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Ahead of his time: Dale Bellamah wasn’t just interested in building homes, he envisioned building entire communities

bright spotALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Bellamah Avenue in Albuquerque is named for a man who descended from royalty, amassed millions that he left to charity and had a beer garden before beer gardens were a thing.

That man is Dale Bellamah and he made his fortune building homes. The residential street bearing the Bellamah name can be found in the Wells Park and Sawmill neighborhoods as well as in the Northeast Heights in the subdivisions he built. He was considered the sixth-largest homebuilder in the world at one point and his 1954 Princess Jeanne Park “wife-planned” homes in the Northeast Heights earned him respect around the country. His homes were even featured in a 1994 Science in American Life exhibit at The Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.

 Dale Bellamah built a thousand homes in Albuquerque during the boom of the 1950s.

A May 11, 1957, Albuquerque Journal story about his success talked about the Princess Jeanne homes that were “the result of interviews and research involving thousands of modern young homemakers. … Every home in Princess Jeanne Park has its own garbage disposal unit, vented kitchen range hoods, sunlamp bath heaters and residents share a community swimming pool, and tennis courts.”

His 1972 Albuquerque Journal obit said Bellamah was one of the men responsible for turning Albuquerque “from a cow town of less than 100,000 to a metropolis of 204,000” during the 1950s.

In addition to Princess Jeanne Park, he built homes in Parkland Hills, Ridgecrest, Mesa Village, Kirtland, and Bellamah subdivisions.

He approached the development of Princess Jeanne Park, which he named after his wife Jeanne, with what were considered radical ideas at the time. Instead of just building homes, he envisioned an entire community with a park, recreational areas, schools, streets and homes. Jeanne Bellamah Park near Juan Tabo and Constitution was also named after his wife. He was initially criticized for his idea, but according his obit “within a year, builders were traveling to Albuquerque from all parts of the country to study his methods and designs.”

Bellamah was a no-nonsense businessman in public and a caring, giving, kind man in private.

He scoffed at government interference when it came to business. He opposed putting a cap on the price of goods and enacting rations proposed by President Harry S. Truman in 1947. He argued the measures were “contrary to the American way of living and destroys free enterprise.”

Two years later he fought against a proposed bill that would establish a low-cost housing program in response to a shortage of homes. He said it was a step toward “breeding a nation of irresponsibles” and the bureaucratic fumbling would end up costing taxpayers more money.

But Bellamah did care about the working man and the plight of the poor. He left his entire estate, estimated between $30 million and $50 million, to a charity foundation he established a few years before his death.

This pamphlet is an advertisement for 1950s homes that were built in Albuquerque with the input of housewives.(Courtesy of University Of New Mexico Center For Southwest Research)

Bellamah, a direct descendant of the ancient royal house of Lebanon, was born into poverty in Veguita on May 19, 1914. His Lebanese father had immigrated to America for a better life, but the family settled in Barelas where his father opened a grocery store. His mother died when he was 12. By then his father was invalid and could not work, so Bellamah was forced to find employment.

It was Western Union that gave him his first shot at a job. Two years later, at age 14, he made his way to the Rail Yard shops. By that time, there was already a fire inside him to succeed.

He finished his high school education via correspondence, even though it would take him until he was 22 to get his diploma. An advertisement in the Oct. 20, 1934, Santa Fe New Mexican shows he was also starting to dip his toes into the entrepreneurship waters when he was just 20 years old. The ad talks about the grand opening of the beer garden at the Lensic Theatre in Santa Fe, naming Bellamah as one of the proprietors. They promised drinks to suit individual tastes, entertainment and modern liquor equipment featuring all electric heating and cooling devices.

I don’t know about you, but I wasn’t doing much with my life at 20. I couldn’t even be bothered to fold my laundry and put it away at that age.

This 1934 Santa Fe New Mexican ad sheds lights on one of Dale Bellamah’s first business ventures. He would go on to become a millionaire. (Newspapers.Com/Santa Fe New Mexican)

But Bellamah was just getting started.

He went onto the University of New Mexico, opening a liquor store, Dale’s Liquors on Central and Girard Avenue, during his junior year, and earned a bachelor’s degree in political science.

Not done yet.

He joined the army in 1943, leaving his wife to run the store and putting forever on hold plans to attend law school.

Still not done.

He sold his liquor store in 1946 and began building his corporate empire in earnest. In addition to building homes, he owned nine shopping centers, a savings and loan in Chicago, a bank in Grants, a mobile home park, several motor inns and a life insurance company.

Bellahmah died of a heart attack on April 20, 1972, exactly two years and one day after his wife. The couple never had children. His death made the front page of the Albuquerque Journal and his passing was also noted in publications across the state.

Colleague Tony Potenziani was quoted in his obituary.

“Dale Bellamah was one of the finest men I have ever known. He was kind and compassionate, and his vision and dreams inspired those of us privileged to associate with him day by day and year by year.”

Those dreams and visions can still be seen today in the thousands of Albuquerque homes he built and the street signs displaying his name. (A street in Santa Fe also bears his name).

Curious about how a town, street or building got its name? Email staff writer Elaine Briseño at ebriseno@abqjournal.com or 505-823-3965 as she continues the monthly journey in “What’s in a Name?”

 

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