Before becoming part of the Mother Road, one of ABQ's most iconic roads was known by another name - Albuquerque Journal

Before becoming part of the Mother Road, one of ABQ’s most iconic roads was known by another name

The old El Vado Motel on Central Avenue near the river was refurbished and reopened as not only a hotel but a courtyard with stores and restaurants. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

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.

Today it’s famously known as Route 66, but Central Avenue in Albuquerque started its modern-day life as a muddy thoroughfare used to ferry people between new and old towns.

The iconic road was not even part of world famous Route 66 in its early years and it also wasn’t called Central Avenue.

Native Americans and earlier settlers had already carved out the route that would become the Central Avenue of today. They used it to access and trade with residents in the East Mountains. The U.S. Army upgraded the mostly horse trail to a wagon road in 1858. The road really came to life with the arrival of the railroad to Albuquerque in 1880 and was given the official name Railroad Avenue.bright spot

It became the commercial heart of an expanding, bustling town transforming into a city. Mule-drawn trolleys emerged and shuttled residents the two mile distance between New Town and Old Town. Hotels, barber shops, saloons, mercantiles and other business ventures materialized along the route.

Manzano Day School is believed to have been the first known building along the road. It was the home of Manuel Armijo, a governor during Mexican rule, and he named it La Glorieta. It’s also the street where successful businessman Franz Huning built his famous mansion in the late 1800s after also living in La Glorieta.

Franz Huning stands in front of his flour mill, La Molina de Glorieta, in 1880. It was located at what was then 1400 W. Railroad Ave. (Courtesy The Albuquerque Museum)

Central became part of the Mother Road in the 1930s. Initially Route 66 traveled north down Fourth Street along the historic El Camino Real trail.

The father of Nob Hill, D.K.B. Sellers, found the name Railroad Avenue impractical, and pushed for its renaming. He introduced the idea to the city council in April 1907. He and then-University of New Mexico president William G. Tight, a close friend, argued before the council that the name Railroad Avenue was misleading and confusing, making it hard to promote the city’s main business corridor in other states.

“They always confused it with some street right along the railroad,” Sellers said. “Just the same as you would think Canal Street must be along some canal.”

Tight recommended the street be named University at the east end claiming that “the minds of the persons would naturally turn to the meaning of the name and be impressed with the thought that Albuquerque was an educational center. A good place to live.” The public and officials soundly rejected the idea of a street with two names.

The Albuquerque Morning Journal reported on April 17 that of the 60 or so men it interviewed they preferred the name Main Street or Central Avenue. The newspaper didn’t ask any women what they thought. Maybe they were all busy recovering from the vapours on their fainting couches.

The grand opening of J.C. Penney at 410-412 West Central Avenue in 1929. (Courtesy of The Albuquerque Museum)

Anyway, not everyone was happy with the naming efforts.

In that same April 17 article, it’s mentioned that a number of property owners and business men did not want the name changed “Chiefly on sentimental grounds.”

Citizen Paul Teutsch said: “I think we owe it to the old-timers who named this street to leave the name alone.”

When the street committee considered the matter, Owen N. Marron, a lawyer, educator, former mayor and a businessman, spoke out against the idea.

“It would be most unfortunate to change the name of this old, well-known and established street. The businessmen do not wish the change. There is no good reason why it should be changed.”

Another business man argued it would set a bad precedent and “people might get the name changing fad and make over the entire city.”

Antique cars cruise Central Avenue on a Sunday afternoon in March 2017. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuqerque Journal)

The Albuquerque Evening Citizen ran its own voting contest leading up to the city council vote. It printed a ballot claiming “Now is the time to have your say.” It noted that the city administration was not interested in polling the public on its preference, although it did ask business owners along the road.

“Tell The Citizen what you want and The Citizen will tell your friends and enemies alike,” the story read.

The options presented were: Albuquerque Avenue, Alvarado Avenue, Central Avenue, Main Street, Rio Grande Avenue, University Avenue or no change at all.

The City Council, on the recommendation of its street committee, voted on May 20, 1907, to officially change the name of the road to Central Avenue. After the meeting adjourned, an elated Sellers had this to say:

The historic KiMo Theater is a mainstay along the road. It was opened as a private theater in 1927 and is now operated by the city. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

“I never expected to come out of this alive,” he said. “There was a great howl raised about changing the name at first, but gradually it has been seen that the change was needed.”

Coincidentally at the same meeting, the council members debated the possibility of paving all the city’s streets and discussed whether they should send an entourage to the great city of El Paso to look at its fancy, paved streets.

Local rubber stamp company H.S. Lithgow & Co. tried to cash in on the name change. The company ran an advertisement in the Albuquerque Morning Journal just a few days later “Get a Rubber Stamp to Change the Name on Your Stationery.”

Today, no rubber stamps are needed and the east to west road will take you from one extreme end of the city to the other. Practical uses aside, Central Avenue contains a treasure trove of history. It’s where the past, present and future coalesce to create the backdrop for everyday life.

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


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