Every time I zoom along Coors Blvd. I pretend I’m rafting down a river of beer.
That’s because one, I’m weird, and two, like many others, I immediately think of the well-known brewery when I hear or see the word Coors.
But the main north to south thoroughfare on Albuquerque’s West Side has absolutely nothing to do with beer or the Colorado family who began brewing it more than 140 years ago. It’s named for New Mexico’s own prominent Coors family, specifically that of attorney and judge Henry George Coors III.
A 1988 Albuquerque Journal interview with his widow, Rowena, and their son Henry G. Coors IV, explains how a street named Coors became a thing. Coors III and his wife Rowena owned 600 acres in the South Valley and getting home was tricky. Coors’ marriage to Rowena was his second. He had married his first wife in 1910, but she passed away in 1933. He married Rowena in 1934 and they had two sons and a daughter.
The story goes Coors III used his influence to sway officials in his favor and got himself a road built. He donated a mile of right of way for it and when it was complete, Coors IV said they surprised his father by naming it after him.
The naming came in 1946, but it wasn’t the grand arterial it is today. A 1950 map of Albuquerque shows the short leg of Coors/N.M. Highway 45, which would come to bear the Coors name travelers see today. Coors reached from Isleta Blvd. north to Central. Now, the road stretches nearly all the way to Corrales, where it becomes Corrales Road.
Coors III was born Feb. 20, 1885, in Las Vegas, New Mexico, to Henry and Louise, who were a prominent couple that helped settle the town. His father, Coors II, established a mercantile store in East Las Vegas, served on the statehood committee, and became mayor of Las Vegas. It’s told that Teddy Roosevelt gave a talk to the Rough Riders in 1899 on the porch of Coors II.
Coors III attended Highlands University (then called New Mexico Normal University) and then the University of Michigan where he earned his law degree in 1907. He settled in Clovis three years after graduating and became president of Clovis National Bank.
He moved to Albuquerque in 1913, going on a hunch that it would soon become the hub of the state. A quote in the Aug. 21, 1913 edition of The Clovis News offers a glimpse of Coors III’s personality. It describes him as “a most deserving and able young lawyer who enjoys the confidence and friendship of all who are his acquaintances.”
The article was published to announce his move to Albuquerque where he would assume the role of assistant district U.S. attorney. He said in a 1944 Associated Press story that he left Clovis “because of three straight years of drought. People were leaving every day and I decided to go too.”
During his lifetime, Coors III was president of the University of New Mexico Board of Regents, head of the Democratic Party, director of the YMCA, a judge in the 2nd judicial district and he was finally elected to the New Mexico Supreme Court in 1950, a job he held for three years before health issues forced him to retire. He had heart problems and Santa Fe’s high elevation was difficult for him.
He moved to California after his retirement but he only lasted a year before returning to New Mexico. Coors IV discussed his dad’s decision during that 1988 interview with the Journal.
“Dad said ‘I don’t care if it kills me or not…’ ” Coors IV said. “He wanted to retire in Albuquerque where he loved the area and knew the people.”
A heart attack killed Coors III on Jan. 1, 1961. Pallbearers at his funeral included a judge, a doctor and several attorneys.
As for that famous Coors family to the north, there is speculation that the two clans could be related.
“They say there’s an awful lot of resemblance between myself and Bill, who runs the operation at the brewery,” Coors IV said in the 1988 interview.
Poor birth records from Holland have made it impossible to draw a conclusive verdict. Coors II and brewery founder Adolph Coors II became good friends, with the New Mexico Coors family occasionally receiving barrels of beer from their maybe relatives in the north.
I remember driving along Coors in the mid-1980s from our house in Westgate to visit relatives in Alameda. Back then, west siders who wanted to cross the river had to use Coors to access one of the few bridges that would deliver them to the east side. My sister and I would pile in the backseat and hunker down for what we thought was the longest, most boring drive that ever existed in all of humanity. It was dark. There were only two lanes and civilization seemed like at least 1,000 miles away. Who knew it would become the important road, stuffed to the brim with commerce and retail, that it is today.
I no longer think a trip down Coors is the most boring thing in the world, but I will forever think of beer – and perhaps the family that just wanted a way to get home without twisting and turning – when I drive it.
Curious about how a town, street or building got its name? Email staff writer Elaine Briseno at firstname.lastname@example.org or 505-823-3965 as she continues the monthly journey in “What’s in a Name?”