conway The Las Cruces Bulletin
For years, the lot on the corner of Armijo Street and Court Avenue remained untouched, becoming one of the only vacant lots in the historic Alameda-Depot District. Like a blank canvas waiting to be painted, the property sat in limbo as its surroundings changed. Bought by William and Kathryn Stowe in the 1970s, it was their son Bill Stowe and his wife Jeannie who would finally alter the in-fill lot. With the help of Soledad Canyon Earth Builders, Bill and Jeannie Stowe constructed one of the most energy-efficient homes the historic neighborhood has seen to date. “In-fill means it’s an empty lot in an area that is already all built up,” said Pat Bellestri-Martinez, owner of Soledad Canyon Earth Builders. In other words, it’s a real find. “It’s more difficult to build on an in-fill lot because there are neighbors, there are people walking by and it takes attention to detail, which Pat contributed quite a lot to,” Bill Stowe said.
Moving to southern New Mexico from Florida, the Southwest met Mario and Pat Bellestri during the 2006 Las Cruces Home Builders Spring Showcase of Homes. After hearing about Bill’s sister Kathleen Krepps’ home on Shalom Colony Road, also built by Soledad Canyon Earth Builders, they decided to utilize the Bellestris’ unique form of construction, which dates back to ancient times.“They raved about their house,” Jeannie Stowe said of her sister- and brother-in-law.
Recognized for their practice of rammed-earth construction, where a mixture of earth and concrete is poured into large plywood forms and compacted into 18-inch thick walls, homes by Soledad Canyon Earth Builders are known to provide better insulation, energy efficiency and protection from the elements.“We have been building this way since 1983,” Bellestri-Martinez said.
Building in one of the city’s most historic neighborhoods, the Bellestri’s took a different approach to the home’s exterior, which had to conform to the surrounding architecture.“From the outside, the house looks like it has been here for a while, but then you come in and everything looks 21st Century. That worked out really well,” Bill Stowe said.
Though Mario Bellestri, a well-known figure in the Las Cruces homebuilding industry, passed away before the home was completed, he was involved in creating its footprint.“When he showed us the floor plan, that was it,” Jeannie Stowe said.
As the Soledad Canyon crew compacted earth with a large tamper and the home’s thick walls began to emerge, students at the nearby Alma d’arte High School as well as neighbors had to come by for a peek. “The guys were telling me that everybody from the school and all of the neighbors came and asked, ‘What are you doing?’” Jeannie Stowe said. “The young people were really interested.” Living next door in a duplex – also part of the property originally purchased by William Stowe in the ’70s – the couple watched as their retirement home took shape.“For us, living next door, we could come every day and see it develop,” Jeannie Stowe said.
Entered in both the Guild of the Las Cruces Symphony Association Home Tour titled “The Greening of Las Cruces” and the 2009 LCHBA Spring Showcase of Homes, the residence was put on display following completion so all of Las Cruces could learn about its many “green” features. The home’s green attributes include a tankless water heater, a tubular skylight in the hallway, a top-of-the-line HVAC ventilation system, a long-lasting metal roof, low volatile organic compound paints, Energy Star appliances, dual-flush toilets, low-flow fixtures and spray-foam insulation, which creates a cocoon around the home when combined with its thick walls. Though the couple admits that after three weekends they experienced a bit of “showcase fatigue,” they were happy to get so many great reactions about their home. “People loved the flow of the house,” Jeannie Stowe said. With a large, open space containing all of the home’s main living areas, the Stowe’s said the sleek kitchen has worked out to be “the heart of the home.” With contemporary fixtures and hardware in every room, all of which were chosen with the help of Pat Bellestri, as well as a clean, white finish on the walls, the home has a spotless, modern appearance.“Everybody loves this paint color,” Jeannie Stowe said. “It is so much easier to organize everything if you start with a palette that is neutral, because you can play with all kinds of colors. You can put anything you want. “I have made so many mistakes and re-painted so many living room walls you wouldn’t believe.”
Though Mario Bellestri never saw the finished product, Bellestri-Martinez, who received her general contractor’s license during the home’s construction, said her husband would have enjoyed showing the home off to those attending the different tours.“He loved Showcase of Homes,” she said.
When asked if they would recommend Soledad Canyon to others, the Stowe’s said they wouldn’t hesitate. “The workmanship is just incredible,” Jeannie Stowe said.