Thursday, December 13, 2007

Methodist Deaconess Sanatorium was a hallmark of Albuquerque, dubbed TB Town

by Mo Palmer

Recently I gave one of my snoozer talks about "Albuquerque in the Time of Tuberculosis." The title is a play on "Love in the Time of Cholera," which sounded cool. The title, not cholera. I have no idea what the movie is about.

I got through the lecture without falling asleep, and it must have been OK, because I didn't hear anyone snoring.

I realized while doing research and the "history chat" that people are aware of Presbyterian and St. Joseph sanatoriums. But how many remember the one at Central and Pine, one block west of University, which was Plum Street back then.

It was Methodist Deaconess Sanatorium, built in 1912, and although its legacy is the same as Presbyterian and St. Joseph — major metro hospitals — its heritage is no longer visible.

Here's what I learned. If I'm wrong, or you have something to add, I'd love to know.

Many denominations "missionized" the West. Among them were Catholics, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Episcopalians and Methodists. All were dedicated. Most established churches and schools, and some got into health care.

The University of New Mexico has an early photograph of a house barely beyond the campus. We've pondered who lived there. Now I think it was the Porterfield homestead, which the family donated to the Methodist Committee.

I found, in a "booster booklet" advertising the facility, all the little cottages around that very home. I think I made a discovery. That's always a thrill.

The cottages were moved to a new location. This might help you get a visual. Methodist Deaconess Sanatorium was built in California Mission Revival style, like the Alvarado Hotel and the YMCA at First and Central.

The featured photo is the main building. Look at the lawn furniture, where folks could recuperate outdoors.

Albuquerque needed all the health care it could get. Tuberculosis was to the 1800s and early 1900s what the bubonic plague was to the 1300s, except tuberculosis was a white death instead of a Black Death.

The extremely pale look of "consumption" victims appealed to those of the Romantic era. Lord Byron wanted to die of tuberculosis, dribbling blood. Unfortunately, he caught a cold, got a fever and shuffled off in a more mundane manner. Oh, well. The wasting disease did give rise to dramas such as "Camille" and operas "La Boheme" and "La Traviata."

Albuquerque's altitude, sunshine and air attracted legions of "lungers," chasing what often proved to be an elusive cure. As fast as treatment centers appeared, they were stuffed.

Over the years, Albuquerque was "San City," as in Sanatorium City. In addition to St. Joe, Pres and Methodist, there was the Albuquerque Sanatorium, AHEPA (a Greek sanatorium), Miramontes on the Mesa, Sandia Ranch, Murphy, St. John's and Hillcrest.

Some were the same buildings that changed names. Anybody go to Regina Coeli (Queen of Heaven) Church or School? That is what Miramontes became. Now the site is occupied by a mattress place.

Methodist Deaconess was a success. Ives Memorial soon graced Methodist's campus and was used as a dwelling for nurses, doctors or maybe both. Later, Ives Hall was host to all sorts of community meetings. It seems like every one of our myriad service and social clubs met there.

The Ives Memorial became the Park Lane Hotel, and it was painted yellow. It was on Route 66. Apparently, it was an elegant place for a while.

After the freeway beat up the Mother Road, many old hotels and motels faded away; at some point, the Park Lane was razed.

Some Methodist Deaconess Sanatorium patients healed and stayed on to make us proud. U.S. Sen. Clinton P. Anderson and Ward Hicks of advertising fame both got well there. Larry Glasebrook, who eventually lost his long battle, helped establish Kamp Killgloom, later Camp Well Country, in the Sandias. He dreamed of providing mountain care for those of limited means. The camp is still there, but it's a private home.

Glasebrook and Anderson edited the Herald of the Well Country, a house organ that still yields a cornucopia of gossip about life in TB Town.

Methodist Deaconess Sanatorium succumbed to decline, as did all other sanatoriums, when World War II drugs made tuberculosis a goner.

Here's a tidbit you might not know. Methodist Deaconess Sanatorium was sold to help finance a new hospital. You'll never guess what rose from the sanatorium's ashes or broken bricks, as the case might be. Today it's Galles Motors on Central, with its acres of glass windows.

(A passer-by snapped a photo of the Methodist sanatorium's smokestack going down. And that's the only image I found.)

Like the Presbyterians and the Catholics, the Methodists also continued their work in a brand-new hospital, Bataan Methodist Memorial. The Bataan hospital opened in 1952 on Gibson Boulevard, next to the little Lovelace Clinic. The hospital was named for the New Mexicans who lived and died on the Bataan Death March.

Bataan Memorial was absorbed by Lovelace. Walking from one end to the other of those facilities will put 10,000 steps on your pedometer. Today, it belongs to Ardent.

There are 8 million stories in the Naked City — of course, that's New York, not Albuquerque. But this has been one of ours and a patch added to the history quilt we've been assembling for the past seven years. This might be our last. Hope to see you again.

Originally published in The Albuquerque Tribune, December 13, 2007.
The Tribune articles are used with the permission of Scripps Howard.

The Missing Photos:
(Courtesy of The Albuquerque Museum)

Methodist Deaconess Sanatorium, built in 1912 at Central and Pine in Albuquerque, was designed in California Mission Revival style, like the Alvarado Hotel and the YMCA at First and Central. The photo above is the main building. Notice the lawn furniture (left), where folks could recuperate outdoors.

(Courtesy of Albuquerque Museum, gift of John Airy, Ward hicks Collection)

Ives Memorial, circa 1920s, soon graced Methodist's campus and was used as a dwelling for nurses, doctors or maybe both.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Trip to Graceland for Elvis Week was royal adventure

by Mo Palmer

So I'm going to deviate from routine and indulge in gonzo journalism, which is my favorite kind. That's gonzo, not Bonzo. Bonzo was a chimp in a Ronald Reagan movie. Gonzo is when the reporter is inappropriately enmeshed in the story.

The photo is Girard Boulevard Northeast, looking north to Lomas. Notice the two lanes, the small sidewalk, the big trees. Today the trees are gone and it's a hurry-up four-lane drag, unsafe for pedestrians, children and pets.

In 1956, it was a quiet residential street, with shade under which angst-ridden adolescents could loll on soft grass to agonize about boys and the head-rock daddy Elvis Presley.

I've told you how I accidentally discovered Elvis. Unfortunately, my epiphany came too late to catch his performance at the Armory. I became unbearably "cool." I fell in love with the greasy-haired cat and cut my hair into sideburns.

I had a color photo of him on my bedroom wall. He's wearing the blue velvet shirt his mama made him. My friend Anna stood up on the bed, gave him a smooch, swooned back onto the mattress and the whole frame collapsed, bringing down the wrath of parents.

I had all his records. You could rig those 45rpm record players to repeat the same song over and over and over. I didn't have any lipstick, charm bracelets or souvenirs they sold then.

Instead of focusing on my unspeakably square teachers — from whose gaping mouths cascaded boredom — I dreamed about how Elvis would discover and adore me, even though I was but 13.

I designed clothes for our tours, in size 6, notwithstanding the fact that I was a size 12 or 14. Dreams are dreams, dudes.

He did fall for a teenager but it was Priscilla Beaulieu, not me.

He went into the Army and fickle pickle that I was, I forgot all about him. I remembered him in the late '60s, when "In the Ghetto" wafted from the radio. We used radios then. There were no boom boxes or iPods.

I loved his ersatz "protest song" but, still as cool as The Fonz, I so was into the Beatles, the folkies, the Who, and all that acid rock. I was shocked when the announcer said the rich baritone was Elvis.

I spaced him again until the '90s, when for some obscure reason I became fascinated with his fans. They had so much sincere love, loyalty and devotion to a dead guy. Some say he's alive but few people survive an autopsy.

My undergraduate work was in sociology. I was destined to answer the "hunka hunka burning" question, "WHY?"

I read all 4 zillion Elvis books. I joined a fan club. I designed empirically verifiable surveys. I reserved a bus ticket on a nameless line because it offered the cheapest fare. I booked a room and rented a car. I obtained permission to interview in the Visitor's Center. I was psyched for Elvis Week, when everyone descends on Graceland to celebrate his life.

Memphis is big, but what did I know? I packed as though going on safari. Clothes, shoes, coffee pot, blow dryer, detergent, fabric softener, prescriptions, sundries.

I got a door-locking device for my zero-star, no-amenities motel. I brought audiotapes, microphone, film, batteries, cords, The Albuquerque Museum's tape recorder and expensive 35mm camera (with permission).

I had letters of introduction from respected UNM professors. My borrowed bag weighed 1,000 pounds. I don't do matching luggage. Paper bags work fine.

My son dropped me off downtown. Paul Simon's "I'm going to Graceland, Graceland" jangled in my mind.

I should have known when I saw 50 people in the waiting room and the inbound bus was late. I gathering up my tote and books (James Michener's two volume "Texas") and I got in line, anxiously observing that the bus was stuffed.

The frazzled driver got off and hollered, "I'll take the first 10 people." Those mothers leaped on board. I was number 15.

"Wait!" I cried. "I have a reservation!" He replied: "That system doesn't work. Somebody shoulda told ya, lady." The bus split.

About 35 people settled in to wait for the midnight bus. My stuff was en route to Memphis, unaccompanied by me. I demanded they stop the bus. I demanded my money back. They demanded I get lost.

Defeated, I telephoned my son. Luckily he was home. This was before cell phones, even. I phoned bus stops along the line to send back my bag. By now I was out of shock and in a high snit.

Finally I begged "long distance information, get me Memphis, Tennessee." Whenever we connected, I got put on terminal hold or got hung up on. Eventually, I got a human. I didn't care about my rags, but I was sweating the museum's equipment. I still have that enormous phone bill. I had to cancel the room, cancel the car and notify Graceland.

Four days later my things came back mildew stinky. It's humid down South. It took forever to recoup the motel money, the bus fare. I was stuck for some of it. I would have sued, but the company was in bankruptcy or something so there was no point.

Elvis Week went on without me. Thirteen years later, I'm still trying to save enough money to go but prices have quadrupled. I need a "Send Mo to Graceland" fund.

There's always a bright side. My underwear got to go to Graceland. Paul Simon should write a new song.

Whatever happened to customer service?

Note from Sandra, the transcriptionist, in February, 2012: I remember Mo's big trip to Memphis, and seeing her right after she was home, and wasn't supposed to be, because I was her next-door neighbor, in Princess Jeanne, near Wyoming. I remember her frustration and sorrow and fear about the fact that the camera was off without her. I still read this with a "What next!?" anticipation, and was relieved (again) when the camera was returned. I love Mo's writing!

Originally published in The Albuquerque Tribune, February 3, 2011.
The Tribune articles are used with the permission of Scripps Howard.

The Missing Photos:

(Courtesy of The Albuquerque Museum)

A typical Albuquerque teenager stands at the 400 block of Girard Boulevard Northeast back in 1956. In the '50s, Elvis made teenagers swoon and Duke City youngsters were no exception.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

A World War II pilot's tale reveals tough choice

by Mo Palmer

A year ago to the day — the second Thursday of October 2006 — we ran a story about Frank and Ann King, a young couple who lived in University of New Mexico housing when it was in barracks on Kirtland Air Force Base.

A year has come and gone, and Frank King went with it. He died in September.

While we were chatting about our town's olden days, King told me about his World War II experience in Germany. This is probably the most important interview I've ever conducted, and it's a long way from being light local history.

The war was still rocking the planet. King and his crew of nine were in a B-17 bomber, a plane known as the Flying Fortress.

The B-17 had four huge engines and a wingspan slightly more than 103 feet. King and his crew were flying one on a bombing mission over Germany.

They were hit and all hell broke loose. King ordered the crew to jump out and prepared to bail, too. But his radio operator was injured and couldn't escape. So King kept flying. First, he had to determine altitude, which was no easy task as the onboard oxygen system was on fire and the cockpit windows had turned to frosted glass from the flames.

He wasn't about to leave his crewman to die alone, so he peeled back the window and saw he was at about 2,000 feet. Messerschmidts, small German fighter planes, were circling menacingly.

King started looking for a place to land, but every open field had a house smack in the middle.

"I thought I was dead," he recalled, "but there was a guy in the back end of the plane, so I leveled off and headed for the trees." By the time he got over the woods, he had opened all the necessary doors to prepare the craft for landing. King said he was calmer at that moment than at any other time in his life.

When the plane hit the trees, it broke in half. King, four engines and the wings went one way. The radio operator and the tail section went another.

King crawled through the soft mud, feeling his broken leg, until he was confronted with four sets of feet. They belonged to Hitler Youth, who had their guns pointed right at him. One said, in English, "For you, the war is over."

They hoisted him up and hauled him to a Ford flatbed with side rails, past a frightened-looking woman whose front yard was now full of B-17 pieces. They took him inside the prison camp, the gates of which King had landed right outside.

He was taken to the prison's medical unit. As they walked by, an English patient hollered to King: "Hey, Yank. When is the invasion going to start?" With every bit of seriousness King could muster, he replied: "In one month." Of course, it began June 6, but who knew?

King's co-pilot — who had been captured after he bailed out of the plane — soon appeared and announced: "I've got good news, and I've got bad news. They can save your leg, but you'll have a stiffened knee for the rest of your life.

"And they are concerned about gangrene. Or they can take your leg and forget about gangrene."

King told them to cut it off. They amputated that day.

When he woke up, he was in a bed; four English "sanitators," or orderlies, were in charge of his care. The doctor and his medical assistant came in, stood at the foot of the bed, snapped to attention, saluted and requested permission to change the dressing. These medical necessities were agonizing, and every time the ache subsided, the sanitators reappeared with their formal procedures and pain.

There's more to combat than stories such as this. War is fought by people, not just weapons. I'll give you two examples. While King was lying on a stretcher, outside of a train depot, waiting to go to the interrogation unit, two Germans approached and asked him if he was American. He ignored them, until they spit in his face. The sergeant in charge ran them off and apologized. "Some of our people are angry," he said.

King looked around and saw total devastation. Not a single tall building was standing. They were all reduced to rubble by Allied bombs. He knew our soldiers had done a good job, but he said he understood the civilians' point of view.

In the hospital, two Russian prisoners — a father and son — in full tattered regalia came into King's room, kissed his hands and told him, "Roosevelt our hero; you our hero."

They had sneaked out of their quarters just to meet the American officer and thank him. As they stealthily returned to their area, they were shot dead by guards. War is hell, as they say, for everyone.

The camp was multicultural. There were Italian, American, English, French and Belgian soldiers. King's doctor was a captured Serbian. It truly was a world war.

Eventually King was sent home and met Ann. The radio operator was saved, as well, and he and King communicated with each other until King's death. Last time they talked, the radio operator was piloting a B-17 - on his computer.

Lt. Frank Lynn King was buried with full military honors in the National Cemetery in Santa Fe. His heroism was appropriately recognized.

But you cannot get these intimate glimpses of battle, bravery and sacrifice from a tombstone, an obituary or a memorial story. It is an honor to be the keeper of these stories and to share with you the memories of a real American hero. Such quiet heroes surround us from all of our wars, including today's. Take time to listen. You will never be the same.

Originally published in The Albuquerque Tribune, October 11, 2007.
The Tribune articles are used with the permission of Scripps Howard.

The Missing Photos:
(Courtesy of the Frank King family)

First Lt. Frank King Jr. (front left) and the crew of a B-17 Flying Fortress. This photo was taken in 1944. Their B-17 was hit by enemy fire. Most of the crew bailed and were captured. King landed the plane in order to save the life of his injured radio operator who couldn't jump.

(Courtesy of the Frank King family)

This is a young Frank King, who during World War II, saved the life of one of his crew members by landing the B-17 they flew. King refused to bail from the plane when it was hit by enemy fire, because his injured crew mate couldn't jump. The crew member and King remained friends until King died in September.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Family, community history are more than just entertainment

by Mo Palmer

This is likely my penultimate article (that's a big academic word for "next to last").

It looks like my storytelling junket in these pages is about to end. I think it's been seven years now. There are at least a gazillion yellowing newspapers here, creating, no doubt, a fire hazard. Wow, that's 70 or 80 stories, give or take a few for a little time off.

I interviewed nine people in the past few weeks.

I'll continue my renegade history program and keep gathering bits and pieces. Someday, I'll croak and the tapes will go into a musty old vault. The effort is either a gift to posterity or an old woman tilting at windmills, I'm not sure. It doesn't matter, because our voices, legends and laughter will be there to forever frustrate the future, which won't have any machines that can play them.

On Wednesday, I interviewed Marshall and Joan Farris, after I forgot their address on the way down and had to get help from Verizon Wireless. Duh.

Marshall's father was Marshall Farris Sr. and dean of the College of Engineering from 1931 to 1959. The school is named after him. Pretty cool.

Marshall Sr., mini-Marshall and mom Roselle headed west from Arkansas in 1931 in a Model A Ford. No car radio, no traffic; they sang to wile away the miles. No gas stations, no rest areas. If you had to go, you had to go by the side of the road. Mom thought they were moving into the wilds, and at the time, they were.

Old Route 66, as I've talked about, veered east at Santa Rosa and went through Santa Fe so they descended old La Bajada and entered Albuquerque on what's now Highway 85. Their first overnight stay was at a tourist camp on North Fourth Street. Marshall says it's still there, so I'll have to go look for it.

A few moves later, they landed on the UNM campus, which then provided land for faculty homes, with a 99-year lease for a buck. Almost everybody lived there and Marshall can still tell you whose cottage was parked where. Most of them have been razed. "Faculty Row" was near the old, and I mean the old, Country Club, which was where the Newman Center now stands on Las Lomas Boulevard.

This modest little New Mexico vernacular joint was built in the '20s, surrounded by a dirt golf course. The fancy homes west of University Boulevard were once considered the Country Club district. Betcha didn't know that.

When the country set moved down to Laguna, where it is today, the Sigma Chis moved into their building. There were still three "greens," says Marshall, which apparently means golf holes. I don't do golf. They were oil-soaked sand — maybe mixed with old motor oil. None of these luxurious emerald meadows folks now traverse in wee carts.

Beyond the ersatz greens were tumbleweeds and wild grasses.

The family occasionally cruised down to the Alvarado Hotel to eat in the coffee shop — but never the elegant dining room. The newsstand, which lots of kids remember, also had toys, to the delight of a couple of young boys — brother John had come along by then. Nobody has ever mentioned the toys before.

Mrs. Farris was on the library board. One year, they tried to ban the "Wizard of Oz" books because they contained witches. Looking at today's Harry Potter hoo-ha, one might be tempted to think that some things never change. Mom got disgusted and resigned in protest. It's a good thing to stick up for wizards. You never know. Don't write me a letter. I don't know if wizards are right or wrong. I don't care, either.

Joan attended UNM during World War II. She lived in a fraternity house because all the men and boys were gone, so the buildings were used as dormitories. The Navy wanted young men to graduate fast so they could go into war service, so the school ran three semesters a year. Joan graduated in just three years.

She met Marshall on a bus headed for a sporting event — he was in the marching band. They danced the night away and the rest is romantic history.

Marshall remembers the engineering students painting that beloved old landmark, the "U," on a mound in the Sandia foothills. They kept it white, although whitewashing day often turned into a beer bust. There's an expression I haven't heard in a long time.

Apparently they stopped during the '60s, when it became uncool to venerate anything, including our flag. But that's another story, one I won't get to tell.

As rarely happens, I want to make a scholarly point about rambling anecdotes. Most people don't become governor or make a blockbuster film. We just live our lives, but along the way pick up memories that add a great deal to our community knowledge.

I learned about toys at the Alvarado's newsstand, a lot about UNM and about our first country club. What did you learn that you didn't know before?

In her book "Ceremony," American Indian writer Leslie Marmon Silko says, "I'll tell you something about stories . . . they aren't just entertainment. Don't be fooled."

Remember yours, jot them down, pull out those old photos and contact me. We all matter. Ordinary people have unique memories and every one adds a verbal photograph to the composite of cultures, people, faces and places that recreate our past.

Marshall is a docent at The Albuquerque Museum, and Joan is the archivist and librarian for First Presbyterian Church. They are doing their share and keeping their faith in history alive.

Have faith in your past, so we can pass it along to those who follow our act. And whatever you think about simple stories, don't ever be fooled.

Originally published in The Albuquerque Tribune, September 13, 2007.
The Tribune articles are used with the permission of Scripps Howard.

The Missing Photo:
(Alabama Milner/courtesy of the Albuquerque Museum)

The original Albuquerque Country Club, shown here in 1925, which is where the Newman Center now stands on Las Lomas Boulevard. This building was surrounded by a dirt golf course. The fancy homes west of University were once considered the Country Club district.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Experience Albuquerque's wacky balloon history at museum

by Mo Palmer

Well, folks, you are missing the boat, or perhaps the gondola if you haven't seen our new balloon museum. It is super.

Interactive stuff for kids — they can sit in a replica of the Double Eagle II — the first balloon to cross the Atlantic — inflate and deflate mini-balloons and examine exhibits.

I gave one of my snoozy speeches there on July 4 and ate enchiladas, taquitos, chips and salsa, and bizcochitos — free — while a band of actors re-created our town's first balloon flight, 125 years ago. Very entertaining. I learned a lot, and now I get to inflict it on you.

It seems "Professor" Park Van Tassel piloted the first balloon to ascend into New Mexico's skies of azure, as Elizabeth Garrett calls them in our state song. If you don't know that, go look it up.

Balloon pilots often called themselves "professor." Remember Professor Marvel in "The Wizard of Oz," whose balloon went off course and dumped him in the art deco Emerald City? Balloons were big in imagination. After all, they allowed man to fly long before the Wright Brothers did. Later in life, Van Tassel called himself "Captain."

It's not clear when Van Tassel came to town; he's not in the 1880 census, but hardly anyone is. Sometime around then, he opened "The Elite," one of Albuquerque's armada of saloons, where he offered "the finest liquors in New Mexico." This hot spot was somewhere between the railroad depot and the stinky ditch that bisected Railroad Avenue (Central) between Second and Third.

It's an interesting family: There's an entire genealogy Web site devoted to this bunch. There were enough sons in one generation to have a baseball team — their photo in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Van Tassel apparently hung out with the Blonger Brothers, Lou and Sam. Sam served as Albuquerque's town marshal for a spell. Sam once left Lou in charge while he was out of town. Lou later served as a Colorado inmate, after running a big bunko scheme. Google the Blonger Brothers to learn more about these dudes.

But in 1882, Lou Blonger and Van Tassel were cruising down the seamy side of north Fourth Street, passing "houses which sell virtue by retail," according to the Albuquerque Evening Review. Interesting way to put it.

The two got into an argument, and Blonger bonked Van Tassel with his walking stick, followed by a blow with a .45 revolver. Van Tassel was floored, and the contretemps ended with first aid — no doubt followed by liquid refreshment for the pain.

Van Tassel launched his balloon on July 4, 1882. It was filled with illuminating gas — a type used to produce lights. This was new to New Town, with the first lamps lit at the Metropolitan Saloon — no less than colored globes outside. Gas wasn't free, but the good pilot threw himself "under the direct patronage of the people," i.e., collections were taken up. He called his craft "The City of Albuquerque." Maybe to encourage donations.

The balloon was filled at Second and Gold, conveniently next to the gas plant. Everyone turned out, then they had to hang out for a long time. The envelope filled at an escargot pace. Gas pressure was low because saloon revelry the night before sucked up too much fuel.

Oddly, in an interview done when he was an old geezer, maybe my age, Van Tassel recalled the denizens of Albuquerque going without heat or light so he could take off. Memory is selective; they probably didn't need heat on the Fourth of July.

The people waited. And waited. And waited. Finally they jumped on the mule-drawn streetcar and drifted to Old Town for a baseball game and the races.

They returned in time for the 6 p.m. event, which finally took place after Van Tassel asked disappointed passenger John Moore to debark. He also threw a ballast bag of sand overboard and "completely covered" an innocent bystander, who subsequently filed a lawsuit. Maybe that's why Van Tassel later sneaked out of town owing money, but that's another story.

The vehicle reached 14,207 feet before ignominiously landing in a cornfield. Still, a grand success along the Rio Grande.

Van Tassel at some point married Jenny, a balloonist and parachute jumper. A planned leap in Los Angeles almost didn't take off when the police chief had a major snit, fearing she would die and make his fair city the home of a female suicide. The mayor intervened, and Jenny's jump went off without another hitch.

Van Tassel's aerial show traveled extensively. He was thought eaten by sharks in Hawaii when trouble ensued with the craft. It was only his brother, Joseph Lawrence, who succumbed to Jaws, while Van Tassel sailed on down the line.

Jenny Van Tassel's final flight, in Bangladesh for the entertainment of the Nawab(monarch), went awfully awry, and Jenny fell to her death in front of her husband and her mother.

Park Van Tassel died of heart failure in his late 70s.

He attempted a few more flights here, but ballooning didn't get really big until the first fiesta at Coronado Mall in 1972. Now it's huge.

For the next few weeks, the Anderson Abruzzo International Balloon Museum will be augmenting an exhibit based on Jules Verne's "Around the World in Eighty Days," with a Saturday series. Your "balloon" will land in different places, where you can learn, see the exhibit, sample some eats and be entertained. Check with the museum for details.

Up, up and away!

Originally published in The Albuquerque Tribune, Thursday, July 12, 2007.
The Tribune articles are used with the permission of Scripps Howard.

Transcription note: As this was a Thursday, it wasn't part of the regular history series.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Historic fountain has made trek around Albuquerque

by Mo Palmer

What's in the intersection of Central and Broadway? Not "at" the intersection (Albuquerque High lofts, the Baptist church, etc.), "in" the intersection.

The answer is: nothing. Just cars and people rushing about playing vehicle red-light green-light, trying to beat that yellow one.

Once upon a time, a fountain stood right in the middle of the two widest streets in town, as befit such an elegant, humanitarian gift to our city.

When it was dedicated, the people of Albuquerque promised that the fountain would "always be maintained for the benefit of horses and dogs, which might need refreshment from its waters."

What the heck was that about? And where is it now?

Here's a short, boring lecture.

For most of history, animals, children — and wives, for that matter — were considered personal property, or chattel. This meant that people could treat their possessions in whatever manner they wished, and it was nobody's business but their own. Good-hearted folks took exception, but it didn't help much.

Henry Bergh, a reformed New York dilettante, devoted his life to making conditions better for beasts of burden. In so doing, he earned the sobriquet "The Great Meddler." His meddling earned him a Hollywood bio by that name in 1940.

By 1866, he created the Association for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and saw the first laws against animal abuse passed.

In 1874, Etta Wheeler, a Methodist missionary, begged Bergh to help her save Mary Ellen, a battered, victimized child in New York. Because there was no organization to protect kids, the little girl was classified as an animal and removed from her situation under the auspices of the ASPCA. Wheeler's mom and sister subsequently raised Mary Ellen.

Hermon Lee Ensign carried these legacies forward in a way that affected Albuquerque.

Ensign invented a printing device and made a fortune. With it, he founded the National Humane Alliance for the welfare of animals. When Ensign shuffled off from New York — maybe to Buffalo, N.Y. — his estate offered animal watering fountains to a bunch of cities. Maybe there were 40, or maybe one for each of the 48 states at the time, with maybe one for Mexico. In any event, we received one.

The fountain was polished granite, with three brass lion's heads, from whose mouths flowed thirst-quenching nectar into the horse trough. The water overflowed into small bowl-like depressions around the base, so passing dogs, and even cats, could relieve their desert-parched throats. (I'm mastering writing in the style of Edwardian newspapers.)

Crowning the piece was an ornamental bronze lighting standard that held a glass globe, in which burned an electric lamp. This twinkling tiara was a gift of Dr. W.G. Hope, who healed people from his office on Gold Avenue. His building still stands, by the way, right next door to the popular Gold Street Caffé.

In 1908, horses, mules, burros and buggies were more prevalent on dusty, dirt streets than were the horrific and horrible horseless carriages.

Wood and wool wagons made the 12-mile trek from Tijeras Canyon — a long hard haul. It was only polite and proper for Albuquerque to provide refreshments. Dogs used to wander around freely before fast autos, ordinances, fences, tags and small concerns, such as rabies, spoiled their fun.

The city engineer laid out clever plans. All the pipes were accessible by a manhole, and overflow went into the sewer, "used for the very necessary work of keeping the sewer open." I think the city was trying to be ecologically responsible and promise that no water was being wasted.

Of course, the fountain was dedicated with the usual Duke City hoopla. Hundreds turned out, just as they did for fires, parades, dances and funerals. There wasn't much to do back then.

The Boys Band from Square Music Dealers Learnard and Lindemann cranked out a concerto. An old photo shows these guys, all in their fancy uniforms, ranging in age from young to adolescent. An advertising sign on their drum misspells their sponsor's name — Learned, they called him. Well, he could have been.

A plethora of speeches followed — from the acting mayor, the sheriff, a district judge, president of a lumber company and several people from the humane society. Those who missed the festivities could catch up, as full reports were published in the paper.

Many schoolchildren attended and, according to the newspaper, listened carefully to the oratory. Not sure I believe that. Eventually, I suppose, the speakers ran out of words and everyone went home to eat Easter dinner.

As for the fountain, it remained there until the '30s, when it was moved to Tijeras and Broadway. It became a traffic hazard, once life and limos started moving faster.

I don't remember it. Does anyone?

According to the Animal Humane Association, it sat at the State Fairgrounds until 1975, when it was again disturbed and replaced by a replica of the Liberty Bell for the nation's bicentennial.

Hermon Ensign's gift to life's silent partners now rests at the Animal Humane Association, at 615 Virginia St. S.E., as it should. It's home.

I paid it a visit this weekend. It is huge. The bronze plaque is still there, although its date says 1907 - perhaps it took us until 1908 to prepare a place. Two of the lions' heads are gone, and the remaining one is pretty bent out of shape. As I researched, I notice several towns are restoring their fountains to their original glory. Maybe we'd like to do that, too.

On the other hand, the fountain is a monument to another time, when dogs and cats ran free and unhindered by six-lane streets, horses took us here and there and waited patiently while we shopped — and we were never required to dash out to a parking meter. Or to pay a ticket.

Maybe, today, a better gift to the dogs and cats of uque would be a bag of kibble, a can of food or even a place to call home. Check it out.

Originally published in The Albuquerque Tribune, June 28, 2007.
The Tribune articles are used with the permission of Scripps Howard.

The Missing Photos:
(courtesy of Albuquerque Museum, gift of John Airy, Ward hicks Collection)

This photo circa 1915 shows the drinking fountain for horses and other animals in the intersection of Central Avenue and Broadway Boulevard. After being moved twice, the fountain sat for many years at the State Fairgrounds. It is now at the Animal Humane Association, 615 Virginia St. S.E.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Turn-of-the-century furniture store now houses artists

by Mo Palmer

Funny how a building can reflect change over time and tell tales about an entire century.

Sometime between 1898 and 1903, one was erected on the southeast corner of Coal Avenue and Second Street, and it "fronted," as they used to say, on Coal. That sounds pretty odd, considering an overpass now runs right next to its north side - and I mean right next to it. But just that tidbit of info reveals something: The big concrete hill over the tracks wasn't even there until the early 1900s, when some hanky-panky went down between the Santa Fe Railway and the city.

We got the Hotel Alvarado and they got the viaduct, as the rickety wooden flyover was labeled. Entirely possible for a store to face Coal - there are photos of houses that once stood there, too.

Matter of fact, the doorway was one of those angled things that faced the corner. Popular style, and lots of our Victorian buildings had those. So we learn a little about architecture.

You've already learned three new things. There will be a quiz.

This edifice, with today's address of 500 Second St. S.W., started life as a furniture store, owned by Mr. W.V. Futrelle. You can probably purchase the fine pieces now on e-Bay for a zillion dollars more than they cost then. But as the business grew, you could also get rugs to cover up those tacky, not-yet-retro-so-underappreciated hardwood floors. He sold everything in stoves - steel ranges for a mere $12.50, stove boards for 50 cents, and oilcloth stove squares. I haven't a clue what those last two were, so if you know, do tell.

As was the norm then, rooms graced the second story - known as the Denver Hotel. The area south of Central, now occupied by parking lots and big buildings, was once just stuffed with boarding houses and hotels - the Savoy, Meyers, San Diego and Lindell, to name a few. All gone.

Alas, on April 11th, 1911, something went haywire in the wiring and the whole place burned. To the ground. All the people got out, but the north and west walls fell forward onto furnishings that had been salvaged. Both fire companies and the Santa Fe Railway Fire Department could only hose it and try to protect the lumberyard to the east.

Enterprise must have been Futrelle's middle name, because three days later, on April 14th, he'd already moved into a "temporary office across the street from our old stand."

He did rebuild on the original site but created the Orpheum Theater, shown in the photo. It offered stage shows, its own Orpheum Stock Company - probably named for the busy Orpheum Vaudeville Circuit - and moving pictures. I think we can read movies' popularity and the American entrepreneurial spirit in this shrewd move. By September, Futrelle was peddling four-posters at 313 W. Central - two establishments rising out of the ashes.

Two thousand people packed the house in December, and a thousand were turned away from seeing the amazing and wonderful Arzalia, who could answer any question. Folks were already competing for reserved seats for hypnotists Albertus and LaWayne. Wow.

The beautiful Orpheum had some competition: The Crystal, Gem and Elks Theaters had their own offerings. While the Orpheum presented the "best show in town," the Elks, at Fifth and Gold, mounted Thomas W. Dixon's "The Clansman," the play upon which the infamous D.W. Griffith shocker "Birth of a Nation" would be based in 1915. The Elks did it on stage - with two full carloads of scenery. This would be "positively the last tour for this great" and greatly racist play. A whole different story for a different day.

In 1911, the Albuquerque Morning Journal treated all of Albuquerque's children to a 3 o'clock matinee at the Orpheum - provided they came by the office for a ticket first. Ads reassured nervous moms: The theater had 11 exits and stationed extra ushers at each egress; the theater was concrete, not the cheap veneer of fricasseed Futrelle's.

Those are the kids in the photo. We always knew the date, because photographer Cobb wrote it on the photo. Now we know what was going on. The children were shown vaudeville, 10 girls who would "dance and sing for the edification of the children" and two reels of "Dante's Inferno." That would scare me more than any potential fire but it must have been considered suitable for wee ones. Reviews note its frightening images and classify it as a horror film. Oh, well.

By 1919, the theater gave way to the Orpheum Dance Hall. Dancing was all the rage as the '20s roared in and legal liquor roared out. There were dance halls all over town, and every ad and announcement invited "everyone." It was, no doubt, a hit.

Tripping the light fantastic tripped into car repairs in the '30s, and at one time, the garage could house up to forty cars. Tells you something about the ascent of the auto. In 1942, the twinkling lights blinked out and the building was home to twelve private busses - probably belonging to one of two private lines operating in uque before the city took over.

Later, it became Superior Furniture. Amy Clinkscale, who turned me on to this story, says you can still see that sign. I think I remember that store. I know I remember the apartments in the Denver Hotel - I went to visit some "older" man (he was, like 18) who lived there in the '50s.

Nowadays the Orpheum is artists' space and studios and some pretty nice apartments. Nice adaptive re-use of a landmark building.

So what did you learn? You tell me. I want a 500 word essay from every reader. School's almost out, you better hurry. If you don't want to be bothered, it's your thing.

Originally published in The Albuquerque Tribune, May 24, 2007. The Tribune articles are used with the permission of Scripps Howard.
The Missing Photos:
(Courtesy of Albuquerque Museum, gift of John Airy, Ward hicks Collection)

This 1911 photo shows attendees at a children's matinee at the Orpheum Theater, with free tickets for all kids in Albuquerque. Over the years, the building has also housed a store, a dance hall and a hotel. Nowadays, it houses artists' studios and apartments.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Sandia Preparatory School celebrates 40 years, but its roots run much deeper

by Mo Palmer

This is a tale of two ladies and a possum. They weave other threads into our community tapestry - New Town, tuberculosis, technology and growth.

In 1880, 10 days before the railroad tracks reached Albuquerque, a girl was born in Ohio. No big whoop; "everybody's" born. What matters was that she got into politics, publishing and education way before the Equal Rights Amendment, the women's movement and bra burning came and went.

In Ruth Hanna McCormick Simms' day, the world was strictly divided into two spheres - the masculine and the feminine. Men functioned in the dangerous, amoral outside world, while women did domestic duty - making a man's castle a refuge and acting as moral compasses for their men. Didn't always work, but that's another story.

Ruth, a senator's daughter, stepped over the gender line and never looked back. She married a senator, fought for women's suffrage, was widowed, elected to the House of Representatives and married Rep. Albert Gallatin Simms. She was the first American woman ever to grace the cover of Time.

When Albert got tuberculosis, the couple headed west to Albuquerque, "chasing the cure" in our high, dry climate. In 1932, we were known as the "Sunshine State" and had a sanitarium on nearly every corner. Albert, and his brother, John, caught the cure and became community pillars, while Ruth remained involved in social issues and found time to start a school for girls.

Simms' school started in one room of Franz Huning's ancient home on Central Avenue, La Glorieta. We've talked before about that house. Manzano Day School is there today.

By the '30s, the Hunings had moved on, and the ancient adobe belonged to another family. The new school opened with a small scattering of pupils. Interested parents pitched in, and as it grew big enough for a new name - Sandia School for Girls - it outgrew its location.

Ruth moved her school to a small house at 901 Roma Ave. N.W. William Lyon built this house in the early 1880s for his sweetheart, Corrie. His love letters are a cornucopia of early Albuquerque tidbits - the love nest's progress, laying the cornerstone for one of the teeny churches and a few rants about Charles Darwin's theories, a hot topic du jour for late Victorians and early Edwardians. The little home he built still stands - a New Town original.

Sandia School's motto became "Constantia Possumus" - that's Latin. It means if you stick with it, you can do anything. But pronounce it correctly. The students dubbed it "Constant Possum" and the wee school moved forward.

By the mid-30s, the facility was lodged on a campus of beautiful buildings designed by healed tubercular and architect extraordinaire John Gaw Meem, "way out" on the southeast mesa, surrounded by nothing but views. Such serenity was doomed to suffer, along with the entire world, the devastation of World War II.

The combination of super flying weather, aviation, weapons technology and the war created our first military base - right across from the school. Ruth decided to close Sandia School, and the gorgeous buildings became a convalescent hospital. Later, they became the Kirtland Air Force Base Officers' Club. I had dinner there once - awesome. Today, some governmental agency operates there, and you can catch but a glimpse because it is behind the security gate on Gibson Boulevard Southeast, between Carlisle and Maxwell.

And so the winds of war blew away Sandia School for Girls, and the possum was silenced.

Barbara Young's father was Frank Young, artist, educator and owner of the American Academy for Art. His wife, like Albert Gallatin Simms, was stricken by tuberculosis and took the cure in one of our friendly neighborhood sanitariums. Barbara met Albert Simms, Ruth's nephew, and the two began one of Albuquerque's great romances. Coincidence?

While Albert practiced medicine, Barbara raised five kids, taught Sunday school, worked with the Junior League, did community service and somehow managed to record the stories of truly notable New Mexicans, long before oral history became a buzzword and preserving vocal memories was the bailiwick of ballad hunters. Barbara says she has no idea how she did all that.

In her "leisure" time, Barbara Young Simms started a school on property vacated by the uque Academy when it moved up to Wyoming Boulevard and Academy Road Northeast. With support and a ton of hard work from parents and believers - just like Ruth - a new Sandia School for Girls debuted in 1967 at what is now Osuna Road and Edith Boulevard Northwest. Osuna wasn't even there yet and Edith was a country path, part of the high road for the old Camino Real.

The constant possum awakened from hibernation to a couple of primitive buildings, no air conditioning, a handful of kids, a pocketful of dreams and a long struggle ahead. Against a lot of odds, the school survived, carrying forward the original school's traditions of community service, drama, music, academics, sports and spirit.

A boy was admitted in 1973. The name Sandia School for Girls became a lie, and a new moniker - Sandia Preparatory School - was selected. Today, what began as sort of a frontier outpost is a great green campus with many buildings and exuberant boys and girls from grade six through high school.

This year is the regenerated organization's 40th birthday. On Saturday, we had a bash, replete with '60s music, hair and costumes. Go-go boots, miniskirts, long dresses, granny boots, enormous earrings and one Jimi Hendrix 'Fro. Far out, man. I had forgotten all that. It was easy for me - I combed my hair, grabbed something out of the closet and went. Funny how some people never change their style.

So here's my happy birthday card for Sandia School in all its incarnations. For Ruth Hanna McCormick Simms, Barbara Young Simms and that constant possum: Thanks. Ya done good.

Originally published in The Albuquerque Tribune, April 12, 2007.
The Tribune articles are used with the permission of Scripps Howard.

The Missing Photos:
(William Walton/Courtesy of The Albuquerque Museum, PA1992.005.284)

This photo, circa 1915, shows La Glorieta, once the home of city father Franz Huning. Today, Manzano Day School uses the building on Central Avenue, which also once housed the Sandia School for Girls founded by Ruth Hanna McCormick Simms.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Kennedy's visit to Albuquerque was back in the age of innocence

by Mo Palmer

Where were you the day John F. Kennedy died? Everyone who was around back then knows. I was driving to the hospital to see a sick husband, had an ear infection, had a brand new baby, and my parents were en route to Tucson to watch the Lobos play. The game never went down.

I'll bet you can recite an equally exact itinerary.

But do you remember where you were the day Kennedy came to Albuquerque? Dec. 7, 1962. Pearl Harbor Day. I sure don't recall it - I was 19, and whatever I was doing, I'm sure it didn't have squat to do with politics.

The president was here to scope out Sandia National Laboratories after a tour of Los Alamos. We were swimming in the deep waters of the Cold War, the space race and the arms race. Now all those keen competitions seem distant and meaningless.

In any event, we rolled out the Indian rugs and showed him a swell, if short, time in our town.

Thousands lined up at the Municipal Airport - the little Southwestern building that did yeoman service before the big Sunport was built - to catch a glimpse of the first president to visit Albuquerque in 14 years. If my math is right, the one who came previously was Millard Fillmore.

Eager beavers were disappointed when a "huge Pan American plane" came to a stop inside the wire fence. It wasn't JFK, it was the press plane. This was huge news: The newspaper photos are all United Press International and Associated Press - no local credits that day. Then six helicopters arrived flying in formation. That had to be pretty cool. Vice President Lyndon Johnson debarked. I don't think leaders travel together anymore, but we were still in an age of innocence, before assassinations, riots and Vietnam changed the American outlook.

Also on board was Sen. Clinton Anderson. The president took time to chat with the senator's family and to shake hands with as many admirers as he could. Or nonadmirers, it doesn't matter. I watched President Clinton's procession when he was here, and the formal, official, magnificent power of the state - long black cars, flags, motorcycles - is awesome, whether you are a donkey, an elephant or Winnie the Pooh.

After Kennedy's short speech, the motorcade sped north on Yale Boulevard - if memory serves, it was still a two-lane street - then east on Central headed for Sandia Labs. Throngs of people lined the streets, waiting for a glance.

I asked my friend Celene Keegan if she saw him. No, she had just given birth and so stayed home. But she said poignantly, "If I had known he was going to be killed, I would have gone." Nicely expresses the shock many of us still feel. I mean, who knew? Who could even imagine?

Kennedy took a whirlwind tour of the labs. Their newsletter says he was the first president to visit. Forty years would pass before the first President Bush and future President Clinton dropped in.

From the labs, Kennedy proceeded north on Wyoming Boulevard, also packed with people, headed for the Western Skies.

In case you are new to Albuquerque, I'll tell you about the Western Skies. It was at Four Hills Road and Central, where the shopping center is now. It was round, with rooms circling the pool. The hotel-motel opened in 1959, to a fandango of fanfare - there was even a "souvenir section" in the newspaper. I wonder if anyone saved theirs. Every business in town published a huge salute: Darrow's Ice Cream, the Fedway, Jim Cloud Sales. An ad proclaimed, "Western Skies is for Everyone." A scenic room - one in the attached rectangular annex - was $8. Patio rooms went for $10.50. Pretty hard to fathom these days. Complete lunches were $1.25, while complete dinners were only $2.25. It doesn't say what an incomplete meal would set you back.

The Western Skies had an elegant lobby, all wood and stones and water, a gift shop, a beauty shop - and all of it was done in Navajo Modern style. It rapidly became the place for parties and conventions.

For some reason, it fell into disuse and disrepair. It was right beside I-40, which opened in Õ63 or Õ64, so I don't know what happened. Eventually its elegance became an eyesore and a felony focal point. It was razed in 1988. I'll look into that and get back to you.

But in 1962, it was our newest and our best, and that's where we parked the president. Almost all the rooms must have been taken, with Johnson, McGeorge Bundy, the Secret Service, the press corps and all the ancillary people.

JFK dined on lobster thermidor with a white Chablis, and for breakfast, had an egg boiled precisely 4 minutes, with bacon. These presidential meals were prepared by two French chefs who once cooked in the Paris Hilton. I did not make that up.

Post-egg, President Kennedy went to Mass in the Catholic chapel on Kirtland Air Force Base - it wasn't Sunday, but it was a Holy Day of Obligation for Catholics. Who remembers the hoo-ha about religion before that election? There, he shook more hands before returning to our wee airport, where he left to tour nuclear facilities in Nevada. By all accounts, he was pleased with what he observed at Sandia.

Notice the ladies in the photo, all decently decked out in hats and white gloves. It's dark because it was 6 p.m. in December when he left the labs.

His "bubble top" car fascinated people, but the car in the image looks quite open. Had he, and we, known then what we know now, history might have taken a different path 11 months later in Dallas. The moving finger writes and having writ moves inexorably on, and all that jazz.

Originally published in The Albuquerque Tribune, March 15, 2007.
The Tribune articles are used with the permission of Scripps Howard.

The Missing Photos:
(Courtesy of Sandia National Laboratories)

This photograph shows President Kennedy and Sen. Clinton Anderson of New Mexico during Kennedy's Dec. 7, 1962, visit to Albuquerque. The president toured Sandia National Laboratories and stayed overnight.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Coronado Cuarto Centennial celebrated in 1940

by Mo Palmer

I've known about the Coronado Cuarto Centennial for some time. In fact, I mentioned it in column a few years back.

Now a pair of coincidences has helped me realize what a gi-normous deal it was - to all of New Mexico - and it deserves some attention.

Cuarto must mean 400, since Don Francisco Vasquez de Coronado came in 1540 and the commemorative event was in 1940. I'm trilingual, English, Spanish and Spanglish.

The state of New Mexico created a commission in 1938 to celebrate the upcoming anniversary, and the hoo-ha was two years in the making.

Gov. Clyde Tingley signed a bill in 1935 to get it off the ground. Eventually, the event hooked up with the U.S. Coronado Exposition Commission and got some federal funding. You'd think something of this magnitude would be mentioned more often.

Serendipity hooked me into this one. Susan Walton, my friend at Sandia Prep, gave me some old newspapers to look at, maybe last year. Took me until this week to open them. They are the originals from the Cuarto. Then my buddy Myron Carson called, and his message said he'd like to talk about that event. Voila! Instant article.

It matters that there was a national commission - some recognition of our role in the country's past. When I ask students if the conquistadors are American history, they often say, "No, it's not the Pilgrims."

We've got a long way to go.

The celebration included statewide activities. It seems as though every town had something special: rodeos, pioneer days, Indian ceremonials - although I question what Native Americans really thought about all this, especially those of Zuni and Tiguex, but that's another story.

Ruidoso planned a covered-wagon race. There's something you seldom see. Lincoln, of course, threw in Billy the Kid. Just a couple of centuries off.

So many people were expected, one reporter thought people might have to resort to sleeping in bedrolls and would hand down tales about "roughing it in the wilds of New Mexico."

With Route 66 just re-routed down Central and all the motels advertising - along with the brand new 1939 Hilton - I doubt there was much sleeping under the stars. The El Vado, now in danger of demolition, advertised its tile showers and its "soundproof, fireproof" rooms.

Entradas took place all over - 15 towns in New Mexico and in Oklahoma and Kansas, as well, lands through which Coronado cruised. Arizona likewise participated.

An entrada is a grand entrance into a new land. Thomas Wood Stevens, the pageant writer of the day, wrote the script, which differed somewhat for various places as aspects of the story were unveiled. Miss Lucy Barton made five hundred costumes. Props, clothes, and construction occupied the Industrial Building at the new fairgrounds.

In Albuquerque's version, O.A. Larrazolo, son of former governor Octaviano Larrazolo, played Don Francisco.

The author of a Spanish-language play about Coronado, Pedro de Verona Garcia of Manzano, won the role of Captain Cardenas, who discovered the Grand Canyon. It's cool that someone from a mountain village was included.

In Coronado's time, the Most Magnificent Erosion was perceived as a "big hole," a huge disappointment to gold seeking explorers.

U.S. Sen. Clinton P. Anderson headed the commission, while artist Peter Hurd, writer Paul Horgan, writer and pioneer daughter Erna Fergusson, and historian Gilberto Espinosa served - along with a "who's who" of 1940 New Mexico. In case you don't know, Erna was Albuquerque founding father Franz Huning's granddaughter and an author. That's why a library is named for her.

Naturally, a parade kicked off the festivities. In fact, the legislature declared New Mexico was "in fiesta."

Myron says the parade started at uque High, at Broadway and Central, and went west to Robinson Park at Tenth and Central - once an elegant green triangle and our first city park. His brother rode a burro right through the new underpass on Central. Myron tells me the little animal was a trooper.

And then came the big event, May 29th through June 1st at the University of New Mexico stadium. Not The Pit, not the current football field: Zimmerman Stadium, a unique, towering flat-faced building on Yale, just north of the city reservoir. I'm sorry you missed this one - Woodward and Ortega Halls have replaced it. Myron says there were tennis courts to the south, and "everyone could park."

Box seats were at "special prices," stadium seats were a buck. General admission was but 35 cents, or three for a dollar. Consider what it costs nowadays to see a concert.

The Entrada was unveiled in eighteen scenes, which revealed "a titanic panorama of 400 years." Myron said it was packed every night.

Sights included the army leaving Compostela, Mexico, the battle at Hawikuh (Zuni), the Province of Tiguex (that's us, folks), Kansas, Dorothy and Toto, the return home and Coronado's trial for mismanaging the expedition and cruelty to native people. It would be nice to know how some of this was portrayed - if anyone has a script let me know.

The program, with many in the audience dressed in 16th Century Spanish finery, went off with several hitches. The "Indian dances" and war whoops were off (what a surprise!), the sound system was less than perfect, and the prompter's sotto voce wasn't sotto enough.

Although some of the coverage, from our 21st century perspective, is offensive and ethnocentric, the Coronado Cuarto Centennial did attempt to integrate the state's past into America's and left a legacy of publications, commission minutes, photographs and records of an attempt to entice tourists. These collections may be seen at the UNM Center for Southwest Research. And the Coronado State Monument, out by Bernalillo, was dedicated.

Not too shabby for 1940. I wonder what Coronado would have made of it.

Originally published in The Albuquerque Tribune, February 8, 2007.
The Tribune articles are used with the permission of Scripps Howard.

The Missing Photos:
(courtesy of Albuquerque Museum, gift of John Airy, Ward hicks Collection)

A group of "conquistadors" re-enacted Don Francisco Vasquez de Coronado's expedition to New Mexico for the Coronado Cuarto Centennial in 1940. Communities across New Mexico held celebrations that year of the 400th anniversary Coronado's arrival in 1540.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

1933 J.C. Penney 1933 fire leads to huge sale

by Mo Palmer

Call me Inspector Gadget. I've solved a mystery we've been pondering for 20 years. OK, I was looking for something else, but never mind that.

There are photographs in the Albuquerque Museum Photoarchive of a trashed out, semi-gutted store. We history nerds have speculated: Was it a flood, a fire, a remodel or some disaster? Now we know and we can give those images an exact date. Here's what happened from the very beginning - plus a weird follow-up.

James Cash Penney (his real name) was the son of a poor Missouri farmer, who was also an unpaid Baptist minister. James learned the value of a buck at the age of 8, when his father insisted he buy his own clothing - a parental decision that changed the course of American commercial history. Of course, Penney went on to open dry goods stores - initially called the Golden Rule for his philosophical and religious beliefs. He changed the name to J.C. Penney in the teens, and in no time at all had a national chain.

Albuquerque's opened in 1916, at 410 West Central Avenue. For newcomers, what's on that site today is the Gizmo Store, which has its own past, but that's another story. Penney's set up shop in the basement and first floor of this lovely little building, which had a recessed entrance of shining show windows so ladies could admire the latest fashions. Later, the store would also occupy the upper floor.

Charles Melini constructed the Melini Building for Penney's, after P.F. McCanna and W.B. Hicks selected the site. Hicks managed the store until 1933. To the west is the Albuquerque Gas and Light Company, which had thousands of incandescent bulbs in the cornice that lit up like the Fourth of July at night. Beyond that is the Garcia-Bliss Building at Fifth and Central, in which "tire vulcanizing" was magically performed. The edifice is still there. Go see it. Car dealers, services and rentals were all over Downtown. The auto was in overdrive, and every other store catered to its incessant demands and accessories.

Charles Melini was a wholesale liquor and cigar man and a member of our large Italian community. He lived where the Downtown library is today, on Copper Avenue between Fifth and Sixth streets. Note the Italian flag flying above the building in the photograph. Melini might also have been the Italian consul. By 1933, he had returned to Italy.

On June 5, 1933, his legacy went up in flames. Employees were in Penney's, working on stock, while painters touched up remodeling upstairs. Folks did have to work Sundays back then - smashing my notion that Sundays used to be sacred. Maybe it was because the Great Depression was in town. The manager grabbed a fire extinguisher and started for the stockroom, from which smoke billowed. As the conflagration grew, all but one fire truck responded, assisted by the Santa Fe Railway Fire Department.

Eventually, 12 hoses were attached to nearly every Downtown hydrant. Only three men had smoke masks; the remainder relied upon wet handkerchiefs held across noses and mouths - and we complain today about inadequate equipment. Four were overcome and carried out by their fellows. Now that's dedication. Good thing we finally recognize these guys as heroes.

The "ooh-ah squad" responded, as well. Drawn by the sirens and whistles, thousands filled the streets to watch the entertainment. "Desperate Housewives" wasn't on TV, probably because there was no TV. Police cordoned off traffic to get the lookieloos out of the way and keep them safe. Some stuff never changes.

Eventually the blaze was brought under control. A total of $100,000 in goods was damaged - considerably more than the building, which was valued at only $38,000. No one was injured, and only the basement and first floor suffered damage. Smoke and water did invade Kress next door.

Then came the marketing coups. Seven different insurance agencies invested in a large ad, imploring people to get up to snuff on their fire insurance. By June 11th, Penney's announced the "greatest fire sale ever in New Mexico." The company moved into four spaces, 516, 517, 519, and 522 West Central Avenue. Those are on different sides of the street. Old Sanborn maps show empty storefronts except for 517 and 519 - which contained a "golf course" under a hotel. That demands research, and I'll let you know.

Assuring the public that no acids or chemicals were used to put out the fire and that this was undamaged merchandise, the four Penney stores sold tennis and childrens' shoes for 50 cents, women's crepe dresses for $2.77, "clever new hats" with wide brims and turbans in white and pastels for but a buck or two. No gender bias, here, for working men could select from 5,000 pairs of overalls for a half dollar - with matching shirt for 60 cents and shoes for $2. Not too shabby for people in the grip of unemployment and sacrifice. Not only did Penney provide pittance prices, it managed to give "hundreds" of unemployed young men temporary jobs.

There is another set of photos at the archive, with cars and people just jamming the streets down around Fifth Street. Betcha it was opening day at the fire sale.

Penney recovered and moved back into its remodeled store, but later pulled off another marketing miracle. While a brand new, three story building was constructed in the late 1940s, the department store moved lock, stock and barrel into the 1908 National Guard Armory at Fifth Street and Silver Avenue and went right on retailing. Penney's is persistent.

This serendipitous story has it all: J.C. Penney coming up from poverty, fire, heroes, respite from the Great Depression and American ingenuity. Karma or what?

Originally published in The Albuquerque Tribune, January 11, 2007.
The Tribune articles are used with the permission of Scripps Howard.

The Missing Photos:
(Courtesy of The Albuquerque Museum)

This 1916 photo shows the J.C. Penney store on Central Avenue. The building burned in 1933, forcing the store to hold the "greatest fire sale ever in New Mexico," in four separate storefronts along Central. The stores sold tennis and childrens' shoes for 50 cents.