ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Editor’s note: The Journal continues “What’s in a Name?,” a twice a month column in which staff writer Elaine Briseño will give a short history of how places in New Mexico got their names.
Albuquerque’s first high school started life as a private academy and has historical ties to the city’s library system.
The Colorado College of Colorado Springs opened the Albuquerque Academy (not to be confused with the current Albuquerque Academy in the Northeast Heights) in 1879 near the Old Town plaza. This is the school that would go on to become the city’s first public high school in 1892, aptly earning the name Albuquerque High.
Notable Albuquerque High alumni are author Rudolfo Anaya, jazz musician John Lewis, musician Al Hurricane, racing legend Al Unser and professional basketball player Kenny Thomas.
The town’s population in 1879 was just nearing 1,000 but it wouldn’t stay that small for long. A year later the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway depot was completed Downtown and the first train rolled through the city bringing with it a population boon and a different way of life. Albuquerque High School’s enrollment grew right alongside the city’s population, filling a need for the area’s older students.
In 1914, the city built the lofty red-brick building that would become the school’s emblematic campus. At the time, some officials complained that the $100,000 three-story building with capacity for 500 students was too big, but it would soon fill up. Albuquerque High would remain the sole public high school in the area until 1949 when Highland High School opened.
In the late 1800s, there were not a lot of high schools in the United States because of the cost involved in building them. Education for older students often fell to private schools and individual tutors. According to the educational history website The Clio, Albuquerque Academy had 27 enrolled students when it opened in 1879. Tuition was $3 a month for standard courses and $1 extra for language courses. Music lessons for the entire year were an additional $18.
The opening of the school was a notable endeavor, even outside the state. The Saturday News in Topeka, Kansas had this to say about it in the June 1, 1881 edition.
“The Albuquerque Academy has over eighty pupils, and is prospering finely. The second annual of the institution says: ‘With its immense plains, its fertile valleys and its boundless wealth of gold and silver, New Mexico may well look forward to the day when it shall take a high place among its then sister states. But it must not overlook those elements of prosperity which have so materially aided them in their growth. Among these none take a higher rank than education.’ ”
The former lieutenant governor of Kansas, E.S. Stover was among the school’s trustees, as were Albuquerque pioneers William Hazledine and Franz Huning. In 1883 the school was reported as being “crowded to its utmost capacity” with 150 students.
The 1886 academy curriculum consisted of English, history, algebra, geometry, bookkeeping, physiology, rhetoric, botany, physics, political science, civil government, American and English literature and French, German, Latin and Greek language courses.
Jim Hulsman, a member of the Albuquerque High Alumni Association and legend from his tenure as basketball coach and involvement at the school, graduated from the school in 1949.
Downtown was a bustling place and the campus was serving students in 10th- through 12th-grade at the time.
“Albuquerque was a gorgeous, small town,” he said. “You knew everybody in town. And the faculty was absolutely outstanding.”
The school, as noted, started out on the plaza but moved to many locations before finally finding a home Downtown in the now historic campus at Central and Edith NE.
This is where the library comes into the story. One of its many homes was a brick building at 423 Central Avenue in 1890. The school only stayed there for a year and once it had emptied the building of students, the city filled it with books. The building located at the intersection of Edith and Central boulevards became the city’s main library branch. The old school building served this purpose from 1901 until approximately 1923, when it was damaged by fire.
Using bond money, the city built a new structure in that location, which opened to the public in March of 1925. It would remain the city’s main branch (also known as Old Main) until 1975 when the city relocated the library to a new Downtown building at Fifth Street and Copper Avenue. Old Main is now city’s Special Collections Library.
The school would move one more time.
By the 1970s, the campus off Broadway was starting to show its age. Albuquerque Public Schools built a new campus just off Interstate 25 in Martineztown and shifted operations there in 1974.
The old Albuquerque High campus was abandoned and became a magnet for vandals and trespassers until the late 1990s when a developer and the city teamed up to renovate the campus, turning it into residential and office spaces. It took nearly a decade to complete the entire project.
No matter where it’s located, the high school that carries the name of this city, is forever intertwined with its history.
Curious about how a town, street or building got its name? Email staff writer Elaine Briseño at email@example.com or 505-823-3965 as she continues the monthly journey in “What’s in a Name?”