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Ryan McGarvey
Ryan McGarvey
Let It Grow
Let It Grow
 V.17 No.10 | March 6 - 12, 2008 

Music News

The Saloon That Rock Built

Many bands' first steps were across the threshold of the Golden West

The Golden West waits to welcome customers before it opens for a regular business day in 2006.
Jessica Cassyle Carr
The Golden West waits to welcome customers before it opens for a regular business day in 2006.

U.K. oi! band The Business takes the stage. Young testosterone-riddled skinheads start slam dancing, but the Party Vikings, a local gang of rowdy punk rockers, have named themselves the kings of the pit. It isn't too long before a full-scale riot breaks loose, remembers Gordy Andersen, Black Maria singer and Albuquerque rock stalwart. Punks throw pool balls down from the Golden West's balcony. Tables and chairs cartwheel through the air and are smashed into sticks. And The Business just keeps playing.

"I thought, This is it. There's never going to be shows here again," says Andersen, recalling a younger version of himself in the early '90s making his way through the bar fight to the back door—just in case the cops show up.

In the early hours of Thursday, Feb. 28, Puccini's Golden West Saloon at 620 Central NW was gutted by a fire that swept through the historic building, collapsing the roof and charring the interior. Albuquerque Fire Department spokesperson Melissa Romero says a rag soaked in linseed oil and stored in a plastic container started the fire. The Golden West was having its floors refinished. Romero says the linseed oil caused the rag to spontaneously combust. The oil acted as its own ignition source, she says. There is no suspicion of arson, Romero adds. The fire has been ruled accidental.

Jessica Cassyle Carr

Kathy Zimmer co-owns the saloon with her mother and has been running the Golden West and adjoining El Rey Theater for six years. The saloon was built by her grandfather. The Golden West has been in her family since 1929 and El Rey since 1941. "It was my greatest fear that something like that could happen," she says. "It happened." Zimmer says she'll need the community's help to rebuild. "If the community doesn't care, there's not going to be a whole lot I can do about it." And if Zimmer can't find enough money to reconstruct the Golden West, she says she'll mow it down and turn it into a parking lot.

El Rey, which is next door to the Golden West, was dealt only minor water damage. "It's good to go," Zimmer says. “The marquee looks just fine."

Firefighters work to dampen the last embers of a fire that destroyed the building on Thursday, Feb. 28.
Marisa Demarco
Firefighters work to dampen the last embers of a fire that destroyed the building on Thursday, Feb. 28.

Zimmer declined to say whether the Golden West was insured. She referred the Alibi to her lawyer, Michael Peters, who is also her husband. Peters also refused to comment about insurance.

On Thursday morning, sunlight spilled onto the street through the gaping hole where the Golden West's roof used to be. That roof housed Albuquerque's bands as they came up through the ranks on the scene. The Golden West gave many local acts a chance to play before anyone else would.

The roof also sheltered plenty of national touring acts, and in its heyday in the early '90s, booking agents brought scores of famous and soon-to-be famous bands. On Andersen's list of memorable shows: The Hellcats and his own bands Jerry's Kidz and Cracks in the Sidewalk, as well as national acts L7, Sponge, D.I., The Dickies, Neutral Milk Hotel, the Dropkick Murphys, Agent Orange, the Genitorturers, and on and on.

Marisa Demarco

Though the Golden West of late maintained a love-hate relationship with many of Albuquerque's rockers, the room, with its tin ceiling and wood floors, is remembered fondly for its great sound, its community and its history.

Andersen recalls the days the Resin Records boys did it all, when there were little to no live rock venues in Albuquerque. Young local musicians convinced then-owner Virginia Doyle to let them bring some bands in. Resin Records would often provide the P.A. and work the door. They also built a squad of big guys to provide security, Andersen says.

Erik Torrez (also known as eT) began booking for the saloon around 2003. He got a text message Thursday telling him fire was ripping through the building. "I thought I was dreaming, or it was a joke," Torrez says. He got a second text about the fire, and jumped out of bed, calling everyone he could think of that was affiliated with the venue. "It's such a sad loss. It's like my second home," Torrez says.

Marisa Demarco

The second floor that contained the green room for bands—the one rowdy youth dropped pool balls from all those years ago—suffered tremendous damage.

Torrez scoured the rubble on Saturday to see what could be salvaged. "It was hard to believe, like a scene from a movie. We walked into the space with no roof, and snow started falling. We thought it was ash." He found an all-access backstage Shins pass from the show at El Rey last year with the lanyard still intact. He collected crystal shards from the chandelier. He was astonished to find the microphones were OK and even operable. Somehow, the stage, too, is still standing.

Marisa Demarco
Marisa Demarco

Cellist Matt Haimovitz will perform at either El Rey or the KiMo Theatre on Sunday, March 9, at 6:30 p.m. (Check for updates.) Proceeds will benefit the Golden West. Tickets are $27 at the door or $22 in advance. Get your ticket at Bookworks or Encore Music, online at or by calling 1-866-IGETTIX.

Share your golden memories of this rockhouse saloon below this story.

Public Comments (5)
  • I don't buy it.  [ Thu Mar 6 2008 7:43 PM ]

    I don't mean to knock the Golden West or the good times and memories anyone has at that place. However, I just cannot believe the audacity of Kathy Zimmer.

    Here are my points of contention on it:

    Mrs. Zimmer's building was built by her grandfather and is outright owned by her. Assuming it's been in the family the whole time (I do not know if this is the case), there should be little to no payments on the building itself (outside of licenses and insurance).

    The building is a historic landmark, officially or not, to Albuquerque.

    Kathy Zimmer, reported to news crews on the scene of the fire the same story: In addition to not being made aware of the fire until seeing it on TV, while it was still burning she had mentioned that without "community support" it would become a parking lot. She has since mentioned the "parking lot" scenario several times.

    Officials were alerted to the fire after Jeff Anderson, Launchpad owner's security company alerted him. He has been called out by Mrs. Zimmer in the days since as the ultimate cause of the fire, due to his rowdy and inconsiderate patrons.

    This is what I put together and my rational for my reluctance to not trust Mrs. Zimmer. Why is it that this building, family owned and historic, had no a)fire/security system and b)insurance? Why was Mrs. Zimmer so incredibly quick to play on the sympathies of 'burque's community (who have a deep love of everything "historic")? There are other questions too - How can buildings such as the Golden West and El Ray, which, although not with frequency, are filled with people not have proper fire safety systems (at least an alarm)? Additionally, why not be up front about the insurance, which if had would most certainly cover this catastrophe?

    Today's Daily Lobo has more from Zimmer. According to her, the fire was started by the combustion of oily rags left out - to me, that's gross negligence. And again, in the Lobo interview we hear cries about it being a parking lot without "community support." She mentions the architectural aesthetic uniqueness of the building, a repeated phrase since the first on scene interview and meant to pull at the strings of the hearts of Burquenos everywhere.

    I don't mean to be a conspiracy theorist or to deride anyone of their love for the Golden West. As a community member and informed citizen, I demand to know the whole story. As such, I encourage you to, though this may seem drastic and mean, to boycott any "community support" to Zimmer until we are told the details of her fire safety systems at the building and a history of the insurance. Kathy Zimmer might be crying woe is me because she is or isn't at least partially responsible for the fate of her building. But until she's clear and upfront with the community, I see no reason for us to blindly trust her when, to my eyes, the whole situation has the stench of lies and deceit.

  • At the very least  [ Thu Mar 6 2008 8:19 PM ]

    There should be no rush for community support until there's a straight answer on whether there was insurance or not, and the fact that there hasn't been leaves a very bad taste in my mouth. Everyone loved the building, no doubt about it, but the building burned down. I'm not sure exactly what we're being asked to support.

  • agreed, and a few quickies  [ Thu Mar 6 2008 11:36 PM ]

    "Officials were alerted to the fire after Jeff Anderson, Launchpad owner's security company alerted him."

    Joe Anderson's security alarm went off *because* the fire department busted through the Launchpad's front door.

    "He has been called out by Mrs. Zimmer in the days since as the ultimate cause of the fire, due to his rowdy and inconsiderate patrons."

    Was she actually quoted saying that? Link that shit up!

    And they may be rowdy, but if Launchpad patrons were refinishing the GW's floors at 6 in the morning, I'd say they were being *very* considerate.

  • Amen  [ Mon Mar 10 2008 12:18 AM ]

    There's a discussion over at Duke City Fix on this issue...add your 2 cents. I'm afraid there are too few questions being asked and the best parts of downtown are at stake!

    And yes, if Kathy Zimmer has called out Joe Anderson, "link that shit up"! How is it possibly his problem?

  • The threads  [ Mon Mar 10 2008 11:21 AM ]

    on rocksquawk are where it's at.





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