Albuquerque has fared far better than most Route 66 cities after I-40 skirted around her. State legislators, in fact, held up the interstate progress for about 3 years as they fought its construction. Finally, under federal threat of withdrawing funds, they compromised and agreed – IF the new road would provide easy access to the small towns and cities like Albuquerque.
Like all 30s era towns, Route 66 became their “Central Avenue.” Maneuvering a motor home on narrow city streets can be nerve wracking, but we take a chance, cross the Rio Grande River and follow Mother Road straight through town. The I-40 bypass, obviously, hasn’t hurt this place at all. Its population grew from about 26,600 in 1930, to a current count of nearly 560,000.
Along the way, though, Albuquerque’s Central Avenue/Route 66 developed a more “inner city” vibe when demographics changed dramatically around the turn of this century. Once Spanish speakers, Spanish place names and culture were most common, billboards and signs read in English. We still see English and Spanish street names, but there now seems to be at least an equal amount of Vietnamese culture, businesses and signs intermingled. We pick up Central on the west end of town, and, as we travel east, residents walking the sidewalks flow from Hispanic to Hispanic/Black to Asian/Hispanic to almost exclusively Asian for a couple of miles.
The most ironic thing I spot sits on the corner of Louisiana and Central – a 27’ tall Paul Bunyan hovers over a restaurant, although he no longer looks exactly like this picture. He’s been there since the ‘60s (well, technically ‘70s, since this guy replaced the one that burned in 1974), first as a lumber company logo, then as a hardware handyman. Mays Café, moved into the building a number of years ago. No one’s figured out the connection between the lumberjack and a restaurant, but, if his purpose is to draw attention to the business, well…it’s working!
He’s made of fiberglass but, unfortunately, a massive wind storm ripped off his arms and ax a couple of years ago and deposited them in the alley out back.
According to the owner, they’ve tried and tried to get someone to repair him, but the problem is not the repair, it’s taking him down from the pole. No one is sure how much he weighs or how to get him down intact. So here’s the irony: He’s just about as American as you can get, right, but this isn’t an American restaurant, in spite of what their website says…
“The emphasis here is on authentic Vietnamese dishes brimming with fresh ingredients and an abundance of vegetables.” And “The May Cafe is the genuine American article, it serves authethic (sic) Vietnamese food!”
Really? While I doubt very much that Paul Bunyan would have ever deigned to ingest a noodle in the whole hundred + years of his life, I give May’s Cafe high fives and kudos for trying to save this bit of Americana instead of outright tearing it down. Can ANYONE help the poor man?
Once the premiere movie theater of Albuquerque with a parking lot for 350 cars and seating inside for more than 1100 patrons, The Hiland now features live performance as part of NDI, a school of dance. Thankfully, the new owners have left the classic Art Deco style sign of the ‘30s intact.
In a push to bring more tourists downtown, the mayor’s plan to revitalize Central/Route66 includes installing a $100 million rapid transit system. With lanes already on the narrow side for even our motor home, this plan would take out two whole lanes and add bus stations and dedicated rapid transit busses that resemble a train. The plan’s quite controversial and, the last we knew, the request for an $80 million federal grant had not yet been approved. It’s a colorful drive, though, and there’s plenty of timeworn neon to enjoy at night. My advice: See it now while it still “sorta” resembles the old road.
The University of New Mexico website says they have 30,000 students enrolled on 12 campuses. This main facility is on Central.
Unlike Los Angeles, we see plenty of old 30s and ‘40s Art Deco and ‘50s & ‘60s commercial architecture. I wouldn’t vouch for their quality, but the strip was amply populated with $29.95 per night motels/hotels. I am more than dubious at their boasts of “nice clean rooms” and weekly rates, but the Desert Sands’ beautiful ‘50s marquee sets apart this particular establishment.
We only do a drive-through for Albuquerque since there’s nothing in particular we want to visit. Time is pressing to get to Michigan for a family reunion, so we need to move on. We’ll continue heading east on Route 66 and save the old Santa Fe loop alignment for a side trip on the way home. You can also follow a very old alignment just before you get to Albuquerque by dropping south from Mesita, crossing I-25 to Los Lunas, then swinging north through Bosque Farms and several other small towns and up to Albuquerque, but we save that for another time also.