Thursday, November 16, 2006

Ticky tacky houses exemplified the American Dream

by Mo Palmer

In the 1960s, we strummed guitars and warbled indignantly about "little houses made of ticky tacky" that "all look just the same." Malvina Reynolds wrote that song in 1963. I've heard it was written about "Levittown," about Daly City, California, or any number of a zillion little `burbs bouncing across the country. Instant village; just add cement.

Levittowns were planned communities built by William Levitt to accommodate the postwar housing shortage I talked about last month, people living in motels and travel trailers and all that.

We forgot to remember that real people lived in those boxes. Owning a home where your kids were safe, schools were good, and life was secure was the American Dream. What we failed to realize, or to croon about, was that we were those kids and that our parents staked everything on ticky tacky. Amazing what 45 years do for your perspective.

We had our Levittowns: Snowheights, Hoffmantown, the elite Princess Jeanne Park and more - all conceived by a need, a dream, and risk-taking builders.

Joe Weeks was one such man. All I know of him is that in 1952, advertisements appeared for the Aztec Addition, north of Candelaria Road and east of Wyoming Boulevard. On this barren mesa past the end of town, you could have a "low-cost home" for $6,700 to $8,600 - depending on how many halves of bathrooms you craved.

Like many transplants, Louis W. Jamme and his family came for his health; he was a mid-century "lunger." Although antibiotics cured tuberculosis, they didn't ameliorate the need for our climate.

He and wife Lola selected the top model: three bedrooms, a bath and its ubiquitous half, Formica drain boards, asphalt floor tile, and central heat provided by a "green dinosaur" sitting out in the hallway with no surrounding enclosure. Weird.

Building commenced in July 1952. By November, most of the wee palaces were occupied and Louis and Lola, and children Madelon, Bill, and Margaret were ensconced at 8814 Shoshone Road N.E. Dad was a high techie and Mom a schoolteacher.

I got in the loop through coincidence. Madelon works at The Tribune. A reader wanted my number, so Madelon e-mailed me.

This column, and my knowledge of another "hood," the Aztec Addition, is the result of interviews with Madelon and Margaret and overdoses of Flying Star decaf.

We capped off the reminiscing with a celebration at Madelon's townhouse, attended by Bill, his wife, his grandchildren, Margaret, and another Aztec alumna, Sandy Crosthwait. We shared a cake iced to precisely replicate the old homestead.

The Jamme kids recall a homestead just north of where Wyoming Boulevard ended at Candelaria Road. There was a farmhouse along Candelaria, along with a few others isolated dwellings. Any of these ring a bell?

The girls recall gray. Mom was in her "gray period" and the tiles, the decor, the cement block walls she enticed everyone to erect, and even her dishes were gray - pretty nice on the de rigueur pink dinette set.

To newcomers from green Wisconsin, even the land appeared gray, especially when tumbling tumbleweeds filled the front porch and streets, or when summer rains turned unpaved streets to muddy rivers.

Everyone tried landscaping, but out here, "dust to dust" is often a frustration rather than an expression.

Summer of 1953 brought a biblical "plague of locusts." People had planted and grasshoppers devoured the flowering crops. The Jammes tell me the critters covered the walls so solidly that mothers lifted children over backyard walls into the arms of waiting neighbors. Normally, children scaled the walls or walked along their level planes.

Newspapers indicate we had several such invasions in the 1950s. I wonder why.

Margaret, then 6, and her friend could walk safely to Sabino's Food Center at Wyoming and Claremont Avenue, a mile away, to buy their parents' Herbert Tareyton cigarettes for a quarter.

For that same 25 cents, Bill could go to the Hiland Theater and buy a ticket, a Coke, Junior Mints, and Milk Duds.

Madelon attended new Inez Elementary School at Pennsylvania Street and Indian School Road. Part of Inez was still housed in barracks on Morrow Street. There was a "bathroom building" with running water, but she distinctly recalls "eau de outhouse." Funny what sticks in our noses.

One day in 1953, father Jamme brought home a red Studebaker convertible with white upholstery. About 10 neighborhood youngsters got a ride to Dairy Queen at San Mateo and Menaul boulevards, and a cone - all in a car without a top.

Christmas of 1955 was so warm the family put the top down for a ride to Princess Jeanne Park's fabulous entry arch. The entrance was decorated for Christmas. Dad took a picture to show off to his friends back east. That warmth was followed by one of our worst blizzards, but I'll save that for another time.

Random memories, you bet. But they paint a picture of a cohesive neighborhood, where people knew each other, shared the single phone booth at Candelaria Road and General Chennault Street, ogled the single bomb shelter, rushed next door when anyone got something new - a Studebaker, a 7-inch television, carpet, or the backyard incinerator Lola got for Christmas. Believe it or not, she was thrilled.

There wasn't much out there. To the south was Hoffmantown, with its first strip mall, Barber's Supermarket, Campbell's Drugstore, and "all the stuff you would need." To the north and east was nothing. They sweltered without swamp coolers; were and are stuck together with the glue of solid lifetime friendships.

Every little collection of yesterdays is another piece of the puzzle we're building of our community. Maybe you have a piece you'd like to add. No matter what size, it will fit.

Originally published in The Albuquerque Tribune, Thursday, November 16, 2006. The Tribune articles are used with the permission of Scripps Howard.
The Missing Photos:
(Courtesy of the Jamme Family)

Louis W. Jamme wanted to show friends back east something about New Mexico weather, so the family posed in his red Studebaker convertible on Christmas Day 1955. From left are Bill Jamme, mother Lola Jamme, a neighbor friend Jennifer Bell, and Margaret Jamme. The Jammes lived in a "new" neighborhood in the 1950s - the Aztec Addition.

(Courtesy of the Jamme Family)

Bill Jamme's godparents, Bill and Della Donahue (from left) visited from Portland, Ore., in 1952, when Bill was 6 years old and the family's new home on Shoshone Road was under construction. Bill's mother, Lola, (right) joins the group for this photo that September. The home was complete by November.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Couple experience university life after World War II

by Mo Palmer

Connections between what we know and what we don't know are made in the oddest ways.

In April, I wrote about Albuquerque's 250th Anniversary celebration, an event we called "Enchantorama."

Someone read it, realized what I'd neglected to mention, and wrote to me. Next thing I knew, we were together, laughing and talking, and I learned something new about a neighborhood in this old town. Some people call that it oral history; I call it having a terrific time.

Frank King is a real World War II hero. He told me his story and it was awesome, in the original sense of the word. I was honored. I'll save that for another time, because it deserves a dignified space all its own.

When Frank came home from the front, he married Ann, the person who sent me the letter. They just celebrated their 62nd anniversary. What an accomplishment. I can't imagine being married to the same person for 62 minutes.

He came to Albuquerque to attend the University of New Mexico on the GI Bill and earned his degree in mechanical engineering. Ann joined him, just in time for Albuquerque's postwar housing shortage.

People were parking their households anywhere they could: travel trailers, motels, garages, cars. The shortage created the Northeast Heights, but that's another story.

The Kings stayed at the Premiere Motel, El Jardin Lodge, and the De Anza - primo Route 66 hostelries at the time. For some obscure reason, you could stay only three nights in one place, and then had to move on; Ann thinks it was due to the State Fair. If you know another reason, let me know.

Money is money; seems they wouldn't care who was paying it. Funny. El Jardin was bulldozed, the De Anza fell into disrepair and now belongs to the city, and the Premiere is the only one still taking travelers. Havens of the past became problems of the present as Route 66 declined.

The Kings spent a night on the upstairs porch of the old Flournoy Mansion at Arno Street and Central Avenue in the elegant early subdivision, Huning's Highland. It was quite the place. Built by prominent banker Matthew Flournoy, it was later occupied by Lucien Rice and family. It was gorgeous, grand, and green. Now, color it gone.

Miraculously, a home opened up a day later - the University of New Mexico's married students housing.

Here's the thing I never knew.

Once upon a time, married scholars lived in barracks on Kirtland Air Force Base. The base hospital wards, at one time interconnected, were converted to apartments. They were just inside the south Carlisle Boulevard gate on the west side of the street.

The wee castles had a living room, which housed the kitchen, a bedroom and a bath. Rent was $35 dollars a month.

These cubbies were partially furnished. The Kings' had an old metal bedstead. There was a stove and an icebox - not a refrigerator, an icebox. This modern appliance kept the food cold enough that "it wouldn't poison you." A big round pan underneath ate a big block of ice every two days.

One time, the neighbor let his drip pan overflow and the water slithered into the King's apartment. Says Ann: "It was fun!"

Now here's a connection to the distant past. The frozen fridge fuel came from the Albuquerque Ice Company, which operated out of an 1885 building at 601 Commercial St. N.W. You can see this historic landmark. If you've never heard of Commercial Street, go to the railroad tracks at Lomas and look south. The building is fenced now, for protection, but you can marvel at its brick facade.

There was, of course, no swamp cooling, so after three years, Ann asked her father to buy them one because it was so hot. Papa came through, and soon a new $62 air conditioner was installed in the window. After that, everyone flocked to the Kings.

Students and spouses rode city buses home. At the gate, an MP would board the bus to check everyone's identification. Students used their UNM card. It must have become fairly routine, for one time a guy held up a bar of Lux Toilet Soap and the bus was waved through anyway.

Because Frank was retired military, family groceries were purchased at the commissary, which was near a railroad spur, so goods were delivered right to the door. Ann could get things that weren't to be had in town, such as Crisco, which was rationed during the war and didn't become available for years. Ann recalls a real fight between two ladies over the single remaining can of Crisco.

That little commissary was still operating in the 1970s. I shopped there because the east side involved marathon walking. Get your meals and your exercise all at the same time.

University life was very active then. The University of New Mexico Dames was founded in 1934. The group was open to all wives of students, wives of UNM faculty, married women registered at UNM, and mothers of students "provided they have no permanent home connection in Albuquerque."

Ann sent me a little directory from 1946-1947, and there were indeed some fascinating programs.

Kathryn Kennedy O'Connor spoke of Albuquerque Little Theater and Mrs. Van Landingham spoke about interior decor. It looks as though there were constant rounds of teas, initiations and events to attend.

Terry Gugliotta, UNM archivist who knows everything about the place, hadn't heard of the Dames. I'll send her copies of what Ann sent me, and we'll make yet another connection - add something to the university's own history files.

Maybe as women were added to the faculty in increasing numbers, faculty husbands didn't want to be Dames and the organization faded away. Another thing to research.

And so it goes. Maybe another reader will know more about this column and will tell me. When you hit the bottom line, you and I are the small town roots that bind us.

Originally published in The Albuquerque Tribune, Thursday, October 12, 2006.
The Tribune articles are used with the permission of Scripps Howard.

The Missing Photos:
(Courtesy of Frank and Ann King)

Ann King at the front porch of University of New Mexico student housing in August, 1947. The Kings contacted historian Mo Palmer after reading one of her earlier columns, enlightening her to the fact that UNM had early housing for married students at the Kirtland Air Force Base.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Vitality of a village

New Mexico State Fair's treasured haven for American Indian culture gets a new look, but its spirit will endure

by Mo Palmer

The year 1964 was one of change. President John F. Kennedy was gone; Camelot crashed. His assassination was the "end of the innocence" for those of us holding the "high hopes" Old Blue Eyes sang about during Kennedy's campaign. The "unwar" in Vietnam was escalating. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was voted "Man of the Year" by Time Magazine and was the youngest man to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

Bobby Kennedy was in the news daily. Senator Strom Thurmond changed horses in the middle of the stream and became a Republican after decades of Democratic-ness. Barry Goldwater was stumping for election - it was the first year I was old enough to vote.

On the ordinary cultural front, the Beatles were touring the country to thrilled adolescent girls and "a few boys," as a Dallas article put it. They arrived in Texas wearing cowboy hats that "neither fit nor became them." Someone threatened to exterminate the British Bugs.

Here in Albuquerque, the first Mass celebrated in English took place in the Civic Auditorium, located where the Heart Hospital is today. The University of New Mexico's School of Nursing admitted its first male student, and Albuquerque was getting ready for the New Mexico State Fair.

I think the fair used to be a bigger deal than it is now, judging from the coverage it received. Maybe it still is and I just haven't noticed - but every aspect was published, from preparations to prizes, with plenty of people photos.

The anticipated opening of the new Indian Village generated major excitement. In spring of 1964, a committee of the Council of American Indians, representing 21 tribes and pueblos, approached fair officials with its idea. The officials were delighted.

Although there was an Indian Arts Building, and vendors traditionally set up just inside the main gates around the fountain, this was a brand new take.

Joe Sando of the Jemez Pueblo, president of the council at the time, noted that Hollywood American Indians always wore feathered headdresses, inaccurate for Pueblo peoples.

"The Indian people would like to be observed as they are," Sando said at the time.

The idea was unique and brilliant. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, indigenous villages were imported and set up on World's Fairgrounds so folks could observe people in their "natural habitat," like a zoo.

Pretty offensive. Indian Americans were reversing stereotypes and taking control - something they would continue to do as activism increased in the '60s and '70s.

The Indian Village rated mention in the New York Times, as it was the only such dedicated space in America's fairgrounds. I couldn't find the article because the yearly index for that paper is bigger than "War and Peace" and harder to read. It might have a better plot.

The fair donated the land, but members of more than 21 tribes and organizations did all the work. Plans were to exhibit wickiups and other dwellings, although the weather didn't tune in to the event and washed away Cochiti Pueblo's mud and wattle oven exhibit twice. That's New Mexico.

The primary construction was brush arbor. Over the gate was the word "O-Ween-Gay," or "Welcome," in the Tewa language of some pueblos. One report incorrectly claimed this as the language of all pueblos, but some don't speak Tewa at all. I'd tell you what they speak, but it's too complex for me.

You could get a slice of hand-cooked fry bread, that incredible treat, for 30 cents. Get acquainted with it this year. You'll be instantly addicted like the rest of us.

At the center of the village was a platform, where Laguna dancers performed a buffalo dance.

Plains, Navajo, Apache, and Pueblo dancers took the stage daily at 11 a.m. Handmade jewelry, arts, and crafts were available to admire and to buy, at reasonable prices.

Artists were in the village so customers could meet with and talk to them. One was Pablita Velarde, whom I mention because she died in January.

Pablita's name was Golden Dawn-Tse Tsa. Tse Tsa was from Santa Clara Pueblo.

She was renamed Pablita at the Indian School in Santa Fe, one of many changes these schools inflicted upon native children. Pablita was not captivated by women's roles - cooking, cleaning, being a wife and mother. Lots of us weren't, but most of us succumbed to those expectations. Not Pablita. She took up painting, and she was good.

Pablita painted her vision of pueblo life, and suffered frequent criticism. The Albuquerque International Airport has some of her work in its collection, and she painted murals on the Maisel's Building, 510 Central Ave. N.W.

Over time, this independent spirit garnered many awards and helped promote women as gifted individuals. Her daughter, Helen Hardin, was also a fine artist. She died in 1984.

The Indian Village has expanded over the decades and continues to be successful.

Today, State Fair visitors will notice a "new" village, designed to resemble the Taos Pueblo.

The $687,000 project, started earlier this year, was complete in time for this year's fair.

The old vendor buildings have been demolished and replaced. There's a new portal, 12 additional spaces for vendors, four new demonstration spaces, two new dining/picnic pavilions and new lighting for the dance area.

Buildings, lights, and spaces are nice and it's time for this facelift. Such a unique place deserves it. But what's important is that it's served for 42 years as a gathering place and as a hands-on school to teach American Indian traditions and heritage.

What you feel in the village is a spirit - of togetherness, of sharing, of preserving culture. That spirit will endure no matter how it is housed.

Originally published in The Albuquerque Tribune, Thursday, September 14, 2006.
The Tribune articles are used with the permission of Scripps Howard.

The Missing Photos:
(courtesy "The State Fair: The Biggest Show in New Mexico")

Workmen lay adobe bricks during construction of the Indian Village at the Expo New Mexico grounds in 1964. This year, the village has undergone a $687,000 rehabilitation project.

(Photo by Erin Fredrichs)

Bryson Sanchez, 5, waits for his turn to perform in the center circle of the Indian Village at the State Fair. Bryson is a member of the White Horse Plains Dancers from Bernalillo. Built in 1964, the Indian Village venue has a strong tradition at the fair but also needed help. A $687,000 rehabilitation project was completed in time for this year's annual event.

(Photo by Erin Fredrichs)

Lights above the Indian Village shine down on Liset Carrillo, 18, and the Tezcatlipoca Aztec dancers, who perform annually at the State Fair. Improved lighting is one of many renovations done this year at the Indian Village venue, built in 1964