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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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102-year-old Nason House: Home to university presidents, now Latin American studies

Date: 6/11/20

For nearly 40 years, Nason House has been known as the home of the Center for Latin American and Border Studies at New Mexico State University. The Center promotes teaching, research and community outreach on issues important to Latin America and the border region.

In 1918, Henry C. Trost designed the unassuming house off University Avenue as the residence for the president of the New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts. The home served nine presidents and their families between 1918 and 1980.

After renovations were completed, the Center for Latin American and Border Studies moved to the house in 1983 and the building was later renamed and dedicated to NMSU graduate student Willoughby Nason.

About Willoughby L. Nason

A 33-year-old Vietnam War veteran, Nason was an NMSU graduate student researching Mexican Revolutionary War history in 1979 when he died suddenly of heart failure. His interest in Latin America came from his late father Charles, who was an engineer in Guatemala where he installed a nationwide radio and telegraph communication system in the 1930s. After her husband and son died, Marion Nason, found a way to continue their legacy.

In 1980, she donated her late husband's treasure trove of Latin American artifacts to the university -- more than 2,000 items collected over nearly 50 years. They were first housed in the “Charles and Willoughby Nason Latin American Reading Room” in Breland Hall. Later that same year, Nason and her daughter Alexandra Hall, established a memorial fund in honor of Willoughby Nason. The Nason Fellowship for graduate studies continues to support students in Latin American studies today.

Marion Nason donated funds to renovate the building between 1981-83 to house the Center for Latin American and Border Studies. Four years later, Nason House was renamed and dedicated to her son Willoughby. Many of her husband's artifacts are on display in the “Charles and Willoughby Nason Reading Room,” inside the two-story facility that includes a lounge and offices for the center.

The Presidential Years

Discussions about building a home for the president of the college began in 1917 under the tenure of Austin D. Crile, a farmer and a rancher in Roswell. In 1918, the Board of Regents announced that Bascom-French Company won the bid for the construction of the building at a cost of $9,560, which included a garage and Crile was the first to move in.

In 1920, during Robert W. Clothier's brief presidency, the college experienced significant financial problems and he was replaced in 1921 by H.L. Kent, who remained president for 15 years. In 1936, Ray Fife followed Kent but by 1938, Hugh M. Milton II was president of the college.

In 1947, Milton was replaced by John Nichols and followed by John Branson in 1949. At the beginning of his presidency in 1955, Roger B. Corbett convinced the Board of Regents of the need for upgrades to the residence. At that time the building featured four bedrooms, one bathroom and a garage that was too small for 1950s make of cars. In February of 1956, remodeling plans for the president's house included enlarging the kitchen to include the service porch, a three-car garage, adding a bath and dressing room upstairs, modernizing the existing bathroom, and redecorating the entire house at a cost of $27,894.

The renovation was completed on November 22, 1956. Corbett remained president of the renamed New Mexico State University until 1970. Gerald W. Thomas replaced Corbett and served as president of NMSU through 1984. It was during Thomas' tenure that the Board considered plans to build a new home for NMSU presidents.

In 1980, the new president's residence was completed east of the main campus near the University Golf Course. Several NMSU presidents lived in that home, which is now called the University Center and Residence and is still used for entertaining and administrative meetings.

Architectural history

Although designed by architect Henry C. Trost, the Nason House was an exception to his signature “Spanish Renaissance” style that featured hipped roofs with clay tiles and domed towers. Nason House shows the influence of architect Frank Lloyd Wright's “Prairie Style” that Trost was exposed during his years in Chicago and the Midwest.

“Prairie Style” architectural features can be seen in the horizontal emphasis of the design – created by the variation in building materials, the shape and overhang of the roof and the banded windows only slightly separated by narrow vertical spaces.

The house is set on a concrete foundation and has a single story on the south side and a double story on the north. The red brick ground floor supports a framed upper story, covered by a low, hipped asphalt roof with broad, overhanging eaves. The band of three windows on the ground floor at the front of the house has horseshoe arches.

NMSU History Archives