The Hood, Mesilla Park's Over-the-Top Art Venue -
Interior view of The Hood Gallery in Las Cruces.

Richard Parra spent 40 years building Spirit Winds into a unique gift shop and coffee bar that spawned a loyal following in Las Cruces. Ready for a change to usher in his retirement years, the personable and indefatigable retailer sold his store in 2018. He stepped away from the daily grind of running a business to slow down, restore and sell vintage motorcycles as he had always done, and perhaps establish a private art gallery near his Mesilla Park home. But the longtime collector of motorcycles, art, antiques, and countless pieces of America’s trash and treasures discovered at antique stores, pawn shops, flea markets, and swap meets throughout America felt a strong pull to adapt 6,500 of the 10,000 square feet of warehouse space he owned into something a bit more grandiose. Parra’s whirling brain conceived of a combo art gallery and retail establishment he would call The Hood because of its location in the neighborhood he has called home for 30 years.

Parra and a couple of his buddies removed the motorcycles and vintage vehicles, greasy parts, and accessories from his sprawling garage warehouse space that adjoins Art Obscura, which occupies 3,500 square feet of the warehouse fronting Harrelson Street. At the first of the year, he began adding Sheetrock and making other improvements. The art collector and jewelry maker had finally found a place to display and sell some of his considerable collection of mechanical art objects, model cars, curios, gadgets, trinkets, antique toys, paintings, jewelry, and other collectibles “picked” from throughout the U.S. and Mexico that were stored offsite in hundreds of boxes. More importantly, the Deming native who attended art school at New Mexico State University now had an outlet for his creativity that had been pent up for four decades. What Parra has created in The Hood practically defies description. This artsy toy store for adults is a “living” museum of curious tchotchkes displayed in the cleverest of ways based on designs he has conceived during many a sleep-deprived night. Upright spark plugs mounted on a nut base serve as ring holders. A silver spider crawls along a rusty cap gun.

Two retired gas pumps function as a jewelry display case. Most of the metal and glass display cases created by master welder John Meza and metal artist Bruce Henshaw are modular and can be easily moved from one spot to another, ensuring that over time, displays won’t become static. Some hang from S-hooks. Others sit on metal bases that sport wheels, including one built with soapbox derby car wheels. The ingenuity reflected in their design and craftsmanship demand a visitor’s attention as much as do the pieces of funky art, whimsical cartoon character toys, superhero figurines, and other collectibles. The Hood won’t open to the public until December 14, but I was invited behind the papered windows and locked doors for a preview. My first reaction upon stepping into the warehouse gallery and scanning the interior was a jaw-dropping “Wow!” Parra confided that the wow factor is exactly what he is shooting for. Noting my animated reaction time and time again over the ensuing tour of the space, Parra was prone to respond, somewhat sheepishly, “I know. I know.” The Hood offers an eye-popping, over-the-top experience that is unparalleled in Las Cruces. Ninety percent of the items on display come from the owner’s private collection.

The remainder will be consignment items from other artists. The innovative entrepreneur was quick to point out that “everything is for sale,” including vintage motorcycles, cars, and trucks, both his and others sold on consignment. As we exit to a fenced area out back that has begun to take shape as an entertainment venue, Parra remarked with a grin: “My wife, Marlane, tells me I don’t know when to stop. It’s just been a really fun project. I get to use my creative energy because I ran a store for so long instead of being a designer-creator.” The longtime resident (he moved to Las Cruces in 1972) sees The Hood as a way to pay back the community for its support. He has already donated the venue to the Make-A-Wish Foundation for a February 2020 fundraising event and plans to offer the facility to other non-profit organizations for similar occasions. “I’m trying to market The Hood as a community entity,” Parra says. “We’ll have live music, movies, and eats from an onsite food truck.

We’ll promote New Mexico products like wine, craft beer, and spirits. “It’s a give-give situation, but it has to be a top-notch presentation with an artsy, creative edge. I don’t want it to be overcommercialized.” After the first of the year, Parra plans to bring in local musicians to play on the outdoor stage on a regular basis, while patrons enjoy libations from the likes of Dry Point Distillery, local breweries and wineries, and other fare. Indoors, customers can wander from the front room chock full of eclectic objets d’art into a larger open space that connects to a small showroom/art gallery. Nostalgic Las Crucens will appreciate a giant illuminated crown from a closed Best Western, “LAS CRUCES” in large red letters that once advertised a Rexall Drug Store on North Main, and letters spelling “BEER – COCKTAILS” acquired from the oncepopular 1970s-era bar Lamar’s/The Press Room on Foster. “It’s much more than a museum; it’s a retail space as well,” Parra says. “Some people might not really like some of this stuff, but I want them to tell their friends, ‘You’ve got to see this place.’” I just have.

Written by Rob McCorkle • Photography by Steve MacIntyre
Originally published in
Neighbors magazine

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