THE HISTORY OF NOB HILL AND ROUTE 66
Central Avenue, Nob Hill Main Street, has a split personality. It was, and still is Albuquerque's original "Main Street," like Main Streets all across the country, but its other personality is Route 66, the great Mother Road which carried countless Americans westward to California during the Great Depression. This dual personality has contributed to Nob Hill's fascinating blend of roadside architecture designed to appeal to the weary motorist, and storefronts designed to appeal to neighborhood shoppers.
Until the mid-1930's Central Avenue east of the University of New Mexico consisted of a few motor courts, gas stations, campgrounds and one cafe. Albuquerque proper was still to the west, but the city's street car system didn’t make it out this far.
Although Route 66 had already crossed New Mexico, it was a convoluted path. From 1926 through 1937, when heading west on the route, you turned north near Santa Rosa, made your way through Santa Fe and then turned south toward Albuquerque via Fourth Street. But, in 1937, Route 66 was straightened out and headed directly west across the state, reducing the journey across New Mexico by 107 miles. This realignment allowed motorists to travel from Tucumcari straight to Grants, right down Albuquerque's Central Avenue from Tijeras Canyon to Nine Mile Hill.
With Route 66 as the only paved road crossing New Mexico, development began to spread east and west along its shoulders. Entrepreneurs sparked into action as the tourist stream flowed down its new course.
Suddenly, travelers were driving through the Highland and Nob Hill neighborhoods on their way to downtown Albuquerque. Central Avenue was no longer just a country road. Motels with neon signs competed for travelers' attention, and retailers and restaurateurs vied to meet their needs.
Roadside architecture beckoned to drivers; a cafe shaped like an iceberg, selling cold drinks and ice cream cones opened for business on the present site of the Lobo Theatre; a sombrero-shaped restaurant offered Mexican food. The Aztec Lodge and the De Anza Motor Lodge presented pueblo-inspired accommodations, while others such as the Wigwam boasted teepees in which children could play.
WPA projects in the late 1930s, such as the State Fairgrounds and Monte Vista Fire Station, assured more development along east Central.
By 1941 Nob Hill had grown into Albuquerque's first suburb, a thriving residential community complete with a modern movie theater, pharmacy, numerous stores, restaurants and motels. Construction was halted during WWII, but afterwards the population boomed and building began in earnest.
In1947 R.B. Waggoman developed `the Nob Hill Business Center, one of the first modern shopping centers to incorporate parking west of the Mississippi. The Center, built in the architectural style Streamline Moderne, quickly became the hub of the most fashionable area of town.
Today, the Center stands as one of the best preserved examples of this type of post war architecture.
Post mid century travelling was changing rapidly. With the completion of Interstate 40 in 1959, Route 66 travelers eventually gave up their slow, romantic journeys through enchanting New Mexico to drive at speeds of 60 to 70 miles an hour. In 1955, Albuquerque's Route 66 had 98 motels; by 1992, only 48 remained. Today, most hotels/motels on Route 66 are national chains. Only a few family owned motels of historic significance remain.
But Historic Route 66 still remains a beloved image in our collective, American conscious. There are preservation efforts in many communities that still survive along the Road. The Road has been named a Scenic Byway by both state and federal governments. Although many examples of Route 66-era roadside architecture have been lost, many are preserved – or at the least, still exist. As you drive, look for the vestiges of the old architecture in current buildings along the Road. In Albuquerque, our Nob Hill stretch is considered to contain the most of the well preserved buildings in all of New Mexico.
To view historical landmarks of Nob Hill area Click Here.
Nob Hill has 3 sites on the National Register of Historic Places.
Click the links below to learn more about them on the National Park Service US Department of the Interior website.