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.
The French surname Girard means “brave spear,” but for Albuquerque drivers it has nothing to do with France or bravery or spears or weapons of any kind for that matter.
In this city, Girard tells us we are by the University of New Mexico, or we are about to venture into Nob Hill.
New Mexico saw an influx of European immigrants from the mid- to late-1800s. They came here looking for the opportunity to work in lumber, as merchants, on the railroad and many other occupations that the industrial revolution created.
The Girard family were some of those immigrants. There’s no official records tying the Girard family to the road, but personal family stories and circumstance make it likely.
Rosemary McNerney Winkler, a member of the Albuquerque Genealogical Society, included the Girard family in her book “Stories of Early Albuquerque.” She included an article by François-Marie Patorni, who says the road was most likely a tribute to the Girard siblings who came to America starting in 1872. Patorni has written extensively about the French legacy in New Mexico including his book “The French in New Mexico.”
“In Auvergne, the central region of France, and in the Alps, New Mexico was a relatively familiar name,” he said. “It was known through word of mouth from the priests and legendary Bishop Lamy of New Mexico, a native of Auvergne.”
Patorni was given a cardboard box containing photos of the Girard family that someone found at a garage sale. He was also contacted by a descendant of the Albuquerque Girard family and able to piece together some of their life here.
The first to arrive was Joseph-Ferdinand Girard, whose first stop was St. Louis, where he met his Irish wife Mary Russell. The couple moved to Albuquerque a few years later at the invitation of his wife’s brother.
Girard’s own brother, Jean-Pierre, came to Albuquerque in 1881 to help him. The two operated the Girard House hotel, a stone building on Gold Avenue between Second and Third streets, and built themselves a life here. They advertised the hotel as “first class in every respect.”
“The Girard House is crowded with guests, and yesterday two gentlemen were unable to secure accommodations at that popular hostelry,” said a Nov. 18, 1887 brief in the Albuquerque Journal. “The waiters are kept constantly busy attending to the wants of customers, and it can be truly said the Girard House is having a boom.”
A March 22, 1901 blip in the Albuquerque Citizen said “J.F. Girard and family are moving into their fine new residence today. The building is at the corner of north Fourth Street and the Mountain Road and is an improvement that adds greatly to the locality.”
The family roots stretched back to the towns of Ancelle and Chorges in France and the brothers were two of eight siblings.
A Nov. 10, 1921 obituary for Joseph-Ferdinand Girard, doesn’t shed much light on his personal or professional life. Girard had just returned from a trip to his boyhood home in Chorges, with his brother Jean-Pierre, who died during the trip.
Just a note that there is no relation between the Albuquerque Girard family and famed architect Alexander Girard, who lived in Santa Fe.
The road does not appear on an official map until the late ’20s and early ’30s, but there is mention of Girard Avenue in the newspapers starting in 1916. An Albuquerque Morning Journal story on May 23 talks about extending a water pipe to Girard Avenue, a street in the new University Heights subdivision. Today that new addition is the neighborhood directly south of UNM and east of Yale Boulevard. It’s a popular hangout for students looking to study, eat or grab a beer. They live in that neighborhood as well on streets with names of prestigious colleges like Princeton, Columbia, Harvard and Stanford.
Girard Boulevard, which began life as an avenue, was probably built by Col. Daniel K. Boone Sellers, who plotted and named those college streets and the neighborhood that became the swanky and trendy Nob Hill. A March 31, 1921 story in the Albuquerque Journal had this to say about Seller’s plans: “Wide streets, which will follow the topography of the land are to be laid out on the eastern half of University Heights in the section including 100 acres east of Girard Avenue.”
Perhaps some day more will come to light about the Girards, their lives in Albuquerque and the contributions they made here.
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?”