The district, centered on Highland Avenue, includes 183 buildings and architectural resources. Eleven of those buildings were preserved and repurposed by the Minimalist artist Donald Judd. Today, they are overseen by the Judd Foundation and the Chinati Foundation, which aim to preserve his legacy. This is the first time that Judd’s architectural projects have been recognized at the federal level.
The National Register of Historic Places is a government-run list of districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects deemed worthy of preservation. Marfa’s historic district joins sites such as Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, and Fort Laramie National Historic Site in Wyoming.
These days, Marfa is a site of pilgrimage for members of the art world, who flock to see the Chinati Foundation’s grounds, which are host to works by Judd, John Chamberlain, and Dan Flavin, among others, and the exhibition spaces of Ballroom Marfa, which is known for its more contemporary offerings.
Marfa’s addition to the register, however, owes not only to the significance of the Judd buildings but also to that of the town’s Hispanic heritage. From the late 19th century through the postwar era, Marfa served as a mercantile center. Among other sites there are the military base Fort D.A. Russell, which was active until shortly after World War II, and the Blackwell School, which served as the only public educational institution for Mexican Americans in Marfa for more than 50 years.
“Don had a profound regard and deep respect for the history and contributions of the Hispanic community that this nomination specifically recognizes,” said Judd Foundation president Rainer Judd in a release. “He believed that these efforts, reflected in the built environment of the town, should be preserved and celebrated. This national honor for Marfa is important to understanding our shared past and preserving these buildings for future generations.”
The 11 commercial buildings Judd acquired and adapted between 1973 and 1994 were originally constructed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Judd largely preserved their configuration, repurposing them for his own artistic production and the long-term installation of his and fellow artists’ work.
Of the 11 buildings, the Chinati Foundation oversees three (the Chamberlain Building, Ice Plant, and Locker Plant), while the Judd Foundation maintains eight (the Architecture Office, Architecture Studio, Art Studio, Cobb House, Gatehouse, Ranch Office, Print Building, and Whyte Building). They are publicly accessible spaces, where visitors can study Judd’s art and architecture.
The National Park Service last month added the Central Marfa Historic District to the National Register, on the December 2021 recommendation of the Texas Historical Commission.