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An exclusive by New Mexico Watchdog: a tour inside Manny Aragon’s castle in Albuquerque’s South Valley. Our new video correspondent Steve McAllister was granted admission to the building by its caretaker and builder. His 8 1/2 minute video shows what Manny Aragon has been building for 21 years. See the video by clicking here.
In 1988, Manny Aragon began raising his castle on several acres situated on south Second Street between Camino Cuatro and Camino Cinco. The land is surrounded by a chain link fence. A ring of trees died long ago. The acres are overgrown with weeds. Rusted cement mixers and rebar poke from the grass. Stacks of hay bales for making adobe have decomposed and lost their shape. Bricks, stone slabs, mounds of gravel and rusted tools are scattered around the property in disarray. The walkway to the front door is covered with dog feces.
A small house is located at the southwest corner of the property at 205 Camino Cinco. The Albuquerque phone book lists this as the residence of Manny Aragon. The castle itself fronts Camino Cuatro.
The castle is a two-story stone and adobe structure with numerous crenelated towers. The balcony undulates and leans in every direction. Inside, well, you’ll have to watch “Manny’s Castle” to get a full appreciation for the fantastical, bizarre project of the man who was once one of the most powerful and feared politicians in New Mexico.
Aragon is currently living in another house. He was sentenced to 5 1/2 years in prison for his leadership role in a conspiracy to steal over $4 million dollars from the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court project. His co-conspirators included Ken Schultz, Albuquerque’s former mayor, and Toby Martinez, the Metro Court Administrator.
While Manny’s away at the federal penitentiary in Florence, Colorado, work continues on his castle.
Benjamin Saiz, who claims to be the primary architect and craftsman on the decades-long endeavor, gave us a tour of Manny’s Castle on an overcast day. Steve was given permission to film whatever he chose. The house is staggering in dimensions, thousands upon thousands of square feet. The structure seems built around a 20-foot long bar that once stood inside a Victorian saloon in Lordsburg. (3:30 into the video). Look for the larger-than-life-size heads carved in the ends of the beams above the bar. (3:46).
On the floor in the main hall are two inscriptions carved or molded in clay and stone tiles. Poor lightning prohibited the camera from picking them out with any clarity. One inscription sprawls across the floor in front of the bar. It reads: “We did it our way.” At the other end of the hall, another inscriptions spreads for dozens of feet. It is Emiliano Zapata’s famous saying, “I prefer to die on my feet than to live on my knees,” written in Spanish.
There are four gargantuan bathrooms in the house. On the second floor (4:41), through the blue-tiled archways at each end of the balcony gallery, lie bathrooms larger than many family living rooms. The flooring on the second floor has waves in it. You feel like you’re walking the deck of a ship in choppy water. Through the windows you can see what look like battlements on the roof of the castle.
On the ground floor are two dark, eerie, cavernous bathrooms in blackish slick rock. They look like sets out of the sci-fi movie, “Alien.” (6:04 and 6:42). An elk head and other antlers are stored in the shower of one of these strange bathrooms (6:33).
There is no kitchen in the building. Benjamin says they will build a several thousand square foot kitchen eventually (perhaps into the project’s third decade). He also told us that the house already uses more than a mile of electrical wiring.
At 7:32 in one of the ground floor bedrooms appears an emblem on the wall above a concrete bed platform (no mattress). The concrete platform sits on glass blocks with electrical lights inside. The emblem made of broken mirrors and tiles reads: “La cama de piedra…bro.” The bed of rock, bro. Does anyone have a clue what this signifies? Is it the great song done so well by by Cuco Sanchez, Lila Downs, Pedro Infante, and others or something else? Has “cama de piedra” assumed some sort of colloquial meaning? Please contact us if you have insights.
There is only one other bedroom. It contains another concrete bed on glass blocks wired with lights. On the wall above the bed, serving as its headboard, is a huge bas-relief of the State Seal of New Mexico. (7:54).
Stored throughout the house and property are truckloads of building supplies, windows, doors, and other construction material. One of the charges against Aragon in the Metro Courthouse case was that he ordered marble or granite slabs from the project delivered to his home. One can only wonder what other public works projects may have contributed to Manny’s Castle.