When you need to be dropped off at a top-secret research facility that does not exist, what address do you give the driver? For two decades, that address was 109 East Palace in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Located a few blocks from Santa Fe’s city center, the unremarkable building served as the first stop for Richard Feyman, Enrico Fermi, Robert Oppenheimer, and innumerable other scientists working on the top secret Manhattan Project in nearby Los Alamos. Dozens of scientists, technicians, and other workers would arrive each day to be ferried up to “the Hill” where work on the atomic bomb (and possibly other secret science projects) actually took place.
According to Voices of the Manhattan Project, the primary contact person who greeted arrivals at 109 East Palace was Dorothy Scarritt McKibbin, who became nearly as vital to the Project as any of the scientists. McKibbin would process each of the arrivals and keep the overwhelming secretarial work in order, essentially making sure that the top-secret trains ran on time. She also became a close confidant of Oppenheimer, the man widely considered the father of the atomic bomb. McKibbin ended up staying in Los Alamos after the Project was dissolved and became a bit of a local celebrity, earning the nickname “the First Lady of Los Alamos.”
The building at 109 East Palace ceased being a receiving station for Los Alamos in 1963, but a plaque in the back of the gallery now occupying the space commemorates the building’s history.