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.

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