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The Historic Railroad Buildings of Albuquerque Part 1

An Assessment of Significance Download
Chris Wilson

The single most important factor in the development of Albuquerque between 1880 and 1930, in its transformation from a farming village into a commercial and industrial center, and in its emergence as the leading city of New Mexico was the railroad. Throughout this period, the Santa Fe Railway was the city’s leading employer. In addition, its buildings were viewed with community pride as signs of progress and prosperity. Because of the railroad’s leading role, these structures are prominent reminders of this important period in Albuquerque’s history.

In January 1880, three months before the railroad arrived, Albuquerque was designated as the division point between the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe, and the Atlantic and Pacific railroads. (The Santa Fe already owned a half interest in the A & P and would completely absorb it in 1902.) This designation meant that Albuquerque would be the site not only of a depot, but also of the A & P’s division offices and major repair shops. By the mid-188Os several substantial buildings–locomotive and car repair shops, and a large roundhouse–had been erected. The employment and prestige of these facilities helped attract additional businesses dependent on the railroad: a foundry, lumber and wool scouring mills, and dry goods, grocery and hardware warehouses. The locomotive shops alone employed 970 in 1919, one-quarter of the city’s work force, With other jobs at the railroad depot and hotel, on the trains, and in rail related businesses, most residents owed their livelihood to the railroad. (1)

Santa Fe Bankruptcy and Revival
The Santa Fe Railroad, like countless other businesses, was caught up in the headlong rush to develop the West after the Civil War. During the 188Os, in particular, the Santa Fe pushed its lines through vast unpopulated areas. They sought to head off competing railroads and to claim extensive grants of land authorized by congress to encourage the construction of trans-continental lines. Having made substantial capital outlays, but unable to sell most of its land holdings and lacking adequate traffic to sustain its operations, the Santa Fe went bankrupt in the depression known as the Panic of 1893. Two years later it was reorganized as the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway. (2)

In 1896, Edward Ripley was named president of the line, a position he would hold until 1920. This would be the golden era of the Santa Fe, a time when it regained solvency, prospered and grew. Two aspects of Ripley s previous experience qualified him to lead the Santa Fe’s recovery efforts, First, he had built: a reputation as an innovative railroad manager. Second, as an organizer of the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago he had been exposed to mass market promotion and to the public relations potential of architecture. Under Ripley, the Santa Fe became a national leader in modern efficiency management and in corporate image-making. The drive for operational efficiency slowly gathered momentum, ultimately finding its dearest expression in a series of new locomotive shops including those in Albuquerque. The image-making campaign began more quickly and its effects appeared sooner in the depot complex. (3)

Image-making The Columbian Exposition structure which most influenced the Santa Fe Railway was the California Building which adopted the style of a Spanish mission. The Santa Fe soon began building depots, lunch rooms and hotels in this romantic California Mission style. The purpose was twofold: to increase passenger traffic by attracting tourists to the Southwest, and to improve the line’s public image at a time when many viewed railroads as monopolistic and called for regulation of their rates. These Mission style hotels and lunch rooms have long been associated with the Fred Harvey Company which managed them; after all·, they were called Harvey Houses. However, the Santa Fe Railway chose the Mission style for its corporate identity; it financed, built and owned all the structures; and its architects designed most of them, (4)

Depot Complex
In 1902, the Alvarado Hotel (the largest Harvey House), an Indian curio building, and a new depot were built in Albuquerque, making the city a center of the Santa Fe’s tourism effort. Auxiliary buildings, including the Curio Store Building (now the Traffic Office) and a new Telegraph Office, were added a decade later. A two story Freight House (Office) appeared in 1945-46. Although the Alvarado Hotel and Indian Building were demolished in 1970, the third major building, the Depot, remains as a reminder of the former grandeur of the complex. With its bell tower and long, arched porches, the Depot is the best example of the California Mission style remaining in Albuquerque. It has been designated City Landmark and determined eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. Although the Curie Store and Telegraph Office lack some Mission style details such as tile roofs and arched porches, both employ stucco walls and cut-out parapets as a shorthand version of the style. The Depot and the Telegraph Office are among the best remaining local examples of pebble dash stucco which was common from 1900 to 1925 (and looks a bit like pebbles covered by a thick glaze).

The Hotel, Indian Building, Depot and Telegraph Office all were built of wood frame and stucco, The Curie Store, though, has a reinforced concrete foundation, pillars, walls and roof. When it was built in 1912, it was one of the first examples of this new form of construction, and appears to be the second oldest remaining example in the city, predated only by the 1910 Rosenwald Building. The concrete walls of the Curio Store were stucco, but its continuous window sills, string courses and cornices were left exposed as accent details, (5)

The two story Freight House is an example of the Pueblo style which became popular after the Alvarado and Depot were built. The style was developed in large part through the efforts of the Santa Fe and Harvey Company designer Mary Colter. Although similar to the California Mission style in its evocation of the romantic Southwest, the undulating parapets of the Pueblo style project a specifically New Mexican image. The Santa Fe’s reliance on low-maintenance concrete accounts for the concrete details–lintels, porch brackets and roof drains. The Freight House and Curio Shop both retain their original grey stucco, a color often used for economy’s sake but seen in few surviving examples.

These four remaining buildings have long defined the town-side, automobile approach to the depot. A patch of brick paving laid in a herringbone pattern remains just west of the depot, but a circle drive further west has been replaced by a parking lot.

Part 2


March 31, 5 pm. Join us for a Shabbat with Friends special gathering called Shabbat Night at the Museum at the Wheels Museum in ABQ. Roam through the museum, enjoy a festive Shabbat potluck meal and finish with an hour of singing our favorite Seder songs with the Oneg Shabbos Ensemble to get in the mood for Passover that arrives on a few days later. Pre-Registration is required to attend. A Shabbat Night at the Museum.

Do you have a few hours each month to help the Wheels Museum? Volunteers are needed so the Museum can be open more; run the model railroad trains, also help needed with events, marketing, fund raising. Call Leba Freed at (505) 243-6269.

April 1, 1 pm. Doug Figgs and Badger. Back by popular demand. By reservations only (505) 243- 6269. Doug’s show was sold out last year, so call early! Donation: $10.00.

April 8, 11 am. “Historic Albuquerque” Ronn Perea will present old Albuquerque anecdotes including delightful stories about our beloved Alvarado Hotel and the politicians, actors and entertainers who stayed there. This is a free event but, of course, donations are always appreciated.

April 22, Wheels Museum Day trip to Rancho De Chimayo Restaurante, El Santuario de Chimayo and the Santa Fe Plaza. Call Leba or Janet at (505) 243-6269 for more information. The museum is a 501C3 non-profit community organization whose mission is to create a transportation museum at the downtown Albuquerque Steam Locomotive Repair Shops.

May 19-May 23, Train trip to the Grand Canyon. Only a few spaces left.Scheduled through Amtrak Vacations, call Leba or Janet at (505) 243-6269 for reservations and more information.

May 27, 10 am. “Railroad Time” Historian Roland Penttila introduces you to Sir Sanford Fleming and describe how missing his train got him thinking about time and how we understand it. His work led to the world time zones and the standardized use of time that was a boon to the emerging industrialized world. Reservations (505) 243 6269. Admission is free, but of course, donations are gratefully appreciated.