Albuquerque's 20th century suburban growth
by David Kammer
From its inception as a railroad town in 1880, Albuquerque has undergone continuous growth. During its first two decades much of that growth occurred within the 3.1 square miles of the original town site, with the earliest residential sections appearing on all sides of a small commercial core located in the blocks just west of the new town’s depot. East of the rail tracks on the low sandhills leading up to the East Mesa grew Huning’s Highland Addition with its homes embracing many of the architectural styles imported with the coming of the railroad. Although several small subdivisions were added to this urban nucleus over the next two decades, Albuquerque remained a walkable town until just after the turn of the century.
In 1904 an electric streetcar line replaced the horse-drawn trolley that ran from the new railroad town to Old Albuquerque plaza, site of the original Spanish settlement in 1706. Over the next quarter century, this streetcar system extended in all directions, giving real estate developers and the town’s boosters opportunities to create new suburbs. As automobile ownership became more widespread, private transportation and Albuquerque’s bus system, which replaced the streetcars in 1928, led to the creation of additional suburbs, especially on the East Mesa, the direction of much of the town’s growth. Through an aggressive policy of annexation beginning in the mid-1920s, city leaders began a pattern of spatial growth that has continued to the present. In 1960, however, the patterns of growth that had marked earlier suburbs greatly altered, replaced by large outside development companies moving beyond the city limits to develop remote suburban communities. In recent decades the City of Albuquerque and many residents of the older suburbs have sought to preserve those areas’ character, valuing the quality of life they offer and their relationship to the city’s earlier patterns of growth. This historic context refers largely to those older districts both within the city and nearby parts of Bernalillo County, which residents are seeking to preserve.
The Historic Setting and Landscape of New Albuquerque (1880-1900)
As the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad (AT&SF) pushed into New Mexico Territory in 1879, reaching Las Vegas on July 4, 1879 and Santa Fe on February 9, 1880, advance survey crews sought a site in the Middle Rio Grande Valley for locating shops and yards. Failing to do so in the town of Bernalillo, where the dominant Perea family demanded exorbitant fees for the necessary acreage, railroad officials looked 18 miles south to Albuquerque. There a group of three boosters, Franz Huning, William C. Hazeldine and Elias S. Stover formed the New Mexico Town Company, a subsidiary of the railroad. Rather than seeking to develop land located near the Villa de Albuquerque, which reflected the plaza-settlement pattern characteristic of many Hispano communities along the former Camino Real, these developers turned their attention almost two miles to the east. Buying land, some of it from the descendants of the original Villa de Albuquerque Grant granted in 1706 by Francisco Cuervo y Valdés, the Spanish governor of New Mexico, the three investors pieced together a 3.1 square-mile parcel that became known as the “original townsite.”(See accompanying historic settlement map.)
The investors’ decision to locate the site well away from the plaza of Albuquerque rested upon several factors. From an engineering perspective, the eastern location permitted an efficient, straight alignment that avoided the large nine-mile westward U the Rio Grande River made beginning at Alameda midway from Bernalillo to Albuquerque. Moreover, land was less expensive than that in the intensively farmed agricultural land around the plaza. By the 1870s, much of the floodplain lying within this large U comprised some of the most productive agricultural land in the territory. Throughout the valley a series of gravity-based irrigation ditches, or acequias, coursed the river’s floodplain, contributing to the growing importance of the plaza at Albuquerque as a trading and shipping center.
Associated with these irrigated field systems were several dispersed agricultural communities, some with small plazas. Often they were named for the families who had originally settled them such as Los Duranes, Los Candelarias, Los Griegos, or Barelas. Together these outlying communities included some 4,300 residents in the 1880 census. Easternmost of these communities was Martineztown, aligned along the foot of the sandhills less than a mile northeast of the new depot. The community’s field systems, lying on the floodplain below the village, were irrigated by an acequia that extended several miles from its headgate near where the river began its westward turn at Alameda to where it emptied back into the river near Barelas.
Comprising Albuquerque’s first suburbs, many of these agriculturally based villages would eventually be joined to the city as it grew. Later, by the 1930s, some developers would begin to plat small subdivisions such as the Los Alamos Addition of 1938 within these villages’ former field systems. Most, however, would continue to retain at least a few elements recalling their earlier cultural landscape, especially streets and lanes lacking the rigid grid pattern characteristic of the railroad town and houses built in the New Mexico Vernacular Style.
Many of the farmers in these communities continued to graze their sheep on the East Mesa, or Grand Mesa as it was also called. Lying above the sandhills marking the eastern edge of the floodplain, the mesa rose gently up over its eight-mile breadth extending to the foothills of the Sandia Mountains. Although portions of this mesa had been homesteaded and were subsequently purchased by developers as the city grew eastward, these lands had once been part of the common lands, or ejidos, an integral element in Spanish and Mexican land grants, and herders continued to use them into the 20th century.
Farther east, lying beyond the Sandia and Manzano Mountains and accessible from a wagon trail that climbed through Tijeras Canyon, lay the Estancia Valley with its lush grasses making it ideal for sheep grazing. Together with the fruit and vegetables being grown in the Rio Grande Valley’s truck farms, the wool these thousands of sheep produced constituted the valuable exports the area’s boosters hoped to ship from the depot at the newly designated Albuquerque townsite. Cheaply priced, convenient to the wool wagons descending the sandhills from the East Mesa, well-boosted by some of Old Albuquerque’s leading entrepreneurs, and ideal for the efficiency-minded railroad survey crews, the townsite awaited only the coming of the railroad to begin its growth.
On April 22, 1880, hundreds of citizens traveled eastward from the plaza to the new rail line to celebrate the arrival of territorial and railroad dignitaries. While some wealthy businessmen had decried the coming of the railroad, viewing it as a threat to their shipping businesses, most Albuquerqueans welcomed its arrival. Rather than competing with wagon freighting, they saw the railroad as offering the key to exploiting the area’s resources and creating opportunities for increased short-haul shipping. To distinguish between the older plaza community and the new railroad town, people began to refer to them as Old Town and New Town, respectively. In contrast to the population of Old Town, which was largely Hispano, the population of New Town consisted largely of newcomers to the territory, many who came from the eastern United States or from northern Europe. While the United States Census classified both groups as white, popular usage has evolved to distinguish between Hispanos, those of Spanish and Mexican descent, and Anglos, those of Americans and northern European who immigrated to New Mexico.
Within a few months, Huning, Hazeldine and Stover had hired Walter G. Marmon, a civil engineer, to survey, mark and name the streets of the new townsite (Simmons 1982:224). Dutifully replicating the Midwestern town landscapes with which he was familiar, Marmon devised a grid, numbering north to south-running streets westward from the tracks, naming east to west-running streets after the minerals, such as lead, coal, gold, and silver, local boosters hoped to exploit. Other streets commemorated the townsite’s founders and their children. For the street paralleling the tracks on the eastside, Marmon chose the Broadway; and for the street perpendicular to the tracks and anticipated as the main commercial street, Railroad Avenue. Climbing the sandhills to the East Mesa, Railroad Avenue followed the alignment of a wagon road leading to Tijeras Canyon; to the west it followed the new grid for eight blocks and then veered northwesterly toward the plaza at what soon became known as Old Albuquerque.
Benefiting from the access the railroad offered to distant markets, the new town site thrived as a shipping and trade center during the 1880s. A commercial district grew up along Railroad and Gold avenues with warehouses, stockyards and shipping facilities lining the tracks north of Railroad Avenue. To the south appeared the railroad’s facilities, a depot and the buildings marking the yards and service shops. Amenities characteristic of growing towns throughout the United States, including gas street lights, a rudimentary telephone service, and a water works, appeared during the 1880s. By 1891, the population of New Town stood at 3,785. That year voters took advantage of a law passed by the territorial legislature in 1890 and chose to reincorporate as a city.
This new designation brought with it a mayor/alderman form of government in which the town was divided into four wards determined by the new city’s geographical quadrants (see accompanying Willits’ map of 1898). These political boundaries, which would endure until 1917 when voters decided to shift to a city commission/manager form of government, provide a focus for viewing and discussing the city’s various distinctive areas. Based on the two axes created by the intersection of Railroad Avenue with the AT&SF tracks, the four quadrants beginning in the northeast corner and progressing clockwise were designated the first through the fourth wards respectively. By the early 1900s, each ward had its own, nearly identical, two-story brick school. Each also had one or more additions appended to it. Socially and economically, however, at the turn of the century the four wards were far from similar as demonstrated in the early patterns of development that each exhibited.
The First and Second Wards east of the railroad tracks became largely residential areas with long rectangular blocks paralleling the tracks. North of Railroad Avenue and bordered on the north by Martineztown and to the east by unusually steep sandhills, the First Ward appeared largely as the northern extension of the more rapidly developing Second Ward. The most successful of the earliest additions, Franz Huning’s Highland Addition situated at the eastern boundary of the original townsite, extended two blocks north of Railroad Avenue and seven blocks south. By 1888, 63 percent of the addition’s 536 lots had been sold. Using brick and milled lumber, builders employed styles such as the Italianate, Queen Anne, Colonial Revival, and, by the turn of the century, the Hipped Box, popular elsewhere in the country. As a result, by 1900 an enclave similar in appearance to residential blocks in small towns elsewhere in the country had begun to thrive along the lower foothills just above the railroad tracks and floodplain. Other additions extending eastward to the steeper upper reaches of the sandhills, such as Brownwell and Lail’s Highland and Stamm’s Terrace Addition, proved less attractive, however, and languished until the new century. Only after the establishment of the first large tuberculosis sanatorium, St. Joseph in 1902, at the eastern edge of the town, did residential development begin pushing up the sandhills to the East Mesa.
The Third Ward, lying in the southwestern quadrant, was the one closest to the new town’s principal employer, a location that spurred its early growth. Hemmed in on its southwestern side by the Rio Grande at the southern end of its nine-mile U and by the villages of Barelas and San Jose, the area included the AT&SF shops and yards at its eastern edge. This proximity attracted many railroad workers, estimated to comprise one-third of the new town’s workforce by the turn of the century. With both newcomers to the territory and some local Hispanos who had secured railroad jobs, housing construction grew, prompting development of two early additions, the Atlantic and Pacific and Baca Additions during the 1880s. These and other smaller additions, sometimes little more than single block strips carved out of former irrigated fields, resulted in the emergence of the most ethnically mixed portion of the largely Anglo new town. This ethnic diversity was also reflected in the more diverse mixture of residential architectural styles of the area with modest examples of the imported styles found in the other wards mixed with examples of the New Mexico Vernacular Style.
In the northwest quadrant lay the Fourth Ward, bounded by the railroad and Railroad Avenue on its eastern and southern edges and extending sixteen blocks westward toward the irrigated fields east of Old Town plaza. Because of its proximity to Old Town and the decision of Franz Huning in 1881 to build his dream home, Castle Huning, along Railroad Avenue, some developers anticipated that the Fourth Ward would develop quickly as the two towns grew together to become one. This optimism proved premature, however, as Old Town struggled to retain its historic Hispano identity, becoming a part of Albuquerque only in 1949. As a result of this political and social antipathy as well as its distance from the railroad and commercial center, efforts to develop the Perea Addition, an 800-lot addition platted in 1881 at the northwestern edge of the Fourth Ward, materialized only in later decades as other additions and annexations drew New Town westward.
Early development in the Fourth Ward occurred instead on the grid of streets nearer to New Town’s core and along Railroad Avenue, which became lined with houses employing imported styles similar to those found in Huning’s Highland Addition. Referred to as “Honeymoon Row” by 1900, the street cut northwesterly from Eighth Street periodically creating triangles as it intersected Marron’s grid at oblique angles. One such space became Robinson Park, the city’s first public park, while another was later donated to commemorate the soldiers and sailors who had served in World War I. Although consisting of small irregularly shaped parcels unsuitable for residential development, the parks set a precedent that developers followed in later decades as they sought to provide amenities that would attract potential residents to their suburban additions. North of hard, earthen-packed Railroad Avenue, development moved more slowly, and until after 1900, a large cow pasture occupied most of the western portion of the Fourth Ward.
By 1881 mule-drawn cars of the Street Railway Company were traversing Railroad Avenue several times a day. With eight cars, the company’s line consisted of three miles of narrow gauge, lightweight track extending from Barelas to Old Town plaza and servicing the area’s three most frequented destinations. Passing through New Town’s commercial and railroad core, the streetcar had one terminus near the AT&SF yards. The other was located at Old Town’s plaza. Near the plaza was the railway company-owned Traction Park, the site of the Territorial Fair, horse racing and frequent baseball games. And, in 1886, after Albuquerque had wrested the county seat from Bernalillo (Sandoval County, of which the town of Bernalillo is now the county seat, was formed only in 1901), the Bernalillo County Commission decided to award the site of the new county courthouse to Old Town. Not surprisingly, the street railway company, which anticipated adding riders on county-related business to railroad workers and New Town residents making outings to the Traction Park living in Old Town, favored this decision.
This brief survey of the early development and landscape of New Town’s four wards reveals a good deal about Albuquerque’s early and subsequent growth patterns. Despite the creation of a horse-drawn trolley system in 1880, New Albuquerque remained largely a community in which distances between home, work sites, and the commercial district were covered on foot. The trolley with its three-mile track connecting the railroad yards and neighborhoods of the Second Ward to New Town’s commercial core and to Old Town’s plaza did little to alter New Albuquerque’s character as a walkable town with its focal point the railroad depot and the nearby commercial blocks. In fact, with its leisurely pace, the trolley prompted the local saying, “If you’re in a hurry walk, but if you have time take the streetcar.”
Geographic limitations also contributed to concentrating early development within the core of the original townsite and its few contiguous additions. To the east the steeper upper reaches of the sandhills discouraged widespread construction even in platted additions. To the northeast and south longstanding Hispano agricultural villages stalled expansion. To the west the often-flooded riparian areas bounding the Rio Grande hardly invited development, and to the northwest Old Town’s sphere of influence remained compelling. For suburban growth to occur, New Albuquerque required expanded transportation systems and more dynamic local economic conditions. The Dynamics of Suburban Growth (1904-1925)
Throughout its early history, Albuquerque’s promoters published pamphlets boosting the new community. Often containing predictions about the town’s future based more on their hopes than actual facts, these brochures offer a gauge of the optimism that inspired many of its early leaders. During 1908, promoters were presented with an unusual opportunity to boost their hometown when it was selected to host the Sixteenth National Irrigation Congress, an event that drew over 4,000 delegates from around the world. Seeking to disseminate information about the latest irrigation technologies, the meeting also presented the territory with an opportunity to make its case for statehood. For the host city it offered an opportunity to celebrate the growth it had made over its twenty-eight year history. By the time delegates began to arrive at the depot, boosters had produced a multi-page pamphlet entitled “Albuquerque, New Mexico: Chief City of a New Empire in the Great Southwest” (Hening 1908). With a cover featuring a Moorish-inspired triumphal arch framing a view of the Railroad Avenue commercial district, the generously illustrated pamphlet offered readers a glowing report of the advantages Albuquerque offered potential residents.
To allay concerns that the town lacked the services associated with any up-to-date community, it noted its modern gas, electric, water and sewer systems. It also cited its fire department, six miles of electric trolley lines, and a new hotel, the $200,000 Alvarado, built in 1904 for Fred Harvey and the AT&SF. To enhance Albuquerque’s image as a growing urban center, the pamphlet emphasized Bernalillo County’s population of 25,000, rather than the city’s population of some 8,000, a practice that became common with each decennial census over the next half century. Noting that Albuquerque had “never had a boom,” that “growth has been steady, persistent,” the pamphlet quoted one of the town’s “master builders” who noted that it was “built one-fourth on prospects, one-fourth on actual business, and the rest on public spirit and an active community” (Hening 1908:np).
Many of the illustrated pages in the pamphlet bear testimony to the builder’s assessment. An entire page is devoted to Albuquerque’s growing reputation as a health center for those seeking a cure for tuberculosis. With the construction of St. Joseph Sanatorium in 1902 and the selection of the town as the site for the Presbyterian National Tubercular Sanitarium, the town had begun to advertise its ideal climate for the then popular climatological therapy. Proclaiming research that had concluded that “nowhere in New Mexico is it possible to spend so much time out of doors,” boosters sought to attract those chasing the cure. Over the next quarter century health seekers attracted by similar efforts to advertise Albuquerque’s favorable climate would drive much of the town’s expansion and growth, especially on the high, dry East Mesa.
Most prominent in the pamphlet, however, were the four pages treating the “suburban additions” that were “rapidly building up around the city.” Referring to Albuquerque as offering a “neat, attractive homelikeness,” boosters noted the “good taste shown in the architecture of the finer homes, the substantial and dignified, graceful style of modern construction being everywhere in evidence.” Homes were further classified with larger residences described as being chiefly of “brick and stone” often in the “Mission style” with pebble-plaster finishes. Arguing that Albuquerque offered homes “cheaper than in California” but with the same pleasant, dry climate, the pamphlet noted that many of the smaller homes were being built in the bungalow style, “which is at the same time inexpensive, picturesque and well adapted to the climate.” While many of the residences illustrated in the pamphlet were located in the central core of the original townsite, special emphasis was given to new homes “erected in the eastern heights commanding a magnificent view of the valley of the Rio Grande and the mountains.” If, as the boosters projected, new additions continued to include parks in their plats and the school children who had pledged to plant a tree and bush and then care for it did so, the city’s “civic pride” would “make Albuquerque in reality a City Beautiful.”
From a contemporary perspective the pamphlet offers a good example of the ardent promotion that marked many of New Mexico’s efforts to attract additional residents during the late territorial period. It implies an optimism that the territory’s half-century long struggle for statehood was about to be realized, making an effort to cast Albuquerque, its emerging urban center, within the national context of the City Beautiful movement. Despite the overstatement characteristic of such documents, the pamphlet presents several important factors that gave the town’s leaders cause for optimism. Among them were the development of the town’s electric trolley system, the platting and emergence of residential suburbs beyond the boundaries of the original townsite, and the appearance of the first of the modern sanitariums. Although the pamphleteers made no effort to interpret these factors in concert, the synergy they generated accounts for much of Albuquerque’s early suburban growth through the mid-1920s.
With the development of electric traction in the late 1880s, the thoroughfares of cities and towns throughout the country had become lined with electric streetcar rails and overhead cables. The innovation had begun to transform cities, expanding urban boundaries to include residential rings served by electric trolleys around the old urban cores. Termed “streetcar suburbs” by historian Sam Bass Warner, these additions and the streetcars that spawned them tended to separate the previously integrated urban experience in which work, commerce, and home were contained within a walkable community. Soon, the electric streetcars, radiating out from the urban core as so many spokes on a wheel, began to change the urban experience, segregating the various aspects of daily life. Seeing the connection between numerous diverse activities and their volume of riders, traction system owners often undertook or worked actively with land developers to plat these new suburban additions. On other occasions they played roles in developing industrial sites, parks and natatoriums, baseball fields and amusement centers at the ends of their lines, hoping to attract a greater volume of riders.
Albuquerque’s electric streetcar system exerted a similar influence during the first period of expansion beyond the original town’s core. Much like other new technologies, architectural styles and popular trends, the coming of the electric streetcar to New Mexico Territory lagged behind other sections of the country. The first system appeared in Las Vegas in 1903. A year later, the Albuquerque city council granted a franchise to William H. Greer of Bakersfield, California. Greer immediately replaced the lightweight rails of the mule-drawn trolleys and introduced an electrified line with a rolling stock consisting of ten double-ended cars. Heralding the departure of the old trolleys as Albuquerque’s removal of “the last vestige of villagery,” the local press celebrated the new transportation system (Simmons 1981:333). Within a few years, the company was reorganized to form the City Electric Company, and tracks were added to the north and east. Although the traction company would succumb to the rising popularity of the private automobile by the mid-1920s, replaced by a city bus system in 1928, its nearly twenty-five years of operation contributed to the form and development of Albuquerque’s first generation of suburbs.
Unlike the singular route of the previous trolley, the route of the electric trolley did, in fact, resemble a modest set of spokes befitting a town of about 8,000 people. An east-west axis extended along Railroad Avenue from Yale Boulevard at the University of New Mexico to Old Town Plaza, making a brief detour a block north to Tijeras Street to cross the AT&SF tracks. The north-south axis was more complex. Its southern terminus was Barelas at Third and Bridge streets, but the northern terminus was extended far to the north with tracks running north on Second Street to New York Avenue (now Lomas Boulevard). There, they turned west to 12th Street, and then turned north to what became known as the Sawmill area, site of the American Lumber Company sawmill and yards. East of the AT&SF lines, running twelve blocks south on Edith Street through Huning’s Highland Addition was a second north-south spur. With its more than six miles of tracks, the new electric trolley system made new territory accessible for development on the town’s northern and eastern sides.
The decision to extend a line to the American Lumber Company’s mill was an astute one, reflective of many traction companies’ efforts to seek out heavily traveled routes. Incorporated in 1901, the American Lumber Company controlled over 300,000 acres of timberlands in the Zuni Mountains less than 100 miles west of Albuquerque. Seeking a good shipping point with an abundant water supply to run a large-scale milling operation as well as a large labor pool and the potential for adequate housing and amenities, the company selected a 110-acre site in northwest Albuquerque. With the AT&SF an integral part of the operation, hauling logs to the mill and then shipping lumber and finished products from it, the operation opened in 1903 and prospered. By 1906, the mill had surpassed the AT&SF as Albuquerque’s largest employer with over 850 workers (Glover 1986:18).
This boom in jobs contributed, in part, to the rapid growth of what became known as the North End, an area comprising the portion of the Fourth Ward north of Tijeras Avenue as well as two additions just north of Mountain Road, the northern boundary of the original townsite. With 98 houses in 1902, by 1910 the North End contained 766 houses with 58 of them located north of Mountain Road (Biebel 1981:22). By 1920, the number of houses in this fastest growing section of the town had almost doubled over the 1910 figures, rising to 1,242. While a quarter of these were located north of Mountain Road or west of Twelfth Street, the vast majority were closer to the urban core, marking an infill of the original townsite (portions of the area are located within the Eighth Street/Forrester National Historic District). With only a few exceptions of small additions within the original townsite that employed circles and curved blocks, settlement of the North End, similar to Huning’s Highland Addition, was based on a rectilinear grid.
The houses located in these first northside suburbs tended to be more modest than those built south of Mountain Road in the Fourth Ward during the same period. In general, the infill occurring in the Fourth Ward, especially south of New York Avenue was marked by a concentration of larger homes, many with two stories, employing late Queen Anne and Prairie School styles. Interspersed among them were houses reflecting other popular styles including moderately ornate examples of the Hipped Box and Bungalow, as well as the emerging Southwest Vernacular style (Historic Resources of the Downtown Neighborhoods Area of Albuquerque 1979). In contrast, the houses north of Mountain Road were generally one story and displayed a more modest range of stylistic details. Most prevalent were the Bungalow, Hipped Box and Southwest Vernacular Styles. Reflecting the presence of many sawmill employees as owners, some houses display distinctive milled lumber and wood shingle details. Lying outside of the city’s limits until residents voted for annexation in 1927, these early suburbs lacked access to many city services including water. Typically, the developers of outlying additions, unable to obtain these services, provided their own water and sewage systems. Later, during the annexations of additions that marked the city’s growth during the late 1920s, they then sold the systems to the city, which modified or expanded them to conform to the city’s system.
Just as the northern leg of the electric trolley contributed to the opening of new residential enclaves north of Mountain Road and around the sawmill, the trolley’s eastern leg with its south-running spur along Edith Street offered greater access to additions lining the eastern sandhills and to the East Mesa itself. By 1902, the First and Second wards, consisting largely of Huning’s Highland Addition, included 299 houses. In 1910, the figure rose to 1,000; and by 1920, with some of the first houses on the East Mesa included in the total, to 1,528 (Biebel 1981:22). Also contributing to this growth east of the railroad tracks was a timber and trestle bridge, known as the viaduct, completed on Coal Avenue in 1901. Crossing over the maze of switching tracks just north of the AT&SF yards, it eased access to the south side of the Second Ward. Although at first officials banned the town’s few automobiles from the viaduct, restricting it to horses and wagons, along with the trolley spur on Edith Street, it encouraged development of the southern Highlands district. Near the railroad shops and the Albuquerque Foundry Company located along the eastside of the tracks, the area proved especially attractive to those blue-collar workers. As a result, some homeowners converted some of the larger single-family homes into boardinghouses, which along with modest hotels and rooming houses accommodated many of the city’s single workers (Kammer 1999).
The pace of development farther east, however, only began to pick up as newcomers became convinced that the future of Albuquerque lay on the East Mesa. Convincing them of this bright future was no easy task as evidenced by the inability of Brownwell and Lail and M.P. Stamm to develop their additions over a nearly twenty-year period. The steep sandy hills and arroyos characteristic of the alluvial fans offered a particularly challenging terrain for imposing a grid of streets. Consisting of eroded sediment washed down from the Sandia Mountains, the sandhills lay dry most of the year. Summer cloudbursts, however, were capable of turning the arroyos, favored as the east-west roadways, into temporary raging torrents. Attracted by the orderly flat grids and tree-lined streetscapes of the valley, many newcomers chose to build just below in the Highlands or down in the North End. Even the attraction of the University of New Mexico atop the East Mesa failed to draw surrounding settlement until the 1910s. For most townspeople dwelling in the valley, Railroad Avenue east of High Street was little more than a “wavering sandy lane as far as the University” and then a wagon road that “wound uncertainly till it entered Tijeras Canyon” (Balcomb 1980:60).
Gradually, however, attitudes toward the East Mesa began to change. In 1905 and then again in 1910, M.P. Stamm replatted his Terrace Addition, setting aside land for a park and digging a well that assured potential residents a steady water supply. Significant impetus for eastward suburbanization came in 1906, when Col. D.K.B. Sellers platted the University Heights Addition to the east of the Terrace Addition. Previously involved in land development projects in the valley along the northern leg of the electric trolley line, Sellers had resolved to strike out on his own to promote the city and to make his fortune in real estate as it grew. To accomplish this he resorted to an aggressive marketing of his new subdivision.
With a few partners he had acquired a quarter section of patented land on the East Mesa south of the university. Orienting the streets to the principal points of the compass instead of to the alignment of the railroad tracks, as had been done in the original townsite and earlier adjacent additions, Sellers carved out a four-by-seven block subdivision. In these twenty-eight rectangular blocks he placed 672 lots, each fifty by 142 feet. Each property faced on one of the north-south streets, and a sixteen-foot-wide alley ran between the properties. East-west streets retained the names they carried in New Town—Silver, Lead, Coal—although the longer north-south blocks eliminated Gold Street and left the others out of alignment, a feature that continues to punctuate the west side of the subdivision. Inspired by the nearby university and hoping to attract faculty members as residents, Sellers assigned the names of colleges, such as Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Cornell to the north-south streets, all of which ended at Railroad Avenue. Later, in 1916, Sellers acquired additional land to the east and platted an eastern portion of the subdivision.
The promotional material Sellers generated reveals the vision he held for the mesa land. A pamphlet published in 1906 entitled “The Coming Aristocratic Residential Section” described the lots as an “opportunity for the small investor” (University Heights Improvement Company 1906: np). Characterizing the valley as having little land remaining for building, it urged prospective homeowners to look “towards the higher ground, above the smoke and lowlands and to “come up from the low zone to the ozone.” It further played on would be homeowners’ fears that as the city expanded and homes near the town’s center became boarding houses building “close in may be undesirable.” In short, the sales brochure touched upon a range of sentiments associated with many Americans’ desire to move to the suburbs. By articulating aspirations for upward mobility through sound real estate investment, idealizing the locale and its climatic advantages, and then instilling an ominous threat and connecting it with choosing a residence in the valley, Sellers struck a chord that would encourage a progression of increasingly distant subdivisions on the East Mesa for the next eighty years.
Even this aggressive marketing of the East Mesa and its bright future as Albuquerque’s suburban sector required time to take hold. It wasn’t until after World War I, after he had constructed a water tank on Nob Hill at the eastern end of the subdivision in 1916, solving the addition’s chronic lack of a reliable water supply, that substantial settlement began to occur. A photograph of the Werner-Gilchrist House at the corner of Silver and Cornell taken in 1912 shows the dormered, hipped-roof house, its outbuildings and a wind-pumped well standing in absolute isolation. Only a single tree and a few disparate bushes interrupt a landscape of short grasses and low brush. A 1916 map of the addition indicates that in only four of the twenty-eight blocks had more than half the lots been sold. The city directory, which began to list the addition’s streets in 1914 (annexation to the city would not occur until 1925), includes only twenty-four houses in the 1919 edition.
Sellers nevertheless persisted in his project, using his Winton touring car to ferry prospective buyers from his downtown office through the subdivision. The embodiment of the public-spirited booster motivated by “prospects” as much as by “actual business,” Sellers threw himself into any activity that held the potential for promoting Albuquerque. In 1912, for instance, he led a campaign to rename Railroad Avenue as Central Avenue, seeking to add prestige to what he hoped would be the city’s main thoroughfare leading to the East Mesa. After serving as president of the Ocean to Ocean Highway Association, which sought to draw early automobile tourism to New Mexico, in 1914 he was elected mayor of Albuquerque. Realizing that the success of his suburban addition depended upon his ability to lure buyers away from the valley, he priced his lots competitively, selling them for about a quarter of what a similar lot cost in the valley. Along the residential streets lots ranged from $50 to $105; corner lots and those facing now Central Avenue, the intended commercial strip, ranged from $100 to $275. Asking ten dollars down on a single lot and only five on two or more lots, Sellers aimed at the small investor anxious to own his own property.
This sales strategy served to define the pattern of development that would occur in Albuquerque’s suburban development in the inter-war years. By selling lots cheaply, Sellers encouraged numerous small residential builders to purchase lots, construct a single house at a time on speculation, and then sell it, using the small margin of profit to embark on another such project. In some cases those purchasing lots, particularly health seekers uncertain of their future, simply chose to construct a small one or two-room structure at the rear of the property as their domicile. Later, if their health and means improved, they would build a larger house, placing it in alignment, usually about twenty feet from the front of the property, with the other houses on the block. The original house might then be converted to a garage or retained as a rental unit (McKay 1987). One result of this lot-by-lot development in the University Heights as well as the replatted Terrace and Brownwell and Lail’s Additions was that homes varied unevenly both in style and cost.
Surveys of these additions indicate that many of the earliest houses built, those dating before the mid-1920s, incorporated elements of the Bungalow Style. Employing low-pitched gable roofs with wide overhangs and exposed rafters and beams and having exteriors consisting of brick, clapboard, wood shingles, or stucco, many had wide front porches supported by decorative tapered piers, as well as rear porches. Most of these bungalows situated on the upper sandhills and the East Mesa, however, lacked the more ornate detailing and grander scale associated with contemporary bungalows being constructed in the Fourth Ward. The latter, for instance, often reflected their wider plans by locating the gable ends at the sides of the house, while the former generally located the gable ends at the front and rear, often with a stepped gable porch to the front and a shed porch to the rear. The narrower plan also permitted room on the fifty-foot wide property for a driveway to a garage, usually located at the rear of the property. This new building type suggests how the residents of the city’s suburbs were coming to rely on the private automobile. Although the East Mesa represents the farthest extension of Albuquerque’s streetcar suburbs, more importantly it represents the first suburbs in which the role of the automobile became primary over that of the electric trolley and, later, the city bus line.
The efforts of promoters such as D.K.B. Sellers and others to induce newcomers to settle in Albuquerque’s eastern suburbs and access to these suburbs through the electric trolley and, increasingly, the automobile only partially account for the gradual settlement of the East Mesa. Accompanying this active boosterism and improved modes of transportation was the city’s rise as a health center. As the 1908 pamphlet had noted, since its inception in 1902, St. Joseph Hospital had handled 2,500 cases and had assembled a staff of skilled physicians. With “hundreds of tuberculosis sufferers” having “found long life and health in Albuquerque and a number of additional sanitariums projected,” promoters expected thousands more “health chasers” to arrive seeking “the same ideal combination of dryness, medium altitude and large percentage of sunshine.” By the early 1920s, their hopes for the city’s emergence as a health center had made great strides toward realization.
New Mexico Territory had been a destination for weak-lunged travelers since the days of the Santa Fe Trail. Josiah Gregg and countless others had found that as they reached the Rocky Mountains not only their respiratory systems but their general health improved. With the arrival of the railroad, more health seekers came to the territory, many well-heeled visitors seeking early health resorts such as the Montezuma Hotel near Las Vegas. By the end of the century thousands, both rich and poor, had come to the Southwest “to chase the cure.” At first, those afflicted were drawn by accounts of the general health of people living in the Southwest. Later, the medical profession began to develop “scientific” reasons supporting the efficacy of recuperation at higher elevations and in dry climates. Combining this advocacy of climatological therapy with an emphasis, by the turn of the century, on a rigorous monitoring of patients’ conditions, many Southwestern promoters saw the potential that hospitals and sanatoriums held for expanding local economies. From Colorado Springs to Silver City and the towns of the Arizona desert, civic leaders set about boosting their communities as offering the ideal setting for overcoming the leading killer of the 19th and early 20th centuries, tuberculosis.
Albuquerque was no exception, and from 1900 through the late 1930s, local promoters advertised the town’s ideal climate. The Commercial Club, forerunner to the Chamber of Commerce, for instance, organized and financed an advertising program in 1915 that produced the popular slogan, “Albuquerque, New Mexico, where the sick get well and the well get prosperous” (Spidle 1986:101). Sometimes investing funds to underwrite health-related businesses, the club succeeded in attracting at least sixteen sanatoriums between 1902 and 1937. While some contained only few beds and endured but a short time, others thrived, becoming a leading component in the town’s growing service industry and spawning two of the city’s current major medical centers.
As medical historian Jake Spidle concedes in his study of New Mexico’s tuberculosis industry, assigning exact figures to the number of people who took up residence in New Mexico in pursuit of their health is an “exasperating” task (Spidle 1986:97). Conservatively, he suggests that by 1920 at least 10 percent of New Mexico’s residents were consumptives. Moreover, most of them were concentrated in the state’s few larger towns that offered the care the medical profession so strongly urged. A United States Public Health Service investigation undertaken in 1913, for instance, estimated that in the “majority of New Mexico towns anywhere from 20 percent to 60 percent of all households had at least one family member who was tubercular” (Spidle 1986:98). In Albuquerque, the study noted, as much as 50 percent of all the population consisted of consumptives and their relatives. This estimate corresponds to an analysis of Albuquerque’s consumptive population completed in 1915 by one of the state’s leading tuberculosis specialists, Dr. LeRoy Peters, who held that of the town’s population of 11,000 fully 2,500 were consumptives. All estimates agreed that a sizeable percentage of the health seekers, perhaps as high as 90 percent, were non-natives.
The implications of these statistics when applied to the growth of Albuquerque’s early eastern suburbs are considerable. Although the German bacteriologist Robert Koch had first identified the tubercle bacillus in 1882, it wasn’t until just after the turn of the century that the medical profession began to address the threat of the communicability of the disease. By 1908, the New Mexico Medical Society had turned its attention to protecting the general public, raising the issue of enacting public health laws. Gradually the general public began to discriminate against the “lungers,” making it more difficult for them to find lodging and work in the older sections of the town in the valley. At the same time admonitions against living in damp, smoky environments prompted consumptives to look above the valley, just as Sellers had urged, for an optimum setting for convalescence.
Led by St. Joseph Hospital, other large sanatoriums began to construct facilities on the sandhills between the original townsite and the East Mesa. Southwestern Presbyterian Sanatorium was established in 1908 at Oak and Railroad, and in 1912 Methodist Deaconess Sanatorium opened at Central and Plum. Nearby appeared other sanatoriums including Murphy’s, Monkbridge and Albuquerque Sanatorium. Soon Central Avenue had earned the sobriquet “TB Row” and began to transform from a “wavering sandy lane” to a corridor lined with medical facilities and houses, many located on terraced lots above the lower grade of the street as it climbed the arroyo.
Since the costs of staying at the sanatoriums were substantial, especially of the patients required months to recuperate, many health seekers sought their own quarters, either in rooming houses near the sanatoriums or by purchasing their own houses. For many of these stricken newcomers the early East Mesa neighborhoods offered the perfect place to buy and to build. Dry, pollution free, near the doctors at the sanatoriums, free of the concerns found in the valley associated with renting to sick boarders, and offering inexpensive lots, the heights attracted numerous health seekers. After World War I, when soldiers who had suffered mustard gas attacks in the trenches of France joined the ranks of the health seekers, the East Mesa suburbs increased their rate of growth.
In the words of those moving to the East Mesa to recover, they were “out on the mesa chasing the cure.” Those who could afford it purchased houses built on speculation while others, especially veterans with some carpentry skills, purchased lots and set about constructing their own small houses or casitas (Blair 1987; McKay 1987). This new wave in building resulted in houses that varied in style and quality. Unlike many of the subdivisions platted in the mid-1920s, the lots in Sellers’ addition were governed by no building covenant, and many of these early builders literally designed the house on the ground. Despite these disparities, bungalow-inspired houses were common. Normally facing east and west and with multiple grouped windows along their sides, these modest bungalows became the housing style most closely associated with Albuquerque’s early suburbs on the East Mesa. With their, often, two porches allowing their residents to maximize that underlying dictum of the bungalow — to permit the outdoors to come indoors — they offered an ideal setting for a climatological therapy that prescribed fresh air and sun.
Rex McKay, the son of a veteran who was a victim of gassing in World War I, recalls that his mother and father spent every night of the year on the “sleeping porch”, and that when he and his sister were small they also slept on the porch (McKay 1987). At first, because of the absence of trees, other foliage, and fences that created privacy, many of the “sleeping porches” were rigged with a canvas screens and pulleys. According to longtime residents of the area, the need of the health seekers to achieve privacy and protection from the winds for their prescribed sunbathing contributed to the transformation of the once treeless mesa into the extensively landscaped suburb it soon became (Blair 1987). In those instances when someone succumbed to the disease, family members sometimes enclosed one or both porches.
By the late 1920s, theories regarding the treatment of tuberculosis had begun to change. The chemotherapy now advocated could be administered anywhere, and there was no longer the need to seek out the ideal climate for a supervised recuperation. The local health industry declined with some of the larger facilities converted to hospitals offering a full range of medical services. As these complexes expanded most of the buildings associated with their earlier role as sanatoriums have been replaced. Remaining as a reminder of the health industry’s role in the growth of Albuquerque during the first three decades of the century, however, are many of the houses lining the streets of the East Mesa’s early suburbs. The electric trolley climbing up “TB Row” to the East Mesa, the efforts of promoters such as Sellers to create subdivisions out of dry mesa land, and the role that the town defined for itself as a health center had given Albuquerque the impetus it required to push out of the valley and begin its eastward growth.
Shaping a Greater Albuquerque (1925-1944)
By 1920, Albuquerque’s population had grown to 15,157, representing for the first time more than half of Bernalillo County’s total population. While the growth patterns of the early 1920s continued to reflect an infill of the streetcar suburbs shaped by the alignment of the electric streetcar line, increased use of the private automobile was contributing to new patterns of growth. At the same time, a shift in the town’s form of government contributed to how leaders worked for its future growth. In 1917 the state legislature had passed a law permitting larger cities to shift from a mayor/alderman to a commission/city manager form of government. In making this shift in 1919, Albuquerque’s leadership was no longer determined based on the old ward system. The two aldermen drawn from each ward gave way to three, and later, five commissioners elected at large. Ideally, proponents reasoned, the shift would encourage a more efficient form of government in which the commission, chosen in non-partisan elections, would select a professional administrator to manage the city’s affairs. While this ideal was never realized in Albuquerque, the new form of government did contribute to a new leadership that actively boosted the city and contributed to its expansion. As a result of this active boosterism, by 1930 the city’s population had grown to 26,570 and by 1940 to 35,499. Additionally, the size of the city’s land area quadrupled from 1925 to 1941.
Reflecting the national pattern, during the 1920s automobile ownership grew rapidly in New Mexico. The first automobile had arrived in Albuquerque in 1897. By 1910, 470 automobiles were registered in the territory. By 1920 the number of registrations in the new state had increased to 17,720 and by 1930 to 84,000. As a used car market emerged, automobile ownership became accessible to greater numbers of New Mexicans, particularly in urban areas where street paving projects and the first generation of federally supported highways began to reform patterns of commercial development. By 1926, when the federal highway system was numerically designated, Fourth Street, designated as U.S. 66 and 85, had begun to emerge as Albuquerque’s first commercial strip oriented to the automobile (Wilson 1996:8). Just south of the city’s boundary where traffic from Fourth Street crossed the Rio Grande at Barelas Bridge a traffic count taken in 1928 indicated an average of 3,451 autos, 272 trucks and buses and only 188 horses and teams. A similar count taken on East Central Avenue indicated an average of 1,346 autos and only 27 horses and teams.
The growing popularity of the automobile not only affected the development of thoroughfares such as Fourth Street, where dealerships, garages and service stations first appeared, it also affected residential growth patterns. A road scarifier and a ten-ton steamroller purchased in 1918 permitted the city to break down the ruts endemic to dirt roads and then to compact new gravel surfaces. In the decade that followed, the city began an aggressive campaign to pave streets as well, contracting frequently with the American Bitulithic Company for asphalt surfacing. Both of the city’s newspapers took up the cause of improving city streets, especially those leading to the East Mesa. By 1923, 150 blocks had been paved, giving the city a total of 21.5 miles of hard-surfaced streets (Albuquerque Journal 11/15/23:np).
In addition to a campaign throughout the 1920s and 30s to pave additional blocks, the newspapers also took up the matter of the lack of adequate grade separations at the railroad tracks contributing to the isolation of the city’s east side. Ironically, the AT&SF railroad with its multiple tracks leading into the shops and yards that had provided so much of the impetus for growth in early Albuquerque was now viewed as an impediment to future growth. Arguing that the city’s suburban growth “must be substantially to the Heights,” city commissioner Ed Swope pleaded for funds to repair the deteriorating viaduct on Coal Avenue (Albuquerque Herald 1/3/25: np). Without improvements and with no other railroad crossings, Swope envisioned the rails splitting the city into east and west sectors. Not only did editorials lament the segregation of such key city services as hospitals, all on the east side, and the fire station, on the west side, they also condemned the inconveniences citizens faced on a daily basis. One editorial estimated that the average eastside suburbanite spent sixteen days a year waiting for trains to clear the few road crossings leading to downtown (Albuquerque Tribune 3/29/28:np).
It wasn’t until the mid-1930s that this division of the city was resolved through a series of Public Works Administration and highway department projects. Replacement of the viaduct with a concrete bridge and the simultaneous excavation of underpasses and raising of the raised railroad grade at Tijeras and Central Avenues finally provided an uninterrupted flow of traffic from east to west. Returning to where he had built his political career as an advocate of city improvements, Governor Clyde Tingley, dedicated the new concrete viaduct. Labeling it a symbol of Albuquerque’s growth, Tingley proclaimed, “It’s like opening a new country to settlement” (Albuquerque Tribune 12/7/36:np).
Tingley’s prediction grew from his experiences as the long-time ex-officio mayor of the city. Having arrived in Albuquerque from Ohio in 1911, accompanying his tuberculosis-stricken fiancée, Carrie, and her mother, Tingley had been involved in city politics since 1916 when he was elected as an alderman from the Second Ward. Entering into the central debate of that year’s election, the future of the privately owned Water Supply Company, Tingley had opposed granting a long-term franchise to its owner. Advancing the slogan, “Buy it or Build it,” he advocated a government in which the city would assume a more active role in promoting the city. This activism included projects ranging from expansion of city services and annexation of its outlying suburbs to beautification of the city through the creation of parks and widespread tree-planting campaigns. Like D.K.B. Sellers and many of the city’s other boosters, Tingley was also a strong advocate of better roads. Serving as a maintenance supervisor for the highway department during the 1920s, Tingley saw the connection between the city and state’s growth and improved roads. As ex-officio mayor he led the city commission in awarding a continual series of projects during the 1920s that resulted in the paving of many of the city’s newly opened suburban streets.
Although he suffered a temporary setback when the city shifted to the new commission/city manager form of government in 1919 and when he was defeated in his race for a commission seat, in 1922 Tingley ran a successful campaign. In 1925, following his re-election on a slate he termed the Greater Albuquerque ticket, Tingley was elected chairman of the city commission and assumed the title of ex-officio mayor. Over the next two decades, except for a four-year hiatus in Santa Fe as a New Deal governor, Tingley used his position to preside over every step of the city’s growth. While some citizens and one of the city’s newspapers loudly criticized what they perceived as his usurping the city manager’s role, Tingley maintained a broad base of support, especially in the new suburbs where his rhetoric of a greater Albuquerque commanded much sympathy. In 1929 Clyde and Carrie Tingley purchased a home in the Terrace Addition, the 1891 Heights subdivision that had been replatted in 1910, in which they would reside for the remainder of their lives.
Just as city boosters had lobbied the state legislature to pass a bill permitting a shift in the city’s form of government in 1917, in 1924 lobbyists succeeded in getting the legislature to pass a bill permitting the city to annex outlying areas with the consent of 51 percent of the residents in those areas. Prior to this law, city officials had annexed small parcels of land beginning in 1901 when the Terrace and Brownwell and Lail’s Highlands additions were annexed. Later, in 1922, additional unplatted parcels, including the Country Club Addition and lands held by Albuquerque Public Schools, were annexed along the foothills leading to the East Mesa. West of the Original Townsite the 33-acre Raynolds Addition, first platted in 1912, was annexed in 1923 and then replatted in 1924. All of these annexations, however, involved parcels with few, if any, residents.
Of greater concern to the expansionists were the suburbs growing up around the city, especially in the North End and on the East Mesa. For boosters desirous of adding to the city’s prestige by increasing its rate of growth, these areas represented sizeable populations to be added in the 1930 census. Moreover, annexation held the promise of broadening the city’s tax base. Annexation of the East Mesa alone promised to add $2.5 million to the city’s current roll of $16 million. For many of the new suburbs’ residents annexation also offered advantages, especially the potential for the extension of city services such as water and sewerage, lower fire insurance rates, and street paving. Inclusion within the city also would bring with it the extension of gas lines from the Albuquerque Gas and Electric Company as well as street lighting along Central Avenue (Albuquerque Journal 3/15/25:np).
In 1925, a year after the annexation law had been passed, the annexation question was put to voters living on the East Mesa and in the North End. Clyde Tingley campaigned vigorously in both areas, promising the extension of city services and the creation of area parks. In April, two months before the election on the East Mesa, the city purchased D.K.B. Sellers’ Heights water system as an indication of its commitment to the area. In June residents voted 379 to 75 for annexation. Following the integration of the old water system with the city system, 17 fire hydrants were added and insurance rates were quickly reduced by 50 percent (Albuquerque Journal 6/19/25:np). The vote for annexation marked the largest increment to the city’s size until after World War II. 4,166 acres, representing roughly 350 percent of the city’s previous size, were added to its eastern boundary. Running north and south on a narrow tableland midway up the sandhills, the new parcel extended almost three miles eastward from High Street to San Pedro Street. The northern boundary extended along present day Constitution Avenue slightly north of Mountain Road while the southern boundary lay approximately 2.5 miles south along present day Gibson Boulevard.
In contrast to the ready acceptance of annexation on the part of voters in the Heights, voters living in the North End voted twice against annexation in late 1925, first rejecting the measure 571 to 440 in November and then 376 to 319 in December. Comprised of a more ethnically diverse population than the suburbs on the East Mesa, the North End included some Hispanos with close ties to nearby Old Town. The anxiety that Old Town political leader and sheriff, Jesus Romero, expressed over the potential loss of Hispanos’ political power through annexation left many voters unwilling to become a part of the growing city whose population included far fewer Hispanos. It wasn’t until October 1927 that Romero and North End voters finally shifted their thinking. After Tingley and the city’s newspapers had waged a campaign exhorting North End residents to approve annexation and promised a quick extension of city services, less than two years later voters approved annexation 459 to 329 (Albuquerque Journal 10/29/27:np). With voter approval, the city added an additional 379 acres to its north side, extending the northern boundary from Mountain Road, line of the Original Townsite, to Indian School Road.
The effects of several annexations to Albuquerque during the 1920s involved more than simply expanding the city’s boundaries on all sides. Most important, they enlarged the city to permit most of its suburban growth until mid-century to occur within its new boundaries. On the west, the annexation of the Raynolds Addition and then the Huning Castle Addition and its western extension, the New Country Club Addition, by 1929 opened the way for suburban growth to occur between downtown and the Rio Grande south of Old Albuquerque. On the north, the annexation of the North End, comprising a series of contiguous additions, resulted in the extension of city services (and the purchase of W.C. Thornton’s North End water system) to an already existing suburb in which infill now became more attractive. On the south, the annexation resulted in the inclusion of several small additions as well as properties owned
(c) David Kammer. All rights reserved.
Albuquerque’s Modernist Architecture