The Albuquerque of Yesterday, Yesteryear and Yore
Over the years Albuquerque, like much of America, has seen both the slow fade and outright demolition of untold pieces of culture. Buildings rise and fall, eras come and go, and in the midst of it we shrug off the history like wheezy, archetypal grandpa stories of walking to school in the snow.
Sigh. Kids these days.
Perhaps that was a founding sentiment behind Ty Bannerman's Forgotten Albuquerque blog, an electronic time capsule of our city's past. Mere curiosity turned into fascination, and the historical weblog began taking shape as a book of the same title. At the end of January, with the help of local historical preservationists at UNM, The Museum of Albuquerque, The Albuquerque Library and Nancy Tucker of the New Mexico Postcard Club, Forgotten Albuquerque materialized in paperback, crammed with photographs, postcards and historical tidbits. The book is by no means in-depth, and it doesn't aim to be. Rather, it hopes the reader will discover a little something about Albuquerque—a city, Bannerman says, that doesn't necessarily embrace its own history.
A few weeks ago, at a spot on Gold Street where outlaws used to stage gunfights and prostitutes used to do their thing (and probably still do), the Alibi spoke with Bannerman.
What prompted you to devote a chapter to the Alvarado Hotel?
Because it's emblematic of Albuquerque's schizophrenic attitude toward its own history. When the Alvarado was built, it was one of the crown jewels of the Harvey House hotels of the West. It attempted to be a distillation of New Mexico culture; it was definitely grounded in New Mexico's sort of mystique and an important part of Albuquerque's early turn-of-the-century identity. When people came here, it's what they saw, and it made a big impression on many people. By, say, the '50s, '60s it started to decline, and by the 1970s some company purchased the land and said, Let's knock it down and make a parking lot out of it. There was an outcry against that, but the city acted way too late to try to stop it. They allowed something that I think could have been an emblem of Albuquerque's connection to its own roots to be destroyed. The transportation center was built to look a lot like the Alvarado, but it's not quite the same. I guess there's always that push and pull between moving forward without really considering the consequences of the actions.
What are some other buildings that were lost?
The one I'm interested in finding out more about—and haven't had much luck—is the YMCA. It's a pretty striking example of Southwestern architecture. I understand why the sanitariums are gone; it makes sense to me. I wish there were a few left that would serve a historical purpose. Huning Castle (as seen on this week’s Alibi cover): I can understand why that was torn down, but it's a shame. It was this gorgeous Bavarian castle in little downtown Albuquerque built out of dirt. From what I've read about it, they looked into trying to restore and keep it, but they couldn't do it with any kind of sensible budget.
Can you tell me about the tuberculosis phenomenon?
They called it climatology—the idea that tuberculosis was exacerbated by wet air. The idea was to come to a place like Albuquerque where there's cool, dry air that would kill bacteria. As far as I know, that was based on nothing, scientifically speaking. I think there were different motives behind the idea. If you were a doctor with a fairly rich clientele, you want to have a higher cure rate, or at least a lower death rate. I think there was an aspect of trying to get people who were dying of tuberculosis out to the West in hopes that they would get better but to also make them someone else's problem. What I find interesting, though, is that promotional Albuquerque materials from the time say these crazy things like "Nobody who comes out here with tuberculosis—who's not a hopeless case—dies." They can kind of get away with that because no one was keeping track of the figures. If you look at the records at Fairview Cemetery from around that time period [early 20th century], almost every other death listed is from tuberculosis.
Why do people feel nostalgic for these buildings?
You want to be connected to a place, you want to understand it. After long enough, you start to appreciate what the city is and wonder what it was, sort of how you might wonder about a friend of yours. You want to preserve the things that you like about it and prevent them from being lost. That's my interest in it.
It seems like we're still stuck in this archaic frame of mind, like in the '60s with urban renewal, where people have little regard for the past and preserving it physically.
Yeah, maybe. There are a lot of issues there, with growth especially. There's the environmental aspect, and the historic aspect. And I understand—I really think it has to do with the people coming here to live who just haven't had an opportunity to learn about those things. They're not interested in protecting something they don't know about. People are making money off of it, so it's going to continue to be an issue.
The author will present and sign Forgotten Albuquerque for the New Mexico Postcard Club on Saturday, March 28, from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Special Collections Library (which happens to be a 1925 Spanish/Pueblo revival building in Huning Highlands). The meeting is free and open to the public. The blog Forgotten Albuquerque can be found at forgottenabq.blogspot.com. View many of the historic postcards that inspired Bannerman at cabq.gov/library/postcard_category.html.