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.
Well-used roads reinvent themselves over and over again, existing for decades, sometimes centuries, and changing to meet the needs of their travelers.
Route 66 is one of those roads and it holds a special place in American pop culture. The route became know as the Mother Road in the early 20th century when travelers began using it for cross country adventures.
In Albuquerque, motels began springing up all along Central Avenue, which became part of Route 66 in 1937. One such place was the De Anza Motor Lodge, opened by Charles Garrett Wallace in 1939. Several customs influenced the design of the motel paying homage to New Mexico’s unique cultural soup of Native, Hispano and Anglo traditions. Wallace named the lodge for Juan Bautista de Anza II, the Spanish governor of New Mexico from 1777 to 1787.
The hotel was also listed in the Green Book travel guide, designating it as one of few places a Black family was welcome to lodge during the time of segregation.
Wallace himself was a prominent trader with Zuni Pueblo people. The Great Depression had made it harder to trade, and Wallace saw Route 66 and his lodge as a way to bring Zuni goods to a larger swath of society, including tourists. The De Anza gift shop served as a sales outlet and he stored his own private collection of American Indian goods at the motel. Later in his life, he donated a portion to a museum and auctioned off the rest.
But underneath the lodge was a hidden treasure. Painted along two walls of the basement conference rooms were murals by Zuni artist Tony Edaakie Sr. depicting figures participating in the pueblo’s winter Shalako ceremony line. The 15 figures are seen following each other from east to west.
Two centuries earlier de Anza was born into a military family sent to the New World to protect Spanish outposts from Native tribes and settlers from other nations. His father Juan Bautista de Anza had been killed by Apaches in 1740 when he was only 3.
Upon becoming governor of New Mexico, de Anza set out to intimidate the Comanche Indians, who had become a “fearsome force on the eastern edge of the Spanish province,” in hopes of pressuring them to enter into a treaty, according a newmexicohistory.org essay by Richard Flint and Shirley Cushing Flint.
As one might expect, the Comanche people weren’t exactly on board with this idea.
De Anza’s massive military force of 800 men, many of them Pueblo Indians, attacked the Comanches near Pueblo, Colorado, in 1779. Eighteen Comanche men died that day and many women and children became captives.
“(De) Anza returned to New Mexico in triumph, showing off the distinctive ‘green horn’ headdress of the defeated Comanche leader (Cuerno Verde). The following year, and for at least one more after that, Comanche bands throughout the southern Plains were ravaged by European-introduced smallpox. By 1785, one of the three major divisions of Comanches, the Cuchanec, actively sought peace with Spanish New Mexico.”
A treaty, which would last 30 years, was eventually reached in 1785.
New Mexico isn’t the only state to honor de Anza.
You will also find de Anza’s name scattered throughout California, where he made his mark before coming to New Mexico. De Anza gathered families willing to travel with him to California to settle San Francisco in 1776. He led more than 240 colonizers on an 1,800-mile journey from Mexico, which was still New Spain, up through what is now Arizona to the California coast and then headed north. They were the first group from Mexico to come to the Bay Area overland. Before that, explorers had to travel by sea to reach the Bay Area. They encountered several Native American tribes during their travels who helped them, especially when it came time to cross the Colorado River.
The National Park Service has designated their route a historic trail.
De Anza died in 1788 and is buried in the Templo de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción historic church in Arizpe, Mexico. Where exactly he’s buried in the church is somewhat in dispute.
In 1963, California scientists discovered bones beneath the church they believed belonged to de Anza. A glass plate was placed over the remains and encircled by a rail. However, a few years ago, a priest at the church said de Anza’s remains were actually buried to the side of the cathedral and that the mix-up occurred when the scientists used the wrong copy of a death certificate to identify de Anza.
In Albuquerque, the De Anza building has been placed on the New Mexico State Register of Cultural Properties, National Register of Historic Places and designated a Historic Landmark by the city of Albuquerque.
Wallace owned the motel until 1983 and it changed hands several times after he sold it. The east Nob Hill area went through a period of decline and Central Avenue transformed into a motel graveyard. The abandoned buildings became the discarded bones of an era that died with the advent of the interstate.
A few years ago, developers demolished most of the site and turned into an upscale apartment complex with studios, one-bedrooms and two-bedrooms called The De Anza. The building containing the murals survived the wrecking ball in order to preserve the cherished art work. It’s now the front office and the murals still grace the walls of the basement today.
The neon sign bearing de Anza’s name and likeness survived as well and continues to illuminate the night sky along Central Avenue, although tired travelers in need of food and a good night’s sleep will have to look elsewhere for lodging.
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?”