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“Remember the Alvarado!” December 31, 2005

Posted by Ron Warnick in History, Preservation.
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During the ongoing El Vado Motel saga, I’ve been struck by Albuquerque residents’ willingness to fight to preserve this historic property on Route 66.

That’s because their energies are fueled by regret.

A little background: The Alvarado was one of the fabled Fred Harvey Houses that served railroad passengers. According to the Albuquerque Convention and Visitors’ Bureau:

The Hotel Alvarado opened here in 1902. It had something for everyone: shaded portals, bell towers, fountains, immaculate rooms, employees in starched black and white, a coffee shop, newsstand, barber shop and more—a fairy tale place. The Indian and Mexican Rooms were filled with museum quality Native arts and crafts, opening a previously untapped market for the public and for the craftspeople. Native Americans created jewelry and blankets on site, and visitors could watch them weave their magic.

Here is an article that announces the christening of the Alvarado. Here is a three-page Acrobat file of a vintage Alvarado pamphlet. The Harvey Houses were partly designed by Mary Jane Colter; it was unsual at the time for anyone to hire a woman architect. Numerous images of the Alvarado can be seen here.

The Alvarado fell into disrepair and was torn down on Feb. 13, 1970. Here is an article about the demolition.

… “Too little, too late” seems to have been the key to the Alvarado’s demise. During the first half of the month of February, many efforts were made to halt demolition, but not enough people–and more importantly, not enough money — came forward. Instead, Albuquerqueans flocked down to salvage what they could for their own homes: candelabras, tile, works of art, chairs, etc. And thus, arguably, the physical soul of this city was destroyed, and its gaping scar — a desolate parking lot — remains to this day.

A replica of Alvarado eventually was built, but it paled in comparison. The destruction of one of Albuquerque’s most famous buildings fueled greater efforts at preservation. I’m certain it stung the city even more to see another Harvey House on Route 66, La Posada in Winslow, Ariz., restored to its former glory.

When I’ve talked to preservationists in the Albuquerque region, I’ve heard the refrain: “Remember the Alvarado!” Now you know why.

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