Home » The Historic Railroad Buildings of Albuquerque Part 1


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


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.

Saturday, September 30 and Sunday October 1, 2023. One of the nation’s largest operating steam locomotives, former Santa Fe 2926, will be on the move and park next to the Albuquerque Rail Yards on Saturday, September 30 through Sunday, October 1. WHEELS will have a booth at the site. Please come and visit us. For more information go to: www.2926.us

Saturday, October 21 2-4 pm. “The Great Wheels Museum Train Robbery!” Dr. Ronald Lah of the Wheels Museum with a group of local history reenactors will present the program. It will include:
Screening with discussion of the 1903 film, “The Great Train Robbery,” and the “Lawmen Train Cars” that were developed for rapid deployment after a robbery.

Discussion of the historic Socorro and San Marcia, New Mexico train robberies, and the accuracy of train robbery depictions in movies like “Butch Cassidy and the Sun Dance Kid.”

Reenactment of an Old West train robbery staged in and around the Wheels Museum’s train coach car.

Donors to the Wheels Museum Fundraiser are encouraged to take a seat in the train coach and present your donation when the "Train Robbers" go through the car. Visitors are encouraged to wear some period style Old West apparel like bowler and feathered hats and bonnets, pin-stipes, vests, and boots.

Only non-functional firearm props will be used in the re-enactment. Admission is Free: Donations gratefully accepted. Phone: (505) 243-6269 to RSVP.

Saturday, October 28, 2-4 pm. Headset Dance Party. Dance wearing headsets to a great variety of musical choices. Admission Free, but donations are gratefully accepted.

Saturday, November 4, 11 am. “A History of Albuquerque Comedy or How I Got My Kicks on
Route 66.”
Ronn Perea. Ron's presentation will give you a unique insight into a part of Albuquerque
Culture and we promise you that you will laugh out loud throughout his talk. Admission is Free: Donations gratefully accepted. Phone: (505) 243-6269 to RSVP.

Saturday, November 4, 2 pm. "Albuquerque History Challenge: Education and Fun" Roland Pentilla is an Albuquerque historian who frequently conducts downtown walking tours on behalf of the
Albuquerque Historical Society and Historic Albuquerque, Inc. Come to experience our own “Jeopardy” version of Albuquerque history complete with raffle prizes for the correct answers. Admission is Free: Donations gratefully accepted. Phone: (505) 243-6269 to RSVP.

Saturday, November 25, 10 am. “Walter steps up to the plate”. Author Sue Houser discusses her book about twelve-year-old Walter wants to spend the summer of 1927 watching his beloved Chicago Cubs play baseball. Instead,Walter must leave everything he knows and loves to accompany his mother to Albuquerque, New Mexico, a place he has never been to live with relatives he has never met. Admission is Free: Donations gratefully accepted. Phone: (505) 243-6269 to RSVP.

Railyard Worker Commemorative Plaques. Honor a loved one who worked on the railroad, honor a WHEELS volunteer or honor the WHEELS Museum. WHEELS is now selling plaques with name plates for $100.00 per name.  Keep the memory of these people alive in perpetuity with a gorgeous wooden plaque with brass name plate. Thank those who made our city and state successful, built the railroad, continue to work to preserve our history and create our future. The plaques will be displayed in the Community Room at WHEELS.

Contact Paulette Miller Weir who is graciously supporting the project and has volunteered to orchestrate this work. Her phone number is (505) 227-3270.  Please send checks for $100.00 per name and a few other words such as dates of birth or death or job held to WHEELS Museum, PO Box 95438 Albuquerque, NM 97199 or contact Ms. Miller Weir for any questions.  We can also accept credit cars payment by calling WHEELS-6269.