Route 66 & Downtown, Albuquerque
Taking old Rte 66 off US 40 at the east end of the city is about a 5 mile stretch to reach the downtown center area. There are some older motels still preserved, and some other retro buildings, and not much newer structures that took the places of the old ones.
Running through Albuquerque is historical US Route 66.
Route 66 is also known as the Will Rogers Highway and is colloquially referred to as the Main Street of America or the Mother Road. It is one of the original highways and was established in the 1920s. The route originally ran from Chicago, Illinois through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California where it ended in Los Angeles.
In 1985 Route 66 was officially removed from the United States Highway System when it was decided that the route was no longer relevant after numerous re-alignments and route changes meant the road was replaced by the Interstate Highway System, taking the road away from many of the town centres it had previously run through.
Illinois, Missouri, New Mexico and Arizona have been designated portions of the original Route 66 as a National Scenic Byway with the name "Historic Route 66".
In Albuquerque, Historic Route 66 runs through downtown as Central Avenue and is home to many Art Deco buildings and signs of the original route. A stroll here is well worth your time - keep your head up and your eyes open for some great sights!
Had we not been staying in the Hotel Blue in the Downtown area we might never have explored beyond Albuquerque’s touristy Old Town, and that would have been a mistake. We really liked the “vibe” around here, even though it might be considered a little edgy by some.
This area was once the city’s “New Town”, developed in the early years of the last century and was the commercial hub, spread out on either side of Central Avenue (which is in fact a stretch of iconic Route 66). But as the city grew, new shopping plazas opened in outlying districts and the centre declined and became ever scruffier, with boarded up shops and unused office buildings. Then at the turn of this century a movement started to revitalise it, following the principles of New Urbanism. These don’t seem very revolutionary to me, as a European and Londoner, but in the US possibly only New York and few other older cities would recognise what the planners are attempting here. The idea is to create mixed-use neighbourhoods where people can live, work and play without relying on cars. Everything they need – shops, restaurants, bars – should be within a ten minute walk. In a typical American city, where going out means getting in the car and pedestrians are a novelty (we know, we have been those pedestrians!), this is a radical concept – and a marvellous one.
Some redevelopment had already happened in the 1990s, with bars and restaurants springing up on Central Avenue, but the idea that Downtown could be a place to live is a fairly new one. But we saw the evidence when we went to a bar here that evening. We sat outside and passers-by included dog-walkers, late-night shoppers, a few tourists, a groups of girls clearly on their way home from the gym, young people and older couples on a night out and a handful of business people who had perhaps stayed late at the office that night. It felt much more urban than most US cities do to me, with their sprawling suburbs and often hard-to-identify centres, and we really enjoyed sitting there.
Before that though we had spent some time wandering up and down the road, checking out a few shops (there was a fascinating large one with a huge range of Native American items, from the kitsch to high-end crafts) and taking photos of the wonderful KiMo Theatre. This is a 1920’s cinema whose ornate “Pueblo Deco” style was inspired by Native American iconography in the same way that cinemas of that era elsewhere were built in the style of Moorish mosques or Chinese pagodas. You can tour the interior, which I would have loved to have done, but it’s only open for tours during the day (between 8:30 am and 4:30 pm on weekdays, and 11 am and 5 pm Saturdays) as it is still used for shows in the evenings. The website (below) has some pictures and a vivid description:
~ “plaster ceiling beams textured to look like logs and painted with dance and hunt scenes, air vents disguised as Navajo rugs, chandeliers shaped like war drums and Native American funeral canoes, wrought iron birds descending the stairs and rows of garlanded buffalo skulls with eerie, glowing amber eyes.”
The "Mother Road", old route 66 runs the entire length of the city, East to West. This old highway brought Albuquerque many a traveler and was very instrumental in its growth. Many old remnants of its heyday still remain. The neon signs, the old motels and many restaurants to choose from.
Albuquerque's Civic Plaza is in the middle of the downtown area. The Civic Center is to the east and the Hyatt Regency to the south. Underneath is plenty of parking.
The plaza was quiet on a Saturday morning when I took this picture but it is busy during the week and during the Saturday night Sizzlin Summerfests, which include bands, dancers, theater performances, dance contests, jazz festivals, etc. from different cultures. Drop by to eat, watch live entertainment and maybe dance a little. Admission is free. Even in the summer, the nights are cool in Albuquerque.
Whether you are visiting Albuquerque, or already live there, this open air market at Robinson Park in Downtown Albuquerque is the perfect thing to do on any Saturday morning from mid summer to early fall. Besides featuring fresh fruit and vegetables sold by local growers, look for vendors selling local honey, cut flowers, fresh eggs and hand-made soaps.
Also featured each week is live music from folk to classical. Activities for the kids range from hands-on arts and crafts to jumping cages and pony rides. Vendors from nearby coffeeshops and cafes sell fresh coffee, breakfast burritos and muffins.
If is the perfect way to start a Saturday of site-seeing or just lingering in the shady park whiling the day away.
One Saturday each summer the OffCenter Art Gallery holds a folk art festival in alliance with the Grower's Market, during which the number of vendors triples. Artists and crafts people of all types sell their paintings, scupture, ceramics, photograpy, tinwork, handmade/hand dyed clothing and much more.
During the Folk Art Festival a giant puppet parade is held featuring the most beautiful, imaginative and, yes, gigantic, handmade puppets you have ever seen. From dancing ladies to dragons, some of these puppets take 3 or 4 people to operate as they snake through the festival, dancing to the rhythm of a loud percussion team. It is a wonderful event and not to be missed.
The Downtown Grower's Market is held every Saturday, starting June 11th through October 15th from 7am to 11am. The "We Art the People" folk art festival will be held August 12th starting at 10am. So make a note on your calendar and come early for some fresh fruit and vegetables, locally made art and handcrafts and stay for the giant puppet parade.
Downtown Albuquerque has slowly become a viable alternative to the more college-oriented Nob Hill neighborhood for nightlife and dining.
Several bars (including some with live music), nightclubs and restaurants have opened along Central Avenue, making it a good place to spend a night out.
During the day, it's also interesting to walk around to get a feel for Albuquerque's architecture and city life. One thing that especially struck me as really cool was the amount and variety of murals.
Downtown Albuquerque has somewhat of a shopping element, including a huge Native American-themed store, a movie theater and other shops, but it remains still relatively unpolished as a neighborhood, and has yet to be sanitized like so many other urban neighborhoods.
There are also a few art galleries in the area.
Others have described what's left of Route 66 in town, so I'll post my images from off I-40 leading from Amarillo through to Gallup. The Route is much folklore, but there are a few roadside businesses that can be of interest to those who like the retro look.
Throughout Albuquerque there is a commitment to public art. This example is by the Civic Plaza. The airport has an excellent collection. Other sculptures range from a mother bear and cub in Arroyo del Oso to the "Chevy on a Stick" at Gibson and San Mateo. Well, maybe it is really called "Cruising San Mateo."
Very unique architecture. This theatre really stands out. "Pueblo Deco picture palace, opened on September 19, 1927. Pueblo Deco was a flamboyant, short-lived architectural style that fused the spirit of the Native American cultures of the Southwest with the exuberance of Art Deco."
The 'happening' spot seemed to be where a pedestrian walkway (4th St. area) met the main drag of Central St. (Route 66). In the evenings, there was live jazz and blues music and a good crowd out enjoying the show. This was all sandwiched between Maloney's Barr & Grill (to the left) and the Liquid Lounge (to the right) as depicted in the photo (Central St. behind). It must be said that, during the day, this pedestrian walkway also seemed to be the preferred hangout for the local street people.
This is the center square downtown where the anti-war protest was held my last day there.
The war in Iraq started when I was there, what a time for a business meeting as I was glued to the tv any chance I could get.
I loved this building, the city has Native American and Spanish influence here.
If you want to catch the bus, then this is the station, it is very new and neat in appearance.