Long before the Spaniards arrived in what is now the Greater Espanola Valley, extending along the Rio Grande from San Pedro and Guachupange to the South and Velarde to the North, the Tewa people, the ancient ancestors of the San Juan/Okay Owenge Indians, used the area. Even though indigenous archelogical sites have not been found to substatiate its inhabitants. It is easy to surmise that the area was once used in various forms because of its proximity to the prehistoric and classic Pueblo sites of Phioge and Yunque Owinge in the immediate area. The ancient people used the area along the Rio Grande river bottom for farming, hunting, fishing and for gathering edible and medicinal plants. Thousands of rock art also known as petroglyphs were left by the ancient ones can be seen along the length of Black Mesa, just across and down the Rio Grande, that later became known as Los Luceros.
In 1598, Don Juan Onate led a group of ten Franciscan Friars and 129 Spanish colonists with 7,000 head of livestock up the Rio Grande Valley to found the first European settlement known as the San Juan de los Caballeros, what is now New Mexico. A year or so later, the Colonists established New Mexico's first capital, San Gabriel, for the Spanish government, near the confluence of the Rio Grande and the Chama River. A military outpost was established between 1598 and 1609 in what is now Los Luceros property. In 1608-1610 the Spanish government established Santa Fe, the new capital of the Territory of Nuevo Mexico.
In 1680, the Pueblo Indians from twelve different Pueblos led by Popay rebelled and killed three-hundred and eighty Spaniards, including women and children. The Revolt was successful in driving the Spaniards south to El Paso del Rio del Norte, present day Juarez, Mexico. Three hundred plus Indians were killed in this conflict. Twelve years later, in 1692 and 1693 the Spaniards led by General Don Diego de Vargas resettled New Mexico.
Long after the resettlement, around 1703, General DeVargas acting for the Spanish government granted royal possession of aproximately 50,000 acres in this valley to Captian Sebastian Martin-Serrano and his brother, Antonio. This was payment for the military service to the crown in New Mexico and to help colonize the Northern frontier. On this site, Martin-Serrano built his twenty-four room plazuela. It is believed that the Martin-Serrano's home of the early 1700's remains as a portion of the Hacienda of today. During his time at Los Luceros, he attained fame as an Indian fighter, primarily against the Apaches. In 1714 he was appointed the Alcalde (Mayor) for the settlement of Santa Cruz.
In 1757 his grand-daughter, Barabra Padilla married Santiago Lucero de Godoy. Her decendants continued to occupy the Grant throughout the Spanish period until 1821 when the Spanish Southwest came under the jurisdiction of the newly formed Republic of Mexico. In the waning days of the Mexican occupation, Los Luceros became the county seat of Rio Arriba when the territory of Nuevo Mexico was under Mexican rule
Years after the Mexican-American War, Mariano-Sanchez, a rightful heir to the Grant petitioned the United States government for title to 51,387 acres of land. The title was issued in 1863. Under the new American government, Los Luceros remained the county seat of Rio Arriba for a short while until it was moved to Tierra Amarilla. Over a period of years through marriages and the selling off of portions of the Martin-Serrano Land Grant by various owners, it has dwindled down to one hundred and eighty acres.
In 1923, Mary Cabot Wheelwright, a wealthy heiress from Boston, discovered the back taxes for the property known as Rancho Los Luceros had not been paid. She purchased the property for a sum of two-thousand and three-hundred dollars. During her tenure she undertook the refurbishing of the "Hacienda" and other buildings on the property. Lady Wheelwright lived there until she died in 1958. The major portion of Rancho Los Luceros was willed to the Wheelwright foundation and the minor portion of the land was willed to Mary Chabot, a longtime friend of Lady Wheelwright. Both pieces of land were in turn sold to Charles and Nina Collier. Northern New Mexico was not anywhere near competitive in producing dairy product instead they ventured into the orchard business. A 1976 appraisal of the property found that seventy acres of apple trees and three acres of peach trees had been planted, an estimated 1,700 fruit trees in all.
In the ensuing years various private entities owned the property.
In 1982, Malcom Grimmer, a Californian, bought the place and was instrumental in getting the "Hacienda", the Chapel and two other buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
In 1986 the First Interstate Bank and the Land Bank foreclosed on the property and sold it to the American Studies Foundation headed by Truman Futch and Ann Young. They remained on the property for three years until it was repossessed by the Foundation who had providing financing out of Denver, Colorado.
The court appointed receiver sold the property to Fred Segal, a California businessman. In 1993, Mr.Segal had the "River House" built. This Building overlooks the waters of the Rio Grande. After that, the property went through various owners who did little to improve or refurbish the buildings and the land during this time.
In 1999, the property was purchased by the Los Luceros Foundation. The Foundation was funded by Frank and Ann Cabot, the grandaughter of Mary Wheelwright. Restoration work began in earnest on the property and on the "Hacienda". It was rumored that the Cabot's spend around $3.5 - 4.0 million to restore the property. This on top of the purchase price rumored to be $2.5 million.
The orchards were brought back into production along with the annual planting and harvesting of chile, corn squash and other assorted vegetables. In 2001, the Historic Los Luceros was opened to the public six months out of the year. It averaged around three to four thousands visitors a year.
The elegant "Hacienda" originally built in the 1860's is the center piece of Historic Los Luceros. It was completely restored and furnished to represent the Wheelwright era. It houses a complete collection of period antiques from the Spanish Colonal periods to the 1920's and the 1930's. An information and or visitor center, art gallery, resturant and dining facilities were also constructed surrounding a small informal plaza reminiscent of an early Spanish Colonial village compound.
The restored chapel, built around 1850 was originally deeded to and remains property of the Catholic Archdioceses of Santa Fe. It too, was completely restored with funds provided by the Cabots.
In 2005, Historic Los Luceros was put on the market by the founders of the Luceros Foundation. A number of people, organizations and businesses expressed interest in the property, however due to the economy the property langusihed. During this time it looked like Northern New Mexico College out of Espanola was the front runner. The college had plans to use the property in varied ways; a conference center to host workshops in Film, Fine Arts, Languages, and Photography.
The then president of Northern New Mexico College, Dr. Jose Griego and the Chair of the College's Board of Regents, Mr. Mike Branch attempted unsuccessfully to get funds appropritated for the purchase of Los Luceros, however, a couple of years later, they succeeded in securing a little over half of the monies, one point five million dollars, from the Federal EDA. Still lacking one million dollars to complete the purchase of Los Luceros, they reached out to the then Governor of New Mexico, Bill Richardson. He agreed that the state would provide the much needed million dollars to complete the purchase of this most important historical property. Subsequent to this, an unauthorized press release announcing the purchase of Los Luceros and the possibility that the new owner was considering the selling of water rights, raised the ire of the Acequia Associations in the area and land devlopers in the area, thus creating an atmosphere of competition in Rio Ariba County. These two entities vigorously complained to the Governor that soon after he rescinded the offer to provide the much needed million dollars to keep Northern New Mexico College in the forefront of the purchase of Los Luceros.
The property remained on the market until the State's Film Office and the State of New Mexico purchased Historic Los Luceros in Febuary of 2008. The intent for the property was for it to be a hub of creativity through various forms of mediums including media,photography, and a center for film and enviroment was to be under the direction and guidance of film icon, Robert Redford.
In May of 2009, Governor Richardson and Robert Redford announced that a film Institute would be the headquartered at Los Luceros. This new initiative was named "Milagro at Los Luceros". According to Robert Redford, the film institute would concentrate on "exploring news ways to enable under-representated voices within the Native American and Hispanics cultures, creating a vehicle to tell their stories in their own way on their own turf". Numerous workshops in film, directing and screen writing were held on the property.
The site at Los Luceros shortly thereafter underwent additional renovation and construction with 1.8 million dollars in Federal Stimulus Money. Two new buildings were constructed, one of the buildings is a meeting room and the other building has a bath and shower facility, then a commercial kitchen was added. The restoration work was completed in November 2011.
Numerous workshops in film, directing and screenwriting were held on the property. Even though a memorandum of understanding exists between the State of NM and Redford's Milargo non-profit organization, the workshops were toned down and Los Luceros was closed by the Governor Susana Martinez administration due to the economic downturn in the country.
In the 2012 NM Legislative session, State Representative Nick Salazar and Senator Mary Pappen from Dona Ana County introduced Memorails requesting that Historic Los Luceros be open to the public. In 2013 the NM Cultural Affairs Office signed a sixty thousand dollar contract with an Albuquerque firm to do a study that would recommand to the State the highest and best use for Los Luceros. Another study was also conducted by the Arrowhead Center out of Las Cruces in 2014. (both studies can be downloaded from www.newmexicoculture .org/ about/report-and-plans/ (Under the reports and plans section.)
At that time there were three groups that were interested in the operation of Los Luceros. The first group was charter Montessori School at the Onate Center in Rio Arriba County, the second by Catholic Father Brannon (formally of San Juan Church) and was endorsed by Christus-St.Vincent Hospital whom in turn wanted to establish a rehab center on the property.
Finally a group known as "Los Amigos del Rancho Los Luceros (The friends of the Luceros' Ranch)", was organized in the fall of 2012 to actively work to keep Los Luceros open to all the residents of New Mexico and to assist the State or any other entity in the operation of this magnificent historic site.