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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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NMSU's Garcia Center named for chile pioneer Fabián García

Date: 7/9/20

Fabián García Memorial Hall was built as a men's dormitory in 1949 after the death of Fabián García, a revolutionary horticulturist whose research at New Mexico State University influenced agriculture worldwide. It remained a dormitory for nearly thirty years before it was renovated and converted into office space. Currently, García Center, formerly García Annex, is home to several student support offices such as the Center for Academic Advising and Student Support.

About Fabián García

Born in 1871 in Chihuahua, Mexico, García was orphaned early in life and raised by his grandmother who moved with him to the Mimbres Valley when García was 2 years old. She found work as a domestic worker with the Casad family in what is now known as Old Mesilla. The family provided García with a private tutor and later sent him to what was known as Las Cruces College.

Around 1888, García began a series of groundbreaking experiments to develop more standardized chile varieties. In 1894, García graduated from New Mexico College of Agricultural and Mechanic Arts in its first graduating class. García went on to study briefly at Cornell University before returning to New Mexico A&M, where he earned his master's degree in 1905.

In 1907, García married Julieta Amador, the daughter of one of the valley's oldest and most prominent families. She died in 1920 and García never remarried. Amador's letters, written to García in Spanish, are preserved in the NMSU Library's Rio Grande Historical Collections.

A professor of horticulture from 1906-1945, García was named the first director of the State Agricultural Experiment Station in 1913. Over nearly five-decades, García's work laid the foundation for New Mexico's $400 million chile pepper industry. He was one of only two people in the world experimenting with chile peppers during the early 20th century.

In 1921 he released the “New Mexico 9,” the first chile with a dependable pod size and heat that is the genetic ancestor for all New Mexico chiles.

García also introduced the Grano onion breed and was instrumental in planting some of the first pecan trees in the Mesilla Valley, establishing the state's pecan industry. García is also credited with developing modern irrigated agriculture in the state.

García's impact went beyond his groundbreaking research. García went out of his way to help poor Mexican-American students, often providing them rooms at the farm while they attended school. In his later years, he was known to say, “Don't be ashamed to say you're Mexican. I came from Mexico and I'm proud of it.”

In 1945, García was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, which left him bedridden and hospitalized, but he didn't give up his love for agriculture and the university. After fighting the disease for three years, García died Aug. 6, 1948.

His legacy remains throughout NMSU with several buildings named after him, including the 40-acre Fabián García Science Center, which houses the Chili Pepper Institute research plots and greenhouses for breeding, genetics and more. In 2019, García was inducted into the National Agricultural Center's Hall of Fame in Kansas, joining the ranks of Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and Eli Whitney, among other notable contributors to agriculture.

Construction of García Center

García bequeathed his entire estate, more than $85,000 to fund the dormitory's construction and to provide scholarships for poor students. “I want to help poor boys, for I know their hardships,” he said. With a $300,000 bond to be repaid by rentals added to Garcia's donation, the dormitory was completed in 1949. The dorm featured 75 student rooms with occupancy for 150 men. By the end of that year, 30 scholarships to allow 30 disadvantaged boys to stay in the new dorm were established.

The discounted rent was $5 instead of the normal $15. Each room was filled with a large study table, two beds, double bureau and closet. Each wing of the building on both floors was furnished with a large shower room and telephone extensions.

Additions and renovation over the years

In September of 1956, the NMSU Board of Regents approved installing air conditioning in the facility. In 1958, they increased the amount of the Garcia Memorial Scholarship to $30 per semester. García Center has undergone several renovations and improvements over more than 70-years. The most significant project was in 1976 when the facility was remodeled, changing its use from a dormitory to accommodate office space for several student support services.

NMSU History Archives