By Lupita Gonzales
For the Optic
A visit to the home of Della and John Gonzales reveals an ordered admixture of creative activity in many venues.
It’s their home, primarily, but at every turn, it’s an unending adventure in items that deceive the eye. At the entrance, one initially experiences a relatively standard, albeit eloquently unique exterior. A carport neatly frames the free-hand depiction that this is the Gonzales home, but a few steps away the foray into the unexpected begins.
Close to the house, the Gonzaleses have set up various modified parts of old cars, transforming them into utility items such as his “Car-becue,” an actual barbecue pit set under the refurbished hood of an old, probably early-’50s model. Then, there’s the front-end of another vehicle that hides the couple’s garbage cans.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Their property is teeming with repurposed items that showcase their creativity, giving their home and surrounding property the feel of a museum or theme park just outside of city limits.
Building their life
John and Della are both “boomers,” born in the mid-’40s. John is the oldest of 14 siblings, originally from Las Vegas. Della, whose maiden name is Marquez, is from Bernal where she grew up with her two sisters and a brother.
“When I met him, I thought it was just a joy, because I had a small family,” she remarks.
Both attended school here, John at Robertson High School and Della at West Las Vegas. He graduated in 1963, she in 1965.
John was drafted into the military and was stationed in Germany from 1965-68.
After his return from Germany, he “saw her at the Bottle Shop.”
“Later we began dating,” he says.
Having studied at a barber college, John worked at Sal’s Barber Shop.
The couple married in 1971 in Denver. They later moved to Albuquerque, where they lived for 22 years, raising their children, Martin, Franchesca and Jeremias. There, John worked as a carpenter, then as a superintendent of construction and later as a project manager and chief estimator.
John and Della have 14 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren, all living in Albuquerque and Denver. In 1991, Della and John moved to Denver, but their time there was short-lived.
Della was ill, and the couple was experiencing financial difficulties.
They lost their car and house. They had family in Las Vegas, Nev., so they moved and remained there until 1993, when they decided to return to Las Vegas, N.M.
John had earned his contractor’s license, and before long, he found himself quite busy. “I had over 40 employees.”
“In 1996, we bought the Bottle Shop, apartments, etc. We remodeled it and Della and I ran it — never a day off. So we sold it.
“There were some setbacks,” John admits, “but we’re doing well now. We have certain payments and other responsibilities.”
“Life is what you make it,” he adds.
“And be happy about it,” Della chimes in.
‘Casa de Carros’
The Gonzaleses acquired their present home six years ago. John jokingly refers to it as having been converted from “La Casa de Gatos” to “La Casa de Carros,” because the former owner apparently had a slew of cats swarming around the house.
He promptly set to work razing the house, which had some major problems, like the roof falling in.
“Bad stuff that happened, I try to have something positive to offset it, like my house, here, is an example,” he says.
The house is a showcase of their efforts. It is fully rebuilt, with a second story of glory and skylights and radiant heating to offset costs of heating as well as air conditioning.
As a starter, in the backyard area, John cut down as many as 100 trees to make room for various items through which he can highlight his vintage car collection.
He also has some gasoline pumps that would be familiar to those growing up in past decades. They aren’t working, yet they conjure up memories of past decades when gas sold for 24 to 35 cents a gallon.
Repurposed cars are everywhere, one appearing to jut out of a wall and others supporting desks.
To the couple’s credit, they have erected a fence on the eastern border of their property, thus complying with “Keep America Beautiful” philosophy by not creating an eyesore (of the bits and pieces of mechanical detritus) so that neighbors and passers-by will not be offended.
One enters the Gonzales household, and, voila! The vision unfolds. The living room/dining room/kitchen areas of the house abound with interesting collections of exquisite Native American items — Kokopelli dancers on the wall, Navajo rugs draped over the second-story railing, and other artifacts John has acquired to please Della’s preference for copper and brass tastefully ensconced in key locations throughout the area.
One item — a diving-bell-looking object, John explains away by saying he “got it as a joke, but also because Della likes copper/brass combinations.”
John, a semi-retired contractor, has rebuilt the home to his specifications.
“Being a contractor, I always wanted to build my own house — a house that would attract potential clients,” he says. “I can customize anything — everything is to our liking.”
Pointing to the TSB (truss, joint I-beam) paneling overhead, he says, “This is our style — Southwest style. I love old, weathered stuff.”
He points to an old wood stove in the kitchen area — no longer used as a stove. The top portion is used as a filing cabinet and the top displays some of Della’s copper collection.
Also in the kitchen are two huge copper pots transformed into the kitchen sink.
“It’s my favorite thing,” Della explains. “I do have a dishwasher, but for the two of us, I don’t need it.”
The couple has created a continuing odyssey of creativity. There’s an “office area” with working engines as the bases for John’s and Della’s separate desks. His is a 1950 front-end Nash, covered with leopard skin…and boasting a computer. Hers is a ‘57 Chevy back-end, with a couch built in and a desk at the back.
“I sit there to do my nails; no paperwork,” Della says.
There’s a “Lost in the ‘50s” section, complete with a life-sized statue of Elvis and various ‘50s theme items.
John chuckles, “We once had a ‘Lost in the 50’s’ sign at the front of our property which a time or two drew people to our door, asking for accommodations.
“We even pondered building some rooms to accommodate people,” Della says.
“But Della didn’t want to have to cook for people,” John jokes.
To describe the Gonzaleses as collectors would be an understatement. They have a bike collection (yes, the two are bikers), a collection of about 250 unopened beer bottles from all over the world showcased in what could be mistaken for a real bar, vintage cars, a coke machine door that actually opens up into another room and much more.
John’s next project is to build a pool table with a car under it instead of legs. The Gonzaleses enjoy showing off their unique home to visitors.
“If you hear about it and want to come, you’re welcome,” John and Della say. “Just call ahead, so we won’t be in our pajamas.”
The unique home they’ve built, complete with its stunning collections, is something to brag about.
But Della prefers to boast about something else.
“The wonderful thing about ourselves in this day and age — 45 years together!”