Editor’s note: The Journal continues “What’s in a Name?,” a monthly column in which staff writer Elaine Briseño will give a short history of how places in New Mexico got their names.
Talk about an identity crisis. I think maybe the streets of Albuquerque have one.
The West Side never met a grid it liked. Sometimes the streets go straight. Sometimes they randomly end. Sometimes they turn into two lanes only to become four lanes a few feet later. Sometimes they even go in a circle, spitting drivers out on the road which they started.
Although the Heights grid layout makes it easy to navigate, there are some roads that transition into another road only to spring up down the block again (Osuna, I’m looking at you). And then there’s the major streets in Albuquerque that don’t seem to know what they want to be named. Drivers are traveling along and suddenly the road has a different name. There’s three that come to mind. Griegos turns into Comanche at Edith, Montgomery becomes Montaño at Interstate 25, and Bridge Boulevard becomes two different names as it travels east through the South Valley.
So why do streets that mostly have a straight route from the North Valley to the Heights change names? The answer varies.
Bridge Boulevard, which was one of the area’s first river crossings, went through a partial name change to honor labor and civil rights leaders Dolores Huerta and César Chávez. The street becomes Avenida Dolores Huerta from the Rio Grande to Isleta Boulevard and then Avenida César Chávez from Isleta to Yale Boulevard.
The other two roads have a different explanation.
Griegos/Comanche and Montaño/Montgomery were, at one time, separate, unconnected roads. In her book, “Atrisco to Zena Lona,” Judy Nickell mentions this and that there was a time when getting from the Albuquerque heights to the valley almost always guaranteed traversing a dirt road.
After WWII, the city’s population grew at a rapid pace spreading further east, sketching out what would become today’s Northeast Heights. Development would stamp out that rural setting, replacing open fields with houses, streets and businesses. According to U.S. Census figures, the city’s population was approximately 35,500 in 1940 and that number ballooned to more than 201,000 by the 1960 count.
The city adopted a grid system in 1952, and as it continued to grow, roads established in the heights were connected to roads that had sprung up in the valley.
Since both the east and west portions of the road had homes, the city left residents with the street names they had already been using.
Meanwhile, there wasn’t much regulation for naming roads until 1983, according the city’s planning and environmental health spokeswoman Maia Rodriguez. It was at that time the city adopted a naming ordinance. The city must now approve all new street names and name changes.
Despite the progress, the city was very much still a rural scene outside those areas. Sprinkled along the valley corridor and other parts of the area were large hundreds of acres homesteads owned by individual families. It’s for them that many of the major streets in Albuquerque were named.
Griegos was named for the Griegos community, which was an extended family settlement with six of the 25 families there bearing the Griegos name. Griegos means “the Greek” and is named for Juan Griego, “John the Greek, a native of Greece who came to New Mexico with Oñate in 1598,” according to the book “Stories Behind the Street Names of Albuquerque, Santa Fe, & Taos” by Donald A. Gill. While Comanche was named to honor the Native American tribe of the same name.
Montaño and Montgomery were also named after families that owned the land where the current day roads are located. Eugene Montgomery, for whom Montgomery Boulevard was named, was interviewed by the Albuquerque Journal in 1982. He lived in the same house along Montgomery NE since 1935.
“There was nothing here, nothing here but jack rabbits,” he said.
According to the article “Eugene Montgomery retains 100 acres, but the rest of the homestead has gone for houses, streets, congestion and pollution. ‘A lot of people call Montgomery a messy street,’ he said. ‘I think all in all, I’m kind of proud of the way it developed.’ ”
Albuquerque Historical Society president Janet Saiers said although officials incorporated subdivisions as they were built, there was a very distinct geographical border – a swath of open space with, sand, tumbleweeds and hills of dirt – between the new Heights neighborhoods, and the old North and South Valley settlements. Saiers grew up near Comanche and Carlisle in the ’50s and said most of the homes there were just under construction. She said there was nothing between Carlisle and Edith and one of her friends had a relative who worked at Rainbo bakery near Montaño and Second Street.
“We would get on our bicycles and ride through sand and gravel, coasting from Comanche and Carlisle to Second and Montaño,” she said. “There was nothing. No traffic. Our parents let us do that because there was no danger.”
I’ve lived in almost every corridor of this city growing up. Since I technically sprung up in both the east and west sides of town, I decided I also need two names. If you see me on the West Side, I’m Elaine Briseño. If you see me east of the railroad tracks, I’m Elaine Dean.
Curious about how a town, street or building got its name? Email staff writer Elaine Briseño at firstname.lastname@example.org or 505-823-3965 as she continues the monthly journey in “What’s in a Name?”