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.

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