Los Alamos Historical Walking Tour MapWalk Into the Atomic Age
First inhabited by the ancestors of Northern New Mexico’s pueblos, Los Alamos is located on the Pajarito Plateau of the Jemez Mountains, formed by eruptions of a giant volcano more than a million years ago. Pueblo ancestors and later Hispanic homesteaders used the plateau for seasonal farming and grazing. In 1917, H.H. Brook’s Alamos* ranch was purchased by Ashley Pond II to start Los Alamos Ranch School, a boys’ school which combined academics and a physical curriculum. During World War II, the Army Corps of Engineers took over the mesa and sealed it for a secret mission to end the war, the Manhattan Project.
Become a time traveler on this walking tour which takes you from ancestral pueblo dwellings to a homesteader’s cabin, to the very spot where the first atomic bomb components were assembled.
The tour can be taken at your own pace, but try to set aside time to enjoy the museums, shopping, and restaurants along your way.Historic Walking Tour
The Manhattan Project Technical Area surrounding Ashley Pond, LASL Photo (archive)
Ashley Pond (archive)
Ranch School Big House
Ranch School Faculty Housing (archive)
Sheep graze contentedly at the H.H. Brook homestead in 1915 on the site of today’s Historical Museum and Fuller Lodge. (archive)
Quonset huts, mud rutted streets, and wooden sidewalks attest to the temporary nature of a hurriedly built town of WWII.
A mid-1940s view (to the east on Central at 20th Street)
Fuller Lodge, designed by John Gaw Meem in 1928 for the Ranch School, still functions as a center of community activities
1.) LOS ALAMOS HISTORICAL MUSEUM & SHOP
Built as an infirmary in 1918 and later used as the guest cottage for Los Alamos Ranch School, the museum is in the oldest continually occupied structure in town. During the Manhattan Project (1943 to 1947), the cottage continued to serve as guest quarters, notably for General Leslie R. Groves, commander of the Manhattan Engineer District, whose office and residence were in Washington, D.C.
Now it serves as an award-winning, comprehensive historical museum which presents our world-changing and varied history. A book and gift shop fills a former bedroom.
THE BAKER HOUSE
A private residence adjacent to the Historical Museum, this log home was built as the house for the Los Alamos Ranch School chief mechanic. During the Manhattan Project it housed high-ranking personnel, notably Nobel Laureate Sir James Chadwick of the British Technical Mission. It is called the Baker House in honor of longtime residents of the house and Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory scientists Richard and Bonnie Baker.
2.) FULLER LODGE
This grand building was built in 1928 as the Ranch School Dining Hall. It also served as nurse, staff, and guest quarters. Named for Edward P. Fuller, a staff member at the Ranch School, it is made of 771 massive pine logs, personally selected by architect John Gaw Meem and Ranch School director A.J. Connell. After the Manhattan Project, wings were added so the building could serve as a hotel. Now a cultural center, the Lodge is used for social gatherings and meetings. It houses various offices, the Fuller Lodge Art Center, and the Los Alamos Arts Council. The building is open to the public. A free pamphlet about Fuller Lodge is available at the lobby rack.
3.) ICE HOUSE MEMORIAL
Today a memorial stands at the site of the Ranch School Ice House. During WWII, the nuclear core of the “Gadget” (the proto-type atomic bomb) was assembled here and then transported to Trinity Site, 220 miles south near Socorro, NM. It was successfully detonated on July 16, 1945. During the Manhattan Project and for twenty years after, the technical area laboratories surrounded Ashley Pond (see inset photo in the map). These buildings were removed by the mid-1960s.
The post-war laboratory was built at its current location on the mesas south of here. Note also the adjacent memorial plaques and historic markers.
Ashley Pond began as a natural pond. The Ranch School insured its water supply by constructing a pipeline from Los Alamos Canyon. It was named for Ashley Pond II, the founder of the Los Alamos Ranch School, whose students could not resist the geographical pun. The boys used it for summer and winter sports. Blocks of ice were cut from the pond in the winter and stored in the Ice House. Ashley Pond Park contains a number of sculptures that are part of the county art collection curated by the Art in Public Places Board.
4.) TOUCH THE SKY SCULPTURE
In May 2000, the county and adjacent lands were devastated by the 48,000 acre Cerro Grande wildfire. Nearly 400 homes were destroyed. This sculpture was erected a year later, commemorating the fire and community re-building.
PIEROTTI’S CLOWNS MOSAIC
On the north side of Central Avenue is a memorial to this popular and unbeatable 5-man softball team. It is marked with an interpretive plaque.
MESA PUBLIC LIBRARY
Originally located in government surplus buildings and then in a former cafeteria, the library is an important institution in this highly educated community. The 1993 award-winning design is by architect Antoine Predock. To the west of the library stood Central School, 1943-1965. It was the most elaborate building constructed in Los Alamos during WW II, in spite of the utilitarian and temporary nature of this secret army base. The curriculum was planned by Dr. Walter W. Cook of the University of Minnesota, hired to develop the perfect school for the children of Manhattan Project personnel.
5.) RANCH SCHOOL POWER HOUSE
The power generator building for the Los Alamos Ranch School was built in the early 1930s. In 1944, George Kistiakowsky, the Laboratory’s explosives expert, and his new bride moved into it. As a joke, his friends built him a tool shed closely resembling an outhouse; they even carved a half-moon in the door! On and off, the building has served as the Red Cross Chapter House.
6.) LOS ALAMOS MEMORIAL ROSE GARDEN
The land northeast of Fuller Lodge was originally open fields. In 1956 the rose garden was started here by members of the Los Alamos Garden Club. At that time there was no cemetery, so rose bushes were planted in memory of those who died in Los Alamos. The deceased were buried elsewhere. The garden club still actively maintains the Rose Garden, a Blue Star Memorial Byway site. Los Alamos National Laboratory has installed a memorial to those killed in the line of duty.
7.) ROMERO CABIN
Homesteading began on the Pajarito Plateau in the late 1800s. The Romero family built this cabin in 1913 on a nearby mesa. Like all homesteads on the plateau, it was acquired by the U.S. government for the Manhattan Project. In 1984, the cabin was moved to this site. Bences Gonzales, a Pajarito Plateau native who first farmed at Los Alamos and later worked, in succession, for the Ranch School, army, and Laboratory, helped his father-in-law, Victor Romero, rebuild this cabin in the 1930s. The cabin was rebuilt in 2010 and is open to the public on select days in the summer.
8.) THE BIG HOUSE SITE
Across the street from the Romero Cabin was the site of the original main building for the Los Alamos Ranch School. The Big House design inspired the style of Fuller Lodge and other Ranch School structures. Students slept here yearround on screened porches as part of a physically as well as academically challenging education. The Big House contained a library and, during the war years, the radio station, KRS. In 1943, it also housed some of the first scientists who shared its one bathroom.
On the former site of the Big House is Central Park Square, formerly known as The Community Center. It was planned by architect Lawrence Sheridan and constructed by W.C. Kruger in the New Mexico Territorial Style. Built in 1949 under contract to the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, it was a predecessor of modern enclosed shopping malls with perimeter parking. Among businesses housed here were a soda bar, theater, bowling alley, bakery and grocery store.
ANCESTRAL PUEBLO DWELLING
In roughly 1225 CE, this site was home to a group of Tewa-speaking people, ancestors of Pueblo groups now living along the Rio Grande. They built with blocks of tuff, the welded volcanic ash common in this area. Some rooms were for cooking and sleeping, while others were for storage. The standing block structure nearby was the Ranch School fire cache. Built of stones scavenged from the ancient dwelling, it housed fire-fighting equipment.
10.) BATHTUB ROW
These homes were originally built for the Ranch School as faculty housing and for special classes such as arts and crafts. Plush by comparison with typical Army housing, and having the only bathtubs in town, they quickly acquired the name “Bathtub Row.” Manhattan Project director J. Robert Oppenheimer’s former home still stands at the corner of Bathtub Row and Peach Street. The homes are private property and are closed to the public. By 2015, the house to the south of the Oppenheimer house, known as the Hans Bethe House, will display Cold War exhibits.
11.) PERFORMING ARTS CENTER
The Little Theatre near the corner of 15th and Peach Streets was built as the Manhattan Project East Cafeteria. It is one of the few GI buildings left from WW II. Used by the growing post war community as a recreation hall, it started serving as a playhouse in 1971, operated by the Los Alamos Little Theatre.
12.) BRADBURY SCIENCE MUSEUM
Named for Norris E. Bradbury, second director of the Los Alamos Laboratory, the Science Museum features films and interactive exhibits interpreting Los Alamos National Laboratory’s contributions to modern science, research, and technology, including its role in the Manhattan Project and current mission in national security. First opened in 1963, it made a couple of moves within the Lab complex before being located to this site in 1993.
13.) POST OFFICE
During WWII, mail to Los Alamos residents was simply addressed to P.O. Box 1663, Santa Fe, New Mexico. The Post Office, designed and built as part of The Community Center, opened at this location in 1948 on the site of the Ranch School Trading Post.
REMEMBER TO STOP AND SHOP
Los Alamos’ Historic District is chock full of great little shops and restaurants. Within the boundaries of your walking tour, you will run across 8 locally owned cafès or restaurants. These include everything from New Mexican cuisine, pizza, sushi and everything in between. There are 9 more restaurants within 4 blocks of your walk.
Unique local shops also line your route. There is an old-fashioned department store that carries chocolates, furniture, clothing and luggage. There is a pet boutique, a jewelry store, a hardware store, and many other shops to offer you goods to remember your visit to Los Alamos.
The Historical Museum gift shop stocks books, toys, cards and souvenirs that are uniquely Los Alamos.
Stop by the Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center for lots more information about Los Alamos and the surrounding region. We’re open 362 days a year!