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Wellspring of Memories: Panel discussion focuses on changing neighborhood

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Martha Heard believes that your community’s past is the key to understanding the place you call home.

The With House at 815 Mountain NW is one of the oldest residences in Albuquerque’s Wells Park neighborhood. A panel discussion about the history of Wells Park is scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 23, at Albuquerque’s Special Collections Library, 423 Central NE. COURTESY MARTHA HEARD

That’s why Heard, a resident of Albuquerque’s Wells Park area since 1992, suggested an oral history project when she joined the board of the Wells Park Neighborhood Association in 2013.

“I was real interested in the cultural aspect of the Wells Park neighborhood,” Heard, 82, said. “I had done an oral history project in a village in Spain, and I loved talking to the people.”

The board backed the idea and applied for and received a $2,300 grant for neighborhood projects from Bernalillo County. A $500 donation from a private party eventually sweetened the pot.

Heard, with the occasional help of several others, started doing interviews in 2017. To date, the project includes 19 interviews with 23 people, the oldest born in 1929, the youngest in 1986.

“The more (interviews) you do, the more you learn,” Heard said. “It makes the neighborhood mean a lot more.”

Apples and sawdust

Heard and some of those interviewed in the Wells Park oral history project will take part in a panel discussion titled “Memories of Wells Park: Changing Perspectives,” at 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 23, at the Special Collections Library, 423 Central NE.

Historic photos of the Wells Park neighborhood and other archival materials related to the community will be on display. Heard said there will even be a quilt that tells the community’s story.

“And we are hoping there will be some audience participation as we attempt to continue learning about Wells Park,” Heard said.

Wells Park makes up an area bordered by I-40 on the north, Mountain Road on the south, First Street on the east and 12th Street on the west. The neighborhood gets its name from a city park at 500 Mountain Road NW, the site for years now of a community center.

But who was Wells? Heard said he was Charles Wells. Wells, with the exception of a few months, was Albuquerque city manager from 1934 to 1952.

Long before Charles Wells’ time, into the late 19th century, Heard said what is now the Wells Park neighborhood was agricultural.

“From 12th Street to 10th Street, there were apple orchards,” she said. “There was an irrigation ditch. It was irrigated land and people were able to farm.”

Food markets, such as Charlie’s Grocery, were once a popular place for friends to meet in Albuquerque’s Wells Park neighborhood.

She said businesses and residences began to take root in the community as the 19th century turned into the 20th.

“This whole area kind of represents New Mexico, or Albuquerque, history with land being transferred back and forth,” she said. “In the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s, it ended up being a very diverse neighborhood. It was a place you could afford to build a house and add on to it when you got the money. The majority of the people were working class.”

Some neighborhood residents worked at a nearby sawmill and anyone who lived in Wells Park when the sawmill was in business remembers it.

“People talk about sawdust on their clothes and on their cars,” Heard said. “Kids would go to the sawmill to get sawdust for jumping stations. They would jump into it.”

Sense of place

Heard is from Chicago originally. She taught college-level Spanish in the Midwest before moving to Albuquerque in 1980. She taught Spanish at Highland High School from 1982 to 1998.

She said the oral history project has helped her see Wells Park, her home for more than 25 years, with different eyes. She described a drive through the neighborhood with a resident who has lived there much longer than she has.

“He was saying, ‘That used to be a shoe store and that was a refrigeration repairman and that was a auto mechanic,'” Heard said. “There used to be a candle factory here.” And there were apparently a lot of grocery stores, especially in the 1950s and ’60s.

This building at Seventh and Bellamah NW once housed Viviani’s grocery store in Albuquerque’s Wells Park neighborhood.

“People told me about going to grocery stores,” Heard said. “Grocery stores were where you would see friends. Everybody talked about playing in the streets. Many of them were not paved.

“I love hearing these stories. They give you a sense of place, a sense of history.”

IF YOU GO

WHAT: “Memories of Wells Park: Changing Perspectives,” a panel and audience-participation discussion about a historic Albuquerque neighborhood. Archival material on display

WHEN: 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 23

WHERE: Special Collections Library, 423 Central NE

HOW MUCH: Free

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