Historic Protection Of Buildings Stalled

By Mike Gallagher
Albuquerque Journal

Sunday July 20, 2003
City preservation officer Ed Boles says the shop buildings at the old rail yard are probably among the nation’s best preserved examples of early 20th century industrial architecture.

“They definitely should have city landmark designation,” he said.

But there has been no formal action to place the buildings on the state or federal historic registers. Nor has the Urban Council sought to get city landmark designation for the properties.

Placement on historic registers qualifies renovation projects for tax credits and grants. Landmark designation erects legal hurdles to tearing down the buildings.

Wheels Museum documents show that getting those nominations filed were top priorities for the Urban Council and Franklin Conaway in 2001 and again in 2002.

But Conaway said several of the underwriters “were not interested in doing that (filing the nominations).”

It can be difficult to force a designation on an uncooperative owner, and attempts by the city to designate some of the buildings on the site in 1986 failed when the Santa Fe Railway fought the landmark designation in court.

The rail yard roundhouse was then torn down, but the fire station on the property was given landmark status.

Conaway said nominations for the historic registrations are ready to be filed and will be once negotiations on the sale by the underwriters are completed.

“I would think they will be filed in October, maybe September,” Conaway said. “I’ve completed most of the research on that and it is being worked on as we speak.”

Much of the research on the railroad buildings was done in the 1980s and is in files at the city planning department.

Wheels board member Joe Craig said engineering studies have found the buildings are in good shape physically and environmentally — partly because they were never used for diesel engines.

“Renovation isn’t a problem,” Craig said. “The real cost of renovation is a question.”

Craig said the Urban Council is basing its plans on a renovation cost of $97 a square foot, but estimates the real figure as being much higher — between $150 to $200 a square foot.

Conaway said he believes the buildings are protected even without the landmark or historic register designation because of the way the financing agreements are worded.

Alan Clark and Craig agree that even if the museum has to find another home, they and Leba Freed accomplished something.

“We don’t think anyone can tear those buildings down now,” Craig said.