Secret tunnels and surrealism in Santa Fe

Game Of Thrones creator turns abandoned bowling alley into attraction as part of efforts to revive New Mexico capital

Part surreal Disney and part psychedelic penny arcade, the House of Eternal Return is what Salvador Dali might have built had he been tasked with designing a TV game show.

It looks like an ordinary Victorian house, but when visitors delve into its dark recesses, they find themselves transported into a fantastical labyrinthine world that has redefined what it means to experience art.

The 1,850 sq m attraction on the outskirts of Santa Fe was funded by HBO's hit TV series Game Of Thrones creator George R.R. Martin as part of a multi-million-dollar drive to revive that part of New Mexico.

"The best description we give it is, it is an immersive storytelling experience," said Mr Vince Kadlubek, the 35-year-old co-founder and chief executive officer of Meow Wolf, the art collective behind the project.

Santa Fe, a melting pot of Hispanic and Pueblo cultures celebrated as a mecca for cutting-edge artists, has been greying of late. The median age is estimated at 42.5 - five years higher than the national average - and the tourism market was starting to drop off as well.

Mr Kadlubek said the House of Eternal Return has a "right time, right place" feel about it, with Mr Martin increasingly involved in improving the city as Game Of Thrones exploded.

Visitors enter what appears to be a two-story quarantined house but quickly become aware that all is not as it seems.

The experience is anchored to a mystery concerning the Steligs, the family that lived there and disappeared following an anomaly that has unmoored the house from time and space.

Visitors are let loose to figure out what had happened by uncovering clues in the letters, shopping lists and journals.


But open the refrigerator to find a glowing corridor leading to a futuristic, intergalactic travel agency with sliding spaceship doors. Crawl through the fireplace and enter a magical cave system with a glowing 3.6m mammoth skeleton that can be played like a marimba.

Dive into the tumble dryer and enter a surreal fantasia of more than 70 connected chambers containing all sorts of abstract and spooky psychedelia influenced by Japanese pop culture, the Calvin And Hobbes cartoon and even Walt Disney.

The 1,850 sq m House of Eternal Return has hidden corridors and psychedelia influenced by Japanese pop culture, the Calvin And Hobbes cartoon and Walt Disney.PHOTO: AFP

There is a huge furry creature that winks, an enchanted neon forest, robots, lasers, treehouses, a dome covered in eyeballs, a desert mobile home and a rabbit with glowing eyes.

"It is a puzzle, it is just fun. Kids like it, adults like it. It is a very unique experience," Minnesota resident Gail Machov said of the attraction.

Mr Martin, 68, has been in love with Santa Fe since visiting as a tourist, adopting it as his home in 1979.

Concerned over its increasingly ageing demographic, he bought the Jean Cocteau Cinema, a movie house emblematic of the city's untapped potential and that had been vacant for seven years, in 2013.

He turned it into a youth hangout, showing the latest releases but also inviting Game Of Thrones cast members to attend season premieres.

In 2014, Mr Kadlubek e-mailed Mr Martin, who had briefly been his boss at the Jean Cocteau, to pitch "an interactive, multimedia art experience" after discovering an abandoned bowling alley in the industrial end of town.

Intrigued, Martin shelled out US$3 million (S$4.09 million) to buy and renovate the building.

Meow Wolf spent 18 months on the refit, aiming to attract 100,000 visitors in a year but achieving that in the first two months after the opening in March last year.

The company is now looking to replicate its success in Denver, Las Vegas, Houston and Austin. - AFP

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