If location is everything in real estate, Albuquerque has long been blessed. In the days of the Spanish conquistadores the colonial outpost was situated on the 1,600-mile trade north-south route known as the Camino Royal, or Royal Road. In the age of the automobile, beginning in 1926, Albuquerque became an important stop on Route 66, the Mother Road, as it crossed 2,448 miles of America’s interior from Lake Michigan in Chicago to the Pacific Ocean in Santa Monica, California.
But the two historic highways were going to different Albuquerques.
The Albuquerque founded in 1706 as a military presidio by the Spanish evolved into a sheepherding center, developing around a central plaza. When American rule of New Mexico began in 1846 the Post of Albuquerque was established here to supply military outposts in the Territory.
However, in 1880 when the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad steamed into the town the tracks bypassed the Plaza and the passenger station was built two miles to the east. The bustling mercantile center that quickly grew up around the railroad became known as New Albuquerque and then New Town. The original settlement became Old Town. In 1920 the expanding City of Albuquerque gobbled up Old Town on its way to today’s land mass of more than 180 square miles and a population north of a half-million. Old Town has blossomed as a shopping and cultural destination and New Town has become downtown.
In 1937 Route 66 was re-aligned as it coursed through Albuquerque. Where it began by flowing north-south along 4th Street it was switched to a more east-west path along Central Avenue. The result is that Fourth and Central is the only place in the United States where the historic Route 66 crosses itself. The intersection also became the crossroads of the town for decades and that is where we will begin our tour of the city whose name honors Don Francisco Fernández de la Cueva y Enríquez de Cabrera, the Duke of the Spanish village of Albuquerque...
400 Central Avenue SW at southwest corner of 4th Street
Don Pablo Yrisarri was a Spanish loyalist who was driven out of Vera Cruz by Mexican patriots and migrated to the Rio Grande Valley where he established a trading post that became a village. He later moved into the Albuquerque District and married twice, in 1811 and 1822. This two-story brick commercial building was raised by the Yrisarri family in 1909. In its 100+ years here the most memorable tenant in the now modernized building has been Maisel’s Indian Trading Post. Maurice Maisel opened his first store in downtown Albuquerque in 1923 and soon moved to this location where Pueblo and Navajo craftsmen worked on the premises creating the turquoise jewelry Maisel’s helped make iconic for tourists.
ACROSS 4TH STREET, ON THE SOUTHEAST CORNER OF THE INTERSECTION, IS...
320 Central Avenue SW at southeast corner of 4th Street
Henry Charles Trost hailed from Ohio where he attended art school and trained as an architectural draftsman. He worked his way around the West, developing a hankering for the design of the early Spanish missions of Northern Mexico and the American Southwest. He arrived in Tucson in 1899 when he was 39 and only stayed a few years before moving on to El Paso where he re-shaped that downtown as he became one of the country’s most prolific designers. Trost also contributed greatly to Albuquerque’s streetscape in the first decades of the 20th century. This department store designed by Trost for Aron and Edward Rosenwald was the first building in town to use poured reinforced concrete and when it was completed in 1910 the Albuquerque Morning Journal was moved to gush that it was, “the handsomest and most complete department store in the southwest.” The five-and-dime store of William Walker McLellan took over the ground floor in 1927 and stayed for more than 50 years. The Rosenwald Building has since been converted into office space.
ACROSS CENTRAL AVENUE, ON THE NORTHEAST CORNER OF THEINTERSECTION, IS...
325 Central Avenue NW at northeast corner of 4th Street
Frank W. Woolworth launched one of the world’s greatest retailing empires, built on nickels and dimes, from a storefront on the corner of Bleecker and Genesse streets in Utica, New York back in 1879. Despite a promising start, that store would fail within the year and Woolworth would have to perfect his business model in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. This Woolworth’s store dates to the early 1940s and came from the pen of Albuquerque architect Joseph B. Burwinkle. Rendered in yellow brick, Burwinkle’s restrained design featured little overt decoration beyond the Art Deco-style porthole window above the corner entrance and terra cotta panels marching along the top edge so the modernization of the windows and ground level haven’t destroyed the original vision.
WALK EAST ON CENTRAL AVENUE (THE ROSENWALD BUILDING IS ON YOUR RIGHT) AND CONTINUE TO 3RD STREET.
First National Bank of Albuquerque
217-233 Central Avenue NW at northeast corner of 3rd Street
The First National Bank of Albuquerque received its charter in 1882 and by 1922 it was the dominant bank in town and ready to build Albuquerque’s first skyscraper. Henry Trost designed the 141-foot tower with classical influences and it remained the town’s tallest building for over 30 years. Trost followed the convention of skyscraper building that had been in vogue since the first high-rise appeared in Chicago thirty years earlier - create a three-part tower in the image of a classical column with a base (the ornate lower levels), a shaft (the relatively plain middle floors) and a capital (the decorative cornice). First National Bank kept the banking house until 1999 and it has now been converted into residential lofts.
TURN LEFT ON 3RD STREET.
201 Third Street NW at northwest corner of Copper Avenue
This downtown plaza, developed in 1990, contains the two tallest buildings in New Mexico - the 22-story Bank of Albuquerque Tower and its architecturally simpatico neighbor, the 21-story Hyatt Regency. Their pyramidical roofs each punctuate the Albuquerque skyline some 350 feet above the curb. Hellmuth, Obata and Kassabaum, today the largest United States-based architecture-engineering firm, shepherded the project to completion.
Harry E. Kinney Civic Plaza
northwest corner of 3rd Street and Tijeras Avenue
Carrying the name of two-term Albuquerque mayor Harry E. Kinney, this public space fills with more than 20,000 people during events. In addition to fountains and a bronze statue of Kinney the Plaza, carved from two city blocks in 1972, contains City Hall and Bernalillo County Courthouse, early 1960s additions to the Albuquerque streetscape.
TURN RIGHT ON TIJERAS AVENUE. TURN RIGHT ON 2ND STREET.
Old Hilton Hotel (La Posada/Andaluz)
125 2nd Street NW at southwest corner of Copper Avenue
The first Hilton hotel was set up by Conrad Hilton in his family’s adobe home in San Antonio, New Mexico in 1907. Business reversals in his father’s general store necessitated the conversion of six of the rooms in the house into quarters for transient lodgers. Hilton, then 19, worked all day in the store and went to the train station at 1:00 a.m. and 3:00 a.m. to meet the arriving trains and solicit potential guests. Room and board was $2.50 a day. Hilton built this downtown Albuquerque hotel in 1939 with architect Anton F. Korn providing the Territorial Style for the ten-story building. In 1984, the year it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, the hotel received a facelift and a new name - La Posada. It happened again a generation later and became the Hotel Andaluz.
120 Central Avenue SW at southeast corner of 2nd Street
This is the last contribution to the Albuquerque streetscape by El Paso architect Henry Trost, completed in 1924. Trost tapped the Renaissance Revival style for the building of reinforced concrete clad in yellow brick. A big chunk of the building was the 920-seat Sunshine Theater, Albuquerque’s first bonafide movie palace. Opening night featured the French Revolution drama, Scaramouche, with Ramon Novarro in the lead. The stage was treated roughly in middle age before going dark in the 1980s. It has been resuscitated as a live performance venue.
TURN LEFT ON CENTRAL AVENUE. TURN RIGHT ON 1ST STREET.
Alvarado Transportation Center
100 1st Street SW at southeast corner of Central Avenue
Albuquerque’s transit center, with connections for bus and train service, was opened in 2002 on the site of the town’s original railroad depot that greeted the first trains in the 1880s. The Mission Revival style remembers the town’s grandest hotel that also stood here from 1902 until 1970. The Alvarado Hotel, named for Hernando de Alvarado of the 1540 Francisco Vázquez de Coronado Expedition, was designed by famed Santa Fe Railroad architect Charles Whittlesey as one of the line’s most distinguished guest houses. The Alvarado was the type of place where visiting power brokers and celebrities signed the guest register and the social and political scene in Albuquerque swirled around its lobby for decades.
TURN RIGHT ON GOLD AVENUE.
220 Gold Avenue SW
This souvenir from the 19th century, rendered in brick, was constructed by physician Walter G. Hope as his home and office. Erected in 1894 it is considered the second oldest building in Albuquerque’s “New Town.” It was restored to its robust Romanesque flavor by the architectural firm that lives here now.
Occidental Life Insurance Company Building
northwest corner of Gold Avenue and 3rd Street
The leader and chief magistrate of Venice, Italy was known as the Doge and his residence, the Doge’s Palace, is one of the great landmarks of the city. After a European tour A.B. McMillan, the president of Occidental Life Insurance that had organized in 1906, retained Henry Trost to produce a headquarters in the palace’s arcade-dominated image. Trost’s Venetian Gothic design appeared in 1917, dressed in white terra cotta tile and celebrated by a public reception attended by some 1,000 Albuquerqueans. The interior was gutted by fire in 1933 but the exterior walls remained intact enough to rebuild in the Venetian style. By that time it was no longer Occidental Life’s concern - the company had moved to Raleigh, North Carolina in the 1920s.
320 Gold Avenue SW at southeast corner of 4td Street
The Bank of New Mexico Building, the name it was given at birth, was the tallest building ever constructed in New Mexico when it was raised in 1961, the first to exceed 200 feet. One of the money men behind the project was Winthrop Rockefeller, grandson of John D. Rockefeller and an Arkansas resident who built a relationship with the University of New Mexico. New Mexico architects W.C. Kruger & Associates designed the tower that features the same fenestration pattern as the earlier Simms Building across the street with dark glass on the front-facing north and south sides and red brick on the east and west elevations.
Sandia Savings Bank Building/Simms Building
400 Gold Avenue SW at southwest corner of 4th Street
The Sandia Savings Bank Building ushered Albuquerque into the modern age of architecture with its creation by Flatow, Moore, Bryan, and Fairburn in 1954. The groundbreaking International Style building featured windowless red brick walls on the east and west elevations and a glass curtain facade on the north and south. It was New Mexico’s tallest building into the 1960s. The Simms Building has a recurring role in the television drama Breaking Bad as the office building of Walter White’s brother-in-law, Hank Schrader, a Drug Enforcement Agency operative.
Old Post Office
123 4th Street Sw at northeast corner of Gold Avenue
This is the only Territorial federal building remaining in Albuquerque, built in a Spanish Colonial style on plans from the office of the Supervising Architect of the United States Treasury, James Knox Taylor. 1907 was the first year Albuquerque exceeded $40,000 in postal business which qualified the town for “first post office class” and this three-story post office arrived the next year. The price tag soared above $100,000, more than double the projected cost, and bankrupted the local contractor. Albuquerque was growing so rapidly additions were required in 1923 and 1932. Care was taken to wed the newcomers into the original stuccoed building with the same limestone base and red clay tile roof but if you look closely the seams can be detected. The post office stayed here until 1972 and today the building does duty as a high school.
421 Gold Avenue SW at northeast corner of 5th Street
The federal presence in Albuquerque was amped up considerably in 1930 with the arrival of this beefy six-story edifice from the United States Department of the Treasury. The oversized lower stories are faced in ashlar limestone blocks which lead into buff-colored terra cotta tile arranged in a brick pattern. A red-tile roof with a domed cupola tops the Mediterranean-styled confection. Like many Depression-era government buildings the Federal Building was spiced up with murals commissioned from local artists; the lobby depicts the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 as interpreted by Loren Mozley. An eagle-thunderbird theme is established in the arched entrance surround and carried through the building.
Dennis Chavez Federal Building
500 Gold Avenue SW at southwest corner of 5th Street
After growing from a town of some 10,000 inhabitants at New Mexico statehood in 1912 to a community of over 200,000 by 1960, federal agencies needed more office space and the solution was this U.S. Courthouse and Federal Office Building in 1965. The Albuquerque architecture firm of Flatow, Moore, Bryan, and Fairburn provided the modern design for the 13-story building that is sheathed in polished granite. At the time of its construction it was the third-tallest building in New Mexico.
TURN RIGHT ON 5TH STREET.
McCanna Hubbell Building
420 Central Avenue SW at southeast corner of 5th Street
This two-story brick commercial building was raised in 1915 and is distinguished by its prominent terra cotta cornice that stretches the length and width of the building. For the first half of its life the Albuquerque Gas & Electric company was headquartered here and the cornice was decorated with hundreds of electric light bulbs. You can still look up and see the sockets for the bulbs and maybe even a dangling light string or two.
ACROSS 5TH STREET, ON THE SOUTHWEST CORNER OF THE INTERSECTION IS...
500 Central Avenue SW at southwest corner of 5th Street
E.E. Bliss homesteaded on the East Mesa in the early 1900s and started the first tire business in Albuquerque in this location, pushing India rubber tires. Beginning in 1929 the rounded corner building housed the Coney Island Cafe, serving travelers along Route 66. In the1960s the operation was taken over by Narke Vatoseow who renamed it Lindy’s Coffee Shop and a half-century later it continues as one of Albuquerque’s longest-running eateries.
ACROSS CENTRAL AVENUE ON THE NORTHWEST CORNER OF THE INTERSECTION IS...
northwest corner of Central Avenue and 5th Street
The Brazilian-born John Gaw Meem was educated in civil engineering at the Virginia Military Institute but came to Santa Fe in 1920 at the age of 26 seeking a cure for tuberculosis. Shifting into architecture, Meem became one of the first designers to specialize in Pueblo and Spanish Colonial building techniques. In a long career that saw over 600 commissions, Meem created many of Santa Fe’s most memorable buildings and headed the committee that mandated all of that city’s structures adhere to traditional materials and architecture. Here, in 1937, however, Meem delivered a streamlined Art Moderne design for William R. Lovelace, a local doctor. The brick building has lost its chrome fittings and stylish window treatments but retains the Art Moderne form.
THE LAST BUILDING ON THE INTERSECTION IS THE TOWN’S MOST RECOGNIZABLE LANDMARK...
423 Central Avenue at northeast corner of 5th Street
Pablo Abeita, well-respected governor of the Isleta Pueblo, won $50 in a naming contest for the KiMo Theatre in 1927. The name translates loosely to “king of its kind,” which is an apt description of the exuberant Pueblo-influenced Art Deco theater. Carl Heinrich Boller of Kansas City, who with his brother Robert designed over 100 classic theaters, wedded adobe building techniques and Southwest culture with geometric Art Deco sensibilities to decorate the three-story stucco building. The money man was Oreste Bachechi who came to Albuquerque from his native Italy in 1885. He set up a tent saloon catering to railroad workers which evolved into a prosperous wholesale liquor business. When word of his success filtered back to his homeland it launched a wave of Italians flowing to Albuquerque. Like most of the grand downtown movie palaces in America the KiMo waged a losing battle with suburban malls and television in the mid-20th century and closed in the 1970s. It dodged the wrecking ball, however, and has been restored to its former glory.
CONTINUE ON 5TH STREET TO COPPER AVENUE AND TURN LEFT.
El Fidel Hotel/Copper Square
500 Copper Avenue NW at southwest corner of 5th Street
This brawny corner structure was designed and built in 1931 as the El Fidel Hotel, painted a distinctive copper color apropos of its street location. When the last guests departed in the 1970s the building was renovated to become Copper Square with more than 30,000 usable square feet, retaining the 1930s facade.
Albuquerque Public Library
501 Copper Avenue NW at northwest corner of 5th Street
The first library books in Albuquerque were lent in 1883 through the Ladies’ Library Association. The Albuquerque Public Library started on May 1, 1901 with exactly 2,382 books, many of which were donated by the town’s business community. Joshua Reynolds bought a three-story brick building at the intersection of Central and Edith avenues and gave it the of the city to house the collection. The building was enlarged regularly until the Main Library came here in 1975, into this award-winning modern interpretation of traditional Southwest design by architect George Pearl.
Immaculate Conception Church
619 Copper Ave NW at northwest corner of 6th Street
The church has its roots in an 1868 assignment of five Spanish-speaking Jesuits to work at San Felipe in Old Town Albuquerque under the direction of Bishop Lamy of Santa Fe. In 1883 the church’s work expanded into New Town where a church and school were erected on this site. In 1959, the old building was torn down and this bold new house of worship was erected to serve the parish.
TURN LEFT ON 8TH STREET.
717 Central Avenue NW at northeast corner of 8th Street
This six-story guest house on Route 66 began life in 1965 as the southwestern-flavored Downtowner Motor Inn. In the 1990s it received a retro Art Deco makeover and emerged as the Hotel Blue.
TURN LEFT ON CENTRAL AVENUE.
Skinner Building/Capo’s Ristorante
722 Central Avenue Sw at southeast corner of 8th Street
Albuquerque architect A.W. Boehning created one of the town’s best Art Deco buildings for the corner grocery of J.A. Skinner in 1931. The brick walls are dressed in white terra cotta and accented with towers that jut above the roofline.
John Pearce House
718 Central Avenue SW
This splash of Merrye Olde England on the Albuquerque streetscape was the home and doctor’s office of John Pearce and later an apartment house. Dilapidated and condemned, the property was rescued by Anna Muller and restored to its Tudor Revival appearance.
Firestone Auto Care
701 Central Avenue NW at northwest corner of 7th Street
In the 1920s Harvey Firestone, who was a pioneer in the mass production of rubber tires for the automobile, moved to South Beach in Miami, Florida, then emerging as the Art Deco capital of the universe. It was no surprise that Firestone began to infuse his factories and retail stores with the clean, modern Deco look as exemplified in service stations such as this one.
El Rey Theater
620-624 Central Ave SW at southeast corner of 7th Street
Luigi Puccini, cousin of opera composer Giacomo Puccini, constructed this Mediterranean-style commercial building in 1929. The first tenant was a grocery store and a paint store and a lamp store followed. In 1941 Puccini hired architect Joseph B. Burwinkle to combine the store space with a theater. Puccini had earlier been in the moving picture exhibition game in Albuquerque in 1922 when he bought into the PassTime Theater and then owned movie houses in Durango, Colorado and Gallup, New Mexico. The El Rey Theater also featured a restaurant and bar. The property has suffered bouts of vacancy and been revived by subsequent generations of the Puccini family, hosting scores of national touring acts. A fire in 2008 took out the Golden West Saloon but the theater area survived.
Wright Trading Post/Holocaust and Intolerance Museum
616 Central Avenue SW
Charles Wright left Kansas for the territorial Southwest to peddle trinkets in Fred Harvey Hotels along the railroad lines. He opened his first trading post on the Navajo Reservation and by 1907 he was able to set up shop in downtown Albuquerque as Wright’s Trading Post and Curios. The business later relocated to this colorful Art Deco space with Pueblo-inspired themes rendered in black and turquoise glazed tiles. The building now houses the Holocaust and Intolerance Museum dedicated to remembering and teaching about all the world’s genocides.
Maisel’s Indian Trading Post
510 Central Avenue SW
This Art Deco jewel was created in 1939 for Maurice Maisel after he moved into his own building from the Yrisarri Building on the next block. Architect John Gaw Meem, New Mexico’s leading cheerleader for the Pueblo Revival style, was encouraged by Maisel to adapt the Pueblo architecture to commercial purposes. The resulting facade, highlighted by murals from Olive Rush conveying American Indian ceremonial life, served as a beacon for tourists traveling down Route 66. The trading post became the largest of its kind on the Mother Road with more than 300 Pueblo and Navajo craftsmen working inside. Maisel’s closed with the founder’s death in the 1960s but after sitting out a generation the family business is once again serving up “the largest selection of Indian jewelry in the Southwest.”
S.H. Kress Building
414 Central Avenue SW
Samuel Henry Kress looked on his stores as public works of art and he retained a staff of architects to achieve that end. He took as much pride in the appearance of those stores as the nickels and dimes that piled up in his coffers. There would eventually be 264 Kress five-and-dime stores throughout the United States and many of them adopted the Art Deco style in the 1920s and 1930s. Kress arrived in Albuquerque in 1925 and remained until 1981. This Kress store has been compromised at street level but you can look up and still see the trademark gold “Kress” nameplate set on terra cotta tile.
CONTINUE A FEW MORE STEPS TO THE CROSSROADS OF ROUTE 66 AND THE TOUR STARTING POINT AT THE INTERSECTION OF 4TH STREET AND CENTRAL AVENUE.