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.

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