George R. R. Martin wanted to build a castle in his backyard; Santa Fe shot him down

A Man's Home Is His Castle. But Not Literally

George R. R. Martin wanted to build a castle in his backyard; Santa Fe shot him down

Downtown Santa Fe. The low-slung adobe buildings are more “southwestern desert” and less “wizard’s tower.” (Rennett Stowe/Flickr)

A man’s home may be his castle, but it can’t necessarily look like one, at least not in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

That was the ruling from the city’s Historic Districts Review Board, which turned down a proposal by Game of Thrones creator George R. R. Martin to construct a seven-sided library in his backyard that would have looked like a castle after neighbors objected that it didn’t meet historic district guidelines.

“We thought it was Winterfell when we first saw the plans,” a neighbor told the Daily Mail, which first reported on the controversy. “All it’s missing is Jon Snow and a couple of dragons.”

Martin, who writes about the similar castles of Westeros in the “A Song of Ice and Fire” series that served as the basis for HBO’s Game of Thrones series, had applied for permission to add the library to the four-acre compound where he and his wife, Parris McBride, live near Museum Hill in Santa Fe.

Architect Alexander Dzurec of Autotroph designed a fortress-like structure that neighbors have likened to a castle, noting its thick walls, crenelated top, and turret-shaped tower. According to Autotroph’s website, Dzurec has offices in Santa Fe and Baltimore.

In the application on file with the city, the project is called Water Garden Keep. Martin is not named in the application materials but the proposed site is an undeveloped section of his property in the 1300 block of Camino Corrales and neighbors have identified him in public hearings about the proposal.

Santa Fe is known for strict design guidelines that require new structures to fit in with their surroundings, typically stucco-clad buildings with a pared-down look referred to as “adobe style” or “Southwestern architecture.” Martin occupies two other residences on the property that are adobe style.

The review board turned down Martin’s request on the grounds that the proposed building, with a roof deck and elevator and stair tower, exceeded the 19-foot height limit for the district where he lives. The tallest part is the proposed elevator tower, at approximately four feet over the limit.

In a two-hour hearing via Zoom, panel members also voiced objections to the style of the architecture, saying it wasn’t appropriate for the area.

“It is a medieval castle, and I don’t understand how we could possibly approve it in this style,” said panel member Frank Katz, according to the Santa Fe New Mexican. “There is no doubt in anyone’s mind looking at the structure that it’s a medieval castle keep.”

Neighbors also voiced concerns that the building could bring unwanted attention to their community. More than 40 people signed a letter urging the board to reject the design.

“With the notoriety of Mr. Martin and ‘Game of Thrones,’ we absolutely fear that our neighborhood will become the next treasure hunt, that his fans will be looking to find the castle that’s in the middle of Santa Fe,” neighbor Mark Graham told the board, according to The Associated Press.

Diagram showing a castle against an adobe home, to be built by George R. R. Martin
A diagram on file with the city of Santa Fe showing the scale of the “castle” and Martin’s existing home, stamped December 2019. (Taken by Edward Gunts)

Martin “has done a lot for the arts and he’s very welcome here,” the Daily Mail quoted one neighbor as saying. “But there is a code in Santa Fe and the buildings here have…to retain a certain historic look. If they allow something like this, it will open the floodgates to any rich eccentric that wants to live in a castle with a tower.”

The meeting last week was the second time architects had presented plans for Martin’s library, intended to hold his large collection of books and “collectibles.” The review panel rejected the first iteration on the grounds that it exceeded the area’s height limit and didn’t fit in with other buildings in the area.

The latest proposal was a modified version of the earlier one, but the applicants still asked for a waiver of the height limit.

A “height allowance and exception request” filed with the drawings states that the property owners both have “mobility challenges” and need an elevator and “elevator overrun” to get to the roof deck.

In their opposition letter, the neighbors said the modifications weren’t enough. According to The New York Times, some said during the meeting that they thought Martin and McBride wanted elevator access to the roof deck so they could have parties there. “The fact remains that the proposed building is still a prominent castle in the middle of a residential neighborhood in Santa Fe,” the letter said in part. “IT WILL BE VISIBLE.”

Martin, who is reportedly worth $65 million, is a high-profile patron of art and architecture in Santa Fe. According to the Daily Mail, Martin and McBride bought the Camino Corrales property in 2018 for $3 million. He also bought and restored the Jean Cocteau Cinema in 2013 to show new-release arthouse films and restored classics, as well as episodes of Games of Thrones. Martin, 71, has sold more than 20 million books worldwide and is working on his sixth Game of Thrones novel, The Winds of Winter.

Martin has the option of appealing the review board’s decision or returning with a new proposal. If the board continues to reject his vision for a castle-like building on Camino Corrales, Martin will have at least one reminder of medieval times: One of his mailboxes is shaped like a castle.