Albuquerque 1925 to 1944
Shaping a Greater Albuquerque 1925-1944
By David Kammer
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. Because 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 was not 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 rising 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, 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 was not 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, and later developed, by Albuquerque Public Schools. On the east, the annexation added the suburban areas already situated on the sandhills and south of the university and created conditions under which D.K.B. Sellers and others’ dreams of great suburban growth on the East Mesa might finally occur.
Inclusion within the city led to several developments, all of which fostered more suburban growth. By 1927, city mail service had been extended to many of the subdivisions on the East Mesa and lighting stretched along Central Avenue east to Yale Boulevard, creating what Clyde Tingley referred to as Albuquerque’s “Great White Way” (Albuquerque Journal 8/4/27:np). In early 1930, two more wards, the Fifth Ward along the sandhills and on the East Mesa, and the Sixth Ward encompassing the North End and the western additions, were added to its original four wards. During this same period several city services were extended into additions within the newly annexed areas. In the spring election of 1930, Tingley’s Greater Albuquerque Ticket sought and received voter support for $786,000 in municipal improvement bonds. Citing the improvements already made in the “outlying subdivisions,” Tingley persuaded voters to pass the bond issue and led his ticket, winning by a two-to-one margin in the new East Mesa precincts (Albuquerque Tribune 4/8/30:np).
Tingley never hesitated to boost the city and to promote its suburban growth. He frequently traveled throughout the country, often combining business trips to Ohio to look after his wife’s farming interests with inspections of other cities. On one trip to the West Coast, he determined that the city’s zoo, one of his pet projects, had healthier animals than those at the San Diego Zoo, but also lamented the greater traffic congestion he saw in Albuquerque. After the city’s first radio station, KGGM, had begun broadcasting in 1928, he frequently appeared on a popular show, “The Home Builders’ Radio Hour,” in which music was interspersed with plugs for a free booklet offering 30 plans for “homes typical of the Southwest” (Albuquerque Tribune 5/20/30:np).
So proud was he of the city’s growth that in 1929 he ordered Robert L. Cooper, the city manager, to prepare a booklet extolling its recent progress. Entitled “A Greater Albuquerque: A Story of Four Years of Community Accomplishment 1926-1929,” the booklet presented Albuquerque as a modern city supported by major industries and with an infrastructure typical of progressive communities anywhere (Cooper 1929). Of particular note was the emphasis given to the city’s efforts to foster suburban growth that accommodated automobile owners. Offering descriptions of paved streets coursing through the new suburban additions, it included several half-page photographs of streets lined with new houses, noting the city’s 53 miles of paved streets, its “miles of shady boulevards,” nine parks, and “wonderful public school system.” While its overall message was one of great accomplishment, it also briefly listed future needs including more storm and sanitary sewers, additional fire stations in suburban areas, further acquisition of park sites, and, of course, grade separations at the AT&SF tracks.
Even as he celebrated the city’s accomplishments and the extension of basic services to newly annexed areas, Tingley continued to look for ways to make suburban living more attractive. In the late 1920s, two of his particular concerns included improving the city’s public transportation and adding suburban parks. Rarely discussed in the preceding generation of early suburban growth in which the streetcar suburbs appeared more as appendages to the downtown core, convenient transportation to and from downtown and recreational opportunities close to the residences of all citizens began to emerge not simply as amenities but as prerequisites for any attractive suburb.
The transportation issue had been growing since the mid-1920s, when a growing dissatisfaction with the city’s electric trolley service became a part of public debate. The cars were old and battered and subject to frequent derailments. With their fixed rail system, they were unable to adjust to the new growth occurring on the city’s west and north sides and, especially, on its dynamic east side. In 1927, D.K.B. Sellers protested that residents living in his University Heights subdivision had to “walk fifteen or twenty blocks to the streetcar,” and motorists frequently complained that the abrupt, unprotected trolley rails punctured their automobile tires (Fergusson 1962:161). Indicative of the need for greater flexibility in public transportation were the many jitneys, or private cars for hire, that had begun to ply their trade on the residential streets. Sensing the public mood, in 1927 Tingley announced to George Roslington, owner of the electric trolley company, that he would need to begin paving the tracks to accommodate automobiles. When Roslington balked, Tingley began negotiations with a bus company in Casper, Wyoming to transfer buses to Albuquerque (Albuquerque Tribune 10/1/27: np). In 1928, the city became one of the first in the nation to abandon its electric traction system in favor of bus service.
Tingley’s efforts to shift the city’s public transportation from trolley to bus service and to pave over the old trolley tracks suggest the growing role that the automobile had come to play in Albuquerque by the late 1920s. Although bus service would remain popular, only beginning to lose riders in 1952, the automobile was becoming the dominant means of transportation (Wood 1980:152). Beginning with D.K.B. Sellers, the city’s leadership always consisted of men closely associated with the promotion of the automobile. Tingley, the highway maintenance supervisor, served as ex-officio mayor, and was succeeded in the 1930s by Clyde Oden, owner of the city’s Buick dealership, whom Tingley later appointed chairman of the State Highway Commission. Other city leaders such as Charles Lembke, A.R. Hebenstreit, and Frank Shufflebarger were contractors involved in road construction and other infrastructure improvements. Working closely with developers, they helped to create conditions that favored an automobile-based suburban growth.
During the 1920s, Clyde Tingley also pursued his vision of making Albuquerque a city of parks. Despite the popularity of Robinson Park, formed at one of the triangles created by Central Avenue’s northwest cut across the city’s grid of streets, there had been little subsequent park construction. A “city beautiful” meeting sponsored by the Kiwanis Club in 1923 had produced numerous suggestions for beautifying the growing town. Some included lining boulevards with cottonwoods in order to endow the city with the sobriquet, “the cottonwood city,” limiting building heights to preserve sunlight in residential areas, and, from Clyde Tingley, lowering water rates in the summer to encourage attractive gardens and flowers (Albuquerque Herald 3/17/23:np).
Although only his suggestion received complete implementation, Tingley continued to connect the creation of a verdant city in the arid Southwest with attracting newcomers. Throughout his career, he promoted public parks. Although he opposed parkways as too expensive, he even succeeded in getting suburban developers to create four boulevards with tree-lined medians. Most lasting of his many landscaping campaigns was a prolonged effort to distribute Siberian elms. With much attention given to the project in the local newspapers, the city first sold saplings for sixty cents in 1931 and, later, distributed them free. Urging every householder to plant an elm and even asking the city’s ministers to advocate the plan from their pulpits, Tingley contributed to fashioning a predominantly Siberian elm residential streetscape, which remains a helpful tool for dating early suburbs’ age to this day.
Equally important to the shaping of Albuquerque’s early automobile suburbs were Tingley’s efforts to create parks accessible to pedestrians in all sections of the city. No doubt, he was aware of how Aldo Leopold, when he was based in Albuquerque and had served as Secretary of the city’s Chamber of Commerce, advocated draining the huge marsh that lay between the city and the river. During the early 1920s, Tingley set about acquiring many of the small parcels that lined the river. Later, when the Raynolds Addition was first platted, he succeeded in convincing the Raynolds family to sell a portion of land below market price to the city (Fergusson 1962:118). Then, in 1925, Tingley signed papers assuring the city’s participation in the newly formed Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District. In doing so, he assured the city of the extensive Rio Grande Park and city zoo that have continued as a public space buffer between the New Country Club Addition and the river.
Using the same technique of quietly buying or cajoling developers to contribute unused parcels in other subdivisions, Tingley began to acquire numerous potential park sites for the city. A park was established between Second and Fourth Streets in the North End, another in the Country Club Addition, and Highlands Park, with the city’s first wading pool, was completed in the Terrace Addition. These dedications by developers set a precedent that continued in other subdivisions as well. Along the sandhills, Tingley succeeded in splicing together a southern portion of the Terrace Addition and a parcel from Albuquerque Public Schools to shape what, in 1934 under a Civil Works Administration project, became Franklin D. Roosevelt Park. Although some developers resisted Tingley’s suggestions to spend more money on street landscaping projects, his ongoing efforts to encourage beautification drew popular praise. When the conservancy beach was completed in 1930, one newspaper urged that it be named Tingley Park, arguing that Tingley’s efforts to beautify the city had contributed to making Albuquerque “one of the best kept little cities in the country” (Albuquerque Tribune 7/11/30:np).
These measures on the part of the city’s government to annex lands and then undertake improvements went hand in hand with the efforts of developers to attract the many newcomers moving to Albuquerque in the late 1920s and 1930s. Of the more than 100 subdivision and addition plats filed in Albuquerque between 1900 and 1940, over 85 percent were filed during the 1920s and 30s with the vast majority filed after the great annexation on the East Mesa in 1925. While many of these plats remained undeveloped until after World War II when Albuquerque experienced additional pressures for growth and housing, several of these subdivisions that underwent immediate development marked the emergence of what may be termed the city’s first generation of automobile suburbs. A brief overview of a few representative subdivisions platted and developed from the mid-1920s through the early 1940s offers an indication of the city’s growth patterns and its emerging suburban cultural landscape.
Although the great annexation on the East Mesa in 1925 clearly prepared the way for the most significant development to occur in that direction, the lands west of the Original Townsite held the potential for a smaller suburban enclave near downtown and, initially, developed more rapidly. From 1920 to 1930, the number of houses in the Raynolds Addition, lying just west of downtown, grew from 50 to 240 (Biebel 1931:32). Representing a continuation of styles popular before World War I, some of the homes in the area employed the Bungalow Style while others featured the flat-roofed regional styles that many small builders were articulating. Additional construction also occurred toward Old Albuquerque. The Manzano Court Addition of 1923, for instance, consisted of two blocks facing on a cul-de-sac just south of Mountain Road. It was developed by Anna Gotshall, one of the city’s first female developers. Just north of Mountain Road the Navajo Addition of 1925 consisted of thirteen one-story homes, each quite similar yet each employing small distinguishing details as to entries, porches, parapets and trim.
West of Fourteenth Street development moved more slowly because the land extending to the river was poorly drained and susceptible to flooding. With the creation of the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy whose goal was not only irrigation but reclaiming marshy riverside lands and protecting them from future flooding, these lands became attractive not only for Tingley’s riverside park project but for suburban development. When a group of prominent town leaders purchased lands west of Fourteenth Street, much of which had been a part of Franz Huning’s estate and the site of his Glorieta flour mill, they sought to develop a suburban addition that would improve upon the grid pattern that had marked most of the town’s early streets. In both the New Country Club and Huning Castle Additions (1928) they increased the size of lots, eliminated “eyesore” alleys that had marked earlier residential areas, and widened streets adding sweeping curves at intersections (Albuquerque Tribune 6/29/30:np). The new subdivisions’ broadly curved street corners and the larger lots with their room for ample garages stood as clear reminders of the indispensable role the private automobile had assumed in suburban planning by 1930.
With the construction of the Albuquerque Country Club in 1929, the area attracted many of the leading members of the community, several of whom hired architects to design their homes. Over the next decade, for example, prominent local realtor Kenneth Balcomb and U.S. Senator Dennis Chavez both hired Thomas Danahy to design two-story houses. Perhaps inspired by the design of the country club, built in the Mediterranean Revival Style, many of these large homes embraced elements of Mediterranean or Spanish Colonial Revival Styles while others employed the Spanish-Pueblo Revival Style. Indicative of its upper class nature, the city’s building permits of 1931 indicate that in the Huning Castle Addition the average building permit was over $10,500, more than twice the value of permits issued in any of the city’s other new suburbs (Albuquerque Tribune 1/6/32:np).
During the 1920s and 30s, the rapid rate of suburban expansion also continued in the city’s North End, resulting in more construction between Mountain and Indian School Roads. By 1930, several small additions north of the city limits had been platted beyond Indian School Road. Listing approximately 360 homes in 1920, by 1930 the area contained over 800 homes (Biebel 1981:33). Similar to the homes in the Raynolds Addition, those in the North End marked an extension of the building styles popular closer to the downtown core two decades earlier. With changing tastes in building styles, however, bungalows and hipped cottages were less prevalent in these later additions. More prevalent were a variety of regionally inspired styles, especially the Southwest Vernacular Style, which many small local builders were rapidly adapting to their construction vocabularies. So great was the demand for housing by the late 1930s that farther north along Fourth Street in a location described as “several miles out of the city” the Los Alamos Addition appeared (Albuquerque Progress January 1938:6) Notable among the new suburban additions, the four-street, 100-lot development offered homebuyers a system of common irrigation ditches in an effort to take advantage of the irrigation waters then, and still, available through the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy’s system of ditches and canals.
Of increasing importance to the city’s suburban growth were the subdivisions platted along the eastern sandhills and on the East Mesa itself. With the platting of the Country Club Addition (now generally comprising the Spruce Park Historic District to distinguish it from the New Country Club Addition west of downtown) in 1923 north of Grand Avenue (now Martin Luther King Boulevard), the entire sandhill escarpment corresponding to the eastern boundary of the Original Townsite had been platted. Annexation and the extension of city services to the East Mesa and its escarpment stimulated development so that between 1920 and 1930 the number of houses rose from about 175 to 760 (Biebel 1981:33).
Although these suburbs had a similar location along what had once been regarded as the precipitous sandhills, they varied greatly in development patterns, housing styles, and the residents they attracted. The older sections, such as Brownwell and Lail’s Highland and the Terrace Additions contained numerous brick and clapboard-faced bungalows and hipped cottages dating to the subdivisions’ earliest period of construction. The former, in close proximity to the tuberculosis sanatoriums along Central Avenue, was also marked by the construction of several bungalows with duplex and four-plex plans designed to cater to health workers and patients. The latter, now generally comprising the Silver Hill Historic District, was marked by single-home residences, including that of Clyde and Carrie Tingley, located along its main residential street, Silver Avenue with its tree-lined median.
The distinction between single and multiple dwelling residences in suburban areas became more apparent in 1927. Although small, multiple dwelling houses were located near the sanatoriums, when a permit was issued for the construction of a “lodging house” for tubercular convalescents in the Terrace Addition, the City Commission rescinded it. They did so after local residents led by realtor Kenneth Balcomb filed a petition arguing that the purchase of lots in the addition carried with it an understanding that such residences were prohibited in that they threatened to depreciate property values (Albuquerque Journal 7/28/27:np). Although Albuquerque would have no zoning ordinances until the 1950s, developers of suburban additions seeking middle class residents increasingly began to add building covenants to the sale of their lots during this period.
In contrast to these earlier additions lining the sandhills, the Country Club Addition, with several of its streets departing from the grid pattern as they wound their way up the sandhills, was more like the Huning Castle and New Country Club Additions. These efforts to develop street patterns other than the grid were new to Albuquerque. Modest when compared to the contoured streets of Los Angeles’ hill districts, these slightly curved or oblique alignments also appeared in the late 1920s farther east in the Monte Vista Addition and then became more common in many of the post-war subdivisions. Unlike the earlier subdivisions along the sandhills to the south, the Country Club Addition had no history of a slow, prolonged development. With some of the city’s doctors and lawyers purchasing lots in the addition, many of the homes were large, architect-designed structures. They reflected an eclectic range of building styles from the increasingly popular regional types to various period revivals including the Thatched Cottage and Provincial Styles.
East of the Country Club Addition, after languishing for over a decade, D.K.B. Sellers’ University Heights Addition began to fill rapidly, with the number of homes increasing from 100 to 400 during the 1920s. As a result of this growth, Sellers began developing the eastern half of the addition in the late 1920s, opening streets for construction east to Carlisle Avenue on Nob Hill where, in 1916, he had erected the water tank serving the then unannexed subdivision.
The contrast between the later eastern portion of the addition and the earlier western portion remains marked to this day. While some houses in the western section were razed in the 1960s and early 1970s to make room for student apartments, many dating to the first decades of construction reflect a lack of uniformity in siting and materials not found in the later eastern section. In part, these disparities stemmed from the absence of any covenant setting standards or minimal costs for construction. The remaining examples of one and two-room accessory dwellings and shotgun houses reflect the unregulated building practices that marked residential construction in the early suburbs that lay outside of the city’s boundaries. In 1925 after annexation and the city’s implementation of a more rigorous building permit system, did a greater uniformity begin to characterize suburban construction. Builders were required to submit floor plans and elevation drawings and the permit fee was raised from two to ten dollars (City of Albuquerque Planning Dept. 1987:8). By the mid-1920s when Sellers turned his attention eastward, he had learned the lesson of the necessity to impose restrictions on the cost of houses and their location on the lot (Leverett Jr. 1987).
In addition to the city’s increased control of building practices, the precedent from which Sellers drew much of his lesson came from the efforts of the developer of the nearby Monte Vista Addition platted along with the adjacent College View Addition in 1926. Using aggressive marketing techniques, including the frequent placement of newspaper advertisements, William Leverett, owner of the Monte Vista Development Corporation, saw over 100 houses built in the addition by 1930. Leverett, who had come to Albuquerque as a health seeker, found that real estate development was “the major growth industry at the time” and that “a real estate man’s prime tool was a comfortable automobile” (Leverett Jr. 1987). As he embarked on developing the Monte Vista Addition, he realized that in contrast to the relatively flat western half of Sellers’ University Heights Addition, the Monte Vista parcel, similar to the original Country Club Addition, consisted of a series of small hills draining into an arroyo susceptible to flooding. Seeking to take into account such concerns and to make his subdivision as attractive to homebuyers as possible, Leverett also wanted to align the streets he was cutting in a way that reflected the area’s varied contours.
Seeking advice in dealing with the drainage problems and flood hazards posed by the severe slopes that marked the southern side of the addition, he turned to S.R. DeBoer, a professional planner from Denver who later served as adviser to the New Deal-era New Mexico State Planning Board. After studying the area, DeBoer designed a land use plan that abandoned the standard grid pattern, substituting instead streets with atypical alignments intersecting at oblique angles. In doing so, he maximized the lands available for lot development while minimizing the threat of flooding. Anxious to offer amenities that would induce newcomers to consider this easternmost of suburbs, Leverett also dedicated a portion of the land for city use as a school. Monte Vista Elementary School, constructed in 1930 and listed in the National Register in 1981, became the second public school after Buena Vista Elementary School to be located on the East Mesa.
Seeking to publicize his new addition with its school, Leverett placed a one-quarter page newspaper ad in the spring of 1930. Posing the threat of parents faced with sending their children to overcrowded schools located along traffic-filled streets, the ad offered the alternative of attending “a beautiful new school, without crossing a single busy street, and within only a few blocks of home” (Albuquerque Journal 3/19/30:np). It further noted that the addition’s building restrictions “protected against undesirable development,” but that the new homes offered “all the advantages and conveniences that any home could possibly have.” Finally, to ward off concerns about living in isolation “out on the mesa,” the ad noted that the addition had all city services, landscaped paved streets, and a bus connection at the corner of the addition. During the 1930s, Leverett might also have added to his description of the subdivision’s favorable characteristics the development of a small commercial strip at its southern periphery. As the population of the East Mesa suburbs steadily increased, gas stations, restaurants, and stores catering to nearby residents began to appear along arterial roads at the edges of the residential areas. This segregation of residential and commercial functions with arterial streets marked by commercial strips and nodes encompassing residential enclaves established a pattern that would characterize suburban growth on the East Mesa for next fifty years.
Much as D.K.B. Sellers had attempted almost a quarter century earlier as the pioneer developer on the East Mesa, Leverett planted a residential image in prospective buyers’ minds. Safe, attractive streets; uncrowded, neighborhood schools; accessibility to the downtown but without its liabilities; and an assurance that residents’ investments in their homes would be protected defined the suburban ideal. Admittedly, selling this ideal image was not easy at first, especially as transplanted easterners accustomed to tree-lined streets and green lawns ventured out onto the East Mesa. Even as Leverett and other developers drove them through other new additions such as College View, Burton Park, Granada Heights, Parkland Hills and Ridgecrest, buyers had to reconcile their expectations with the stark landscape of the empty, arid treeless mesa stretching to the east. While newspaper reports of wild horses and cattle digging up the newly planted lawns of the first few houses scattered across the new subdivisions did little to disabuse them of their anxieties, the relatively low prices of mesa lots generally proved compelling.
As the city’s growth continued, however, the idealizations of suburban living on the East Mesa proved attractive for many. The paved streets of the Monte Vista Addition, many soon lined with fast-growing Lombardy poplars, honey locusts and catalpas did much to offset blowing sandstorms. Moreover, a growing number of houses increasingly reflected the use of regionally inspired building styles set against an eastern backdrop of the Sandia Mountains. This combination contributed to a sense of place in the Southwest that proved attractive to many newcomers to Albuquerque as well as many local residents who moved from the valley to the Heights.
With the exception of a few upper-class suburban enclaves such as the Country Club and Parkland Hills Additions, most of the houses in the East Mesa suburbs in the early 1930s cost between about $3,000 and $4,000 (Albuquerque Journal 8/26/31:np). Small speculative builders built the vast majority of these homes. Prior to the availability of Federal Housing Authority (FHA) loans at the end of 1934, the common practice for financing home construction consisted of the builder obtaining a first mortgage and, then, the home purchaser obtaining a second mortgage. Generally, mortgage rates were around eight percent and had a life of ten years or less (Leverett Jr. 1987). The first mortgage, often provided by people with small amounts of capital to loan, such as teachers, or by small savings and loan companies, was let when construction began and generally consisted of half the value of the building materials. After this “under the hammer” loan had been made, the purchaser of the home generally took a second mortgage, also short term. This larger mortgage served to pay the builder for his investment in the lot, the building materials that he had purchased on credit from lumber yards and building materials companies, his labor, and any subcontracting he had done, and, perhaps, a small profit margin (Mendenhall 1997).
This lock-step method of financing, however, contributed little to increasing the rate of suburban growth. First, it limited the number of construction projects that speculative builders could undertake at any one time. Indebted to suppliers and to banks for short-term loans to pay their labor costs, many of the builders, whose names appear repeatedly on East Mesa building permits, could only purchase a few lots at a time from developers such as Leverett. Limited finances then dictated that they build successively on each lot, only rarely undertaking more than one or two houses at a time.
Second, the two-mortgage system created dangerous financial pitfalls that were exacerbated with the onset of the Depression. The second mortgages were often inflated so that the holder of the first mortgage, often the speculative builder or the small investor, could realize a profit. Since these second mortgages were also short term, they placed the home purchaser in a vulnerable position, one in which the probability of default increased (Doolittle 1973:98). As money became tighter, the pool of capital for loans decreased, defaults increased, and the residential construction industry began a downward spiral. Housing starts that had averaged 461 per year from 1924 through 1931, fell to 42 in 1932, rose to 159 in 1933 and then dropped again in 1934 to 61 (Biebel 1986:58). At the same time, people continued moving to the city and required housing. By 1934, the rate of home vacancies in Albuquerque had declined to less than four percent, prompting civic leaders to term the shortage “acute” (Albuquerque Progress 10/36:1).
It was within this context of a faltering construction industry and a rising demand for suburban housing that FHA loans became available in late 1934. Designed to reduce the growing number of property foreclosures that were contributing to the nation’s downward economic spiral, the loans revolutionized the way in which housing was financed. Replacing the two-mortgage system with eight percent interest that had characterized the early suburban market in Albuquerque was a federally guaranteed loan system in which borrowers paid ten percent down. The FHA also set standards for home construction and provided inspections to ensure proper construction. It established an appraisal system on which lenders could base loans; and, finally, it also banned second mortgage financing and placed a 20-year limit on the life of the loan, greatly increasing the borrower’s ability to repay it.
At the outset of the program, FHA representatives conducted an Insured Mortgage Clinic for local residents, and by the end of 1935, over 800 loans had been made in Bernalillo County for new construction as well as modernizing and re-financing homes. Because of the availability of FHA loans, the pattern of declining housing starts reversed with 150 starts in 1935 and rose progressively to 353 starts by 1939. Compared to the period 1930-1934 during which 1,193 homes were built, from 1935-1940 the total increased to 1,500 (16th Census 1940:240). At the same time the total cost of residential construction rose from $500,000 to $1,270,000, also denoting a rise in the cost of an average house from approximately $3,300 to $3,600 (Biebel 1986:59).
Applied to the growth of the suburbs on the East Mesa, the FHA loans began to change building patterns slowly. Not only did the FHA create a more affordable means for financing the purchase of a home, it also set standards assuring a minimum standard of quality in housing construction. As noted, through the city permit system, the construction industry in Albuquerque had become more regulated during the 1920s. The practice, as William Leverett Jr. has characterized it, in which “carpenters literally designed the house on the ground,” began to give way to blueprints and floor plans. The many small speculative builders responsible for most of the suburban construction in the city gradually began to conform to city and then federal regulations.
With the coming of FHA loans, some developers began to take advantage of this standardization and easier financing by undertaking several construction projects at once. This practice enabled them to lower their unit costs and to hire subcontractors and workers who specialized in single areas such as plastering, painting, or laying hardwood floors. By the mid-1930s, Charles McDuffie, developer of the College View Addition, had so perfected this process that he became known as Albuquerque’s “house a week man” (Albuquerque Progress 1/37:11). While building permits indicate that McDuffie continued the long-established practice of selling some lots to speculative contractors, he exercised greater control over his development, aggressively marketing it as well. This practice of a single developer constructing a higher proportion of a subdivision’s houses was a harbinger of the mass-produced housing that would characterize construction in Albuquerque’s post-World War II suburbs.
As a result of these changes, during the late 1920s and 1930s suburban residential construction on the East Mesa assumed a uniformity that continued to World War II and beyond. Small-scale speculative builders continued to play a major role in housing construction, with their practices becoming more similar as materials and building requirements became standardized. Basements, commonly excavated to hold coal-burning furnaces in the earlier generation of streetcar-era suburban houses, appeared less frequently, giving way to crawl spaces or half cellars as natural gas furnaces were introduced in the early 1930s and quickly became standard in all new homes. As structural clay tile, manufactured locally by the Kinney Brick Company beginning in the early 1930s, became available, many builders shifted from using wood or rock lath walls to clay blocks because of their better insulating qualities (Mendenhall 1997). Similarly, as manufacturers of milled lumber products such as door units and trusses, roofing materials such as cement-asbestos and asphalt shingles, and cement and paints became more competitive and sought greater efficiencies, the housing products available also became more standard. Adobe bricks were used only rarely, in part due to a prejudice in many newcomers’ minds, especially health seekers, that living in an adobe brick house was tantamount to living in a “mud hut” (Leverett Jr. 1987).
Suburban house plans also became somewhat more standardized as the ideal of the suburban house evolved. Most small builders developed a few sets of plans they used repeatedly, sometimes with slight variations, in their speculative construction projects. Some of these derived from published plans such as those distributed in the 1920s by the Albuquerque Building Materials Dealers Association and, beginning in the late-1930s, those appearing periodically in New Mexico Magazine. Most of these plans emphasized a connection between outdoor and indoor spaces using patios and small surrounding gardens. In their practical adaptations of traditional southwestern design to the constraints of small suburban lots and the requirements of modern housing, the published plans idealized regionally inspired houses in suburban settings.
As they attempted to link modern requirements with regional design, they contributed to some significant changes from earlier suburban housing, especially with regard to front porches and the placement of the garage. Expansive front porches, often extending nearly the width of the facade that had characterized earlier bungalows, gave way to smaller porches. As more family activities became focused in backyards and patios to the rear of the house and as the number of health seekers sleeping year-round on porches diminished, the range of front porch functions decreased. Gradually builders began to reduce its size, sometimes recessing it centrally or in a small corner cutout, but usually standing in front of the house’s mass. Eventually, some residents then choose to enclose these smaller front porches, especially those flanked by two forward wings of the house. Thus, by World War II, the function of many of the smaller porches had become limited to providing a small shelter at the entry and to providing a small ornamental detail, such as a step up to the central massing of the house, associated with the popular regional revival styles.
As the automobile emerged as a significant factor in middle-class suburban life, builders began repositioning the garage to make the car more convenient for daily use. Initially located at the end of a driveway at the rear of the property, or sometimes accessible only through an alley, by the 1930s plans began to include the garage as a more integral part of the house. At first, steps to relocate the garage were tentative. This is reflected in the location of many garages dating to that period at the side of the property just behind the house and linked to it by a connecting wall broken by a gate leading to the backyard. Often builders attempted to indicate this new relationship by constructing piers or arches extending from the front of the house over the driveway, sometimes balancing the appendage with a wing wall with a gate on the other side of the house.
Gradually, however, builders began shifting the garage’s location forward so that it began to appear first as an appendage to the house and, then, as an integral part of the house. Just before the war, some builders began rearranging house plans that resulted in the city’s first suburban Ranch Style houses. These alterations in house plans required developers to widen lots. This reconfiguration of the suburban lot in order to accommodate the Ranch Style also permitted a further integration of the garage into the overall plan of the home. By 1940, Albuquerque Progress was regularly featuring “modernistic” homes with low-pitched roofs in which two-car garages to one side of the central portion of the façade were balancing elements for the bedrooms located on the other side. In subdivisions lacking wider lots, efforts to accommodate two car garages led to the repositioning of these wider garages toward the rear of the lot where they had first appeared a generation earlier.
Despite these steps toward standardization of materials and plans, contractors sought to provide their houses with modest distinctive elements. Referring to the variety of ornamental details incorporated into the homes constructed in the Monte Vista Addition, William Leverett Jr. notes that builders usually “sought some ways to dress up a box” (Leverett Jr. 1987). In Albuquerque, dressing up a box began to take on a regional dimension that, to this day, gives the automobile suburbs of the pre-war era a distinctive character. As has been noted, by the 1920s, builders had begun building houses that employed a range of regionally inspired features. These included flat roofs with decorative parapets, light and earth-toned cement stucco coatings textured to suggest adobe plaster construction, arched entries at porches and doorways, and clay, or pressed metal tiles to accentuate windows and doors.
While many of these elements such as exposed beams, or vigas, and battered walls, had their antecedents in the Southwest, others were imported from California, Mexico, and the Mediterranean. By the late 1920s, these varied elements gave rise to the use of a variety of architectural styles whose nomenclature today, as used in the New Mexico Historic Building Inventory Manual, includes the Mediterranean, Spanish-Pueblo and Territorial Revival, and Southwest Vernacular, the latter representing an eclectic borrowing from the previous three. Although clients would occasionally prefer some non-regional styles, and although the years just before World War II were marked by the appearance of the first Ranch Style houses in the city’s suburbs, the pre-war suburbs represent the highest concentration of regionally inspired houses in Albuquerque.
Interspersed in some of these suburban sub-divisions were a scattering of multi-unit dwellings. The ranged in size from duplexes and a few triplexes appearing in most of the automobile-related suburbs to small courtyard apartments, rarely with more than ten units, appearing as infills in some of the older suburbs closer to downtown. Unlike apartments constructed after World War II, which tended to be larger and which were built on the peripheries of some sub-divisions, these earlier multi-unit dwellings embraced compatible plans and similar styles. Those apartment buildings having more than three units are treated in a separate multiple property nomination (Kammer 1999). The duplexes and triplexes found in suburban neighborhoods, however, represent an effort to increase suburban density during a time when the city faced an acute housing shortage and had no zoning laws prohibiting their inclusion in primarily single-residence suburban areas.
Two commonly used duplex plans either split the building into two symmetrical units with flanking entries set back on either side, or staggered the two front entries using a setback for the rear unit. Common to many triplexes was their location on a corner lot. By locating one unit so that its entry faced on the long leg of the rectangular block on which all of the other houses generally faced, builders were able to use a broad U-plan in which a second facade consisting of a recessed portal faced on the shorter, cross-street. Marked by two entries located along the portal, one in the central portion and another at the rear wing of the U, the plan easily accommodated three units. This extended portal was conducive to the use of regional porch details, such as rough-hewn posts and corbels or posts with capital moldings, associated with the Spanish-Pueblo and Territorial Revival Styles.
As these East Mesa suburbs grew, so too did the other elements that would come to define Albuquerque’s growth to the east for the decades to come. Growth in the 1930s was driven, in part, by the development of several institutions and an early automobile-oriented commercial strip on the East Mesa. To the southeast, at the end of Ridgecrest Boulevard, a Veteran’s Administration hospital was begun in 1931. Six years later, a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project resulted in the construction of the Albuquerque Municipal Airport, also preparing the way for the creation of Albuquerque Army Air Base (renamed Kirtland Field) in 1941. With Public Works Administration (PWA) funding, the UNM campus was expanded and enrollment increased over the 1930s from 400 to 2,200 students. Nearby, the Indian Public Health Hospital opened in 1932, and farther east WPA monies were used to build the New Mexico State Fairgrounds. WPA and PWA funds were also used to construct two additional schools and broaden Central Avenue onto which U.S. 66 was realigned in 1937. In addition, a number of other institutions including churches and Ruth Hanna McCormick Simms’ Sandia Girls School appeared on the East Mesa. With a growing number of residences, the expansion of institutions and the coming of a major federal highway, commercial enclaves sprang up along Central Avenue, soon extending to form a continuous strip. By the late 1930s, the East Mesa suburbs had began to assume the dimensions of a suburban community replete with schools, churches, firehouses, parks, an automobile-oriented commercial district peripheral to the residential subdivisions, and several large places of employment.
In 1940, the 16th Census took a much closer look at the nation’s housing conditions than had any previous census. The data pertaining to Albuquerque underscore the transformation the growing city had undergone as its automobile suburbs had expanded even during the Great Depression. The city held 10,420 dwellings, a quarter of which had been constructed during the 1930s. 49 percent of the approximately 6,700 single family detached houses were owned by their residents, and the average value of these residences was $3,874, a decline of $385 from 1930, evidence of the deflation that had accompanied the decade-long economic downturn. Indicative, however, of the changes that the New Deal had effected regarding the opportunity for individuals to purchase homes with greater security, was the statistic that 353 people in Albuquerque (out of 479 in Bernalillo County and 1,126 in New Mexico) held HFC financing. Although less than the total of purchasers who still borrowed from individuals (1,198), the figure suggests how federal financing had already begun to expand the possibility of home ownership in the suburbs.
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