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The Historic Railroad Buildings of Albuquerque Part 4

An Assessment of Significance
Chris Wilson

Industrial Monuments
The one conservative feature in the shops’ design is their reinforced concrete facades which could have easily (and more inexpensively) been treated as glass curtain walls like the north and south sides. (However, even the revolutionary Ford Glass Plant of the same period continues to use brick cladding on its base where the less expensive corrugated metal used above would have done just as well,) The steel frame of the Albuquerque shops stands behind and integrated into the concrete facades. Since the concrete is structurally redundant, these facades facing the town and the tracks can only be understood as examples of corporate pride. The interiors are single story spaces from thirty to fifty-seven feet tall; in contrast, the facade piers and spandrels (recessed horizontal panels) form a grid which harkens back to the the multi-story, reinforced concrete factories commonly built between 1905 and 1920. These spandrels were omitted from the otherwise similar facades of the San Bernardino shops, built 1924, which gave them a more vertical, Art Deco appearance.

Nevertheless, the predominant style of the facades, both at Albuquerque and San Bernardino, is an abstracted Neo-classicism: plain concrete piers extend up to a simple bracketed cornice topped by a pediment frieze with a recessed Santa Fe company emblem. The clear order and rationality implied by Neo-classicism was the natural compliment to the standardization and rigorous efficiency of steel frame buildings and of modern industry. The handful of locomotive shops, with their austere classical styling, rise above the normal, purely functional buildings to become the industrial monuments of the Santa Fe Railway. (18)

Fire Station
The only other Albuquerque shop building with architectural pretensions is the Fire Station, built in 1920, Its rough-faced, random ashlar, brown sandstone walls, its crenellated parapet, asymmetrical tower and tile accents give it an unusual, rustic Mediterranean appearance, This departure from the Santa Fe’s normal modes–functional concrete and California Mission style–may have stemmed from a desire to complement the old Atlantic and Pacific division offices which then stood next to the fire station site. It is the oldest remaining fire station in the city and one of the most accomplished picturesque revival buildings erected in the city during the 1920s. (19)

Decline of Steam Locomotives These would be the last great railroad buildings erected in Albuquerque. Traffic peaked on the Santa Fe in the 1920s, dropped sharply in the 1930s because of the Depression and the rise of the automobile and trucking, and recovered only temporarily during the Second World War. In 1935, the Santa Fe began experimenting with diesel engines which would prove to be more economical to operate, run longer distances and require less frequent maintenance than steam locomotives. Because of the difficulties it had always had supplying steam locomotives with coal and water on its western lines, the Santa Fe became a leader in the conversion to diesel. The Second World War halted the purchase of new engines and the Albuquerque shops experienced a final peak of activity with a record 1,500 workers. The switch to diesel was resumed after the war; 1,261 new engines were purchased by 1952 and the last steam engine was retired from the Santa Fe in 1956. At the end of the war, San Bernardino and Cleburne were chosen for the centralized diesel locomotive shops. In 1953, the Albuquerque shops became the central facility for repairs of equipment for the maintenance of the rail lines. This function substantially underutilizes the shops, requiring only 200 employees, The Roundhouse was used until recently for storage, but now stands empty. (20)

Part 5


New Lego exhibit at the Wheels Museum. View The New Mexico Lego Users Group has
partnered with WHEELS to have a beautiful Lego Train layout for children of all ages to enjoy. The exhibit will vary from season to season and we invite you to come see this new Lego train exhibit.

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.

Febuary 16, 11 am. Bob Bovee Long Steel Rails concert. This program for all ages presents songs and stories about the famous trains, rail workers, hobos, train wrecks and train robbers. Call or email Leba Freed for reservations at (505) 243-6269 or leba4@aol.com.

March 17, Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day at WHEELS. Movie, tours, train ride and food celebration.

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.