- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 14, 2016

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - A hundred years ago Nob Hill was not much to see.

A barren landscape with lots of sand, some brush, a few arroyos and a whole lot of nothing else.

But one man saw the potential. Instead of endless acres of dirt, he saw houses, yards, streets and businesses. That man’s name was Col. D.K.B. Sellers and on Feb. 7, 1916, he filed the first plat, which laid out the neighborhood streets, lots and utilities, of what would become Nob Hill. The area was called University Heights, just east of the University of New Mexico, and he named the roads after prestigious universities, reported the Albuquerque Journal (https://bit.ly/2hnlHIa).

Local businesses and the Nob Hill Neighborhood Association have been celebrating the neighborhood’s 100th birthday all year with different events including a pet parade, a tour of historical buildings and a chicken dinner. The group also made several short films highlighting the neighborhood and hired an artist to paint a mural.

“It’s fun, quirky and old,” said neighborhood association board of directors member Gary Eyster, who helped organize the celebration events. “The main thing is we wanted to celebrate its birthday. What do you do when people turn 100? You have a party.”

Nob Hill spans from Girard east to Washington Street and Lomas south to Zuni and Garfield roads. Central Avenue (the old Route 66) runs through the neighborhood, making it home to many bars, restaurants, retail shops and other entertainment. Eyster said Nob Hill stands out because of its feeling of community and historic character.

“When you move into Nob Hill, everyone wants to come over and see who you are,” he said. “Or they want to invite you over to sit on their couch and get to know you.”

By the time World War II started in 1941, many of the area’s homes that are still there today were already built. Several commercial buildings also still exist. Kelly’s restaurant and bar was once a service and filling station and the Monte Vista Fire Station restaurant and bar was once a functioning fire house.

Longtime residents

The neighborhood has been reborn many times, allowing it to remain relevant and thriving through the decades, according to City Councilor Pat Davis, who represents and lives in that area. He said the neighborhood attracts residents and visitors alike with its quirky vibe, local businesses and small-town feel.

“It’s unique and you can’t find a neighborhood like this anywhere else in Albuquerque,” he said. “It has changed with the times.”

Nob Hill, Davis said, started as a residential neighborhood.

Robert Gleason was born in a house on Stanford Drive in 1930. His recollections of life in Nob Hill back then were featured in a short film the neighborhood association made using grant money from Bernalillo County. The film was shown Dec. 4 at The Guild and included interviews from “old timers” who were born or grew up in Nob Hill in its earlier days.

In the film, Gleason recalls dirt roads, being allowed to slide down the pole at the Monte Vista Fire Station, seeing people coming down the road hauling wood in wagons and herds of sheep roaming around the neighborhood. The family used a fireplace to warm the house and didn’t have indoor plumbing. Water was drawn from a pump outside and lugged into the house for cooking, washing and bathing.

“My father said we have running water,” he said. “We run outside and get it.”

Route 66

The arrival of US Route 66 in Albuquerque in 1937 and the rise of the automobile, Davis said, changed the culture of Nob Hill, providing opportunities and leading to the establishment of a commercial district along Central. According to the neighborhood association statistics, the number of buildings in the area grew from six to 44 from 1930 to 1939.

The next shift happened in the 1960s when the interstate system came along, moving travelers away from local communities, including Nob Hill.

“As the car culture moved along,” he said, “Nob Hill transformed again and became an arts, cultural and entertainment district.”

Carolyn Chavez, executive director of Nob Hill Main Street, said the neighborhood has 260 businesses, with 100 of those along Central.

“Our focus is small, local business,” she said. “We like to have a good mix of retail, service and restaurants. We’ve done a good job having all of those.”

Still evolving

Davis said the area is going through another transformation. The neighborhood is once again evolving. Three major high-density residential projects are under way in Nob Hill right now, he said.

“Younger people are moving back to cities and out of the suburbs,” he said. “Some are giving up their cars and want to be able to walk to their local co-op for groceries or the local brewery for a beer.”

That’s one of the reasons behind the controversial Albuquerque Rapid Transit project under construction along Central, which will bring even more change to the area. Many of the local businesses oppose it, insisting it will hurt business, while the major employers support the new type of mass transit.

Nob Hill was recently named one of the Great Places in America by the American Planning Association. The association releases a list annually. The designation recognizes places that demonstrate “exceptional character, quality and planning,” according a news release from the city.

“Here in Albuquerque we all know that Nob Hill has long been a vibrant gem for visitors and locals alike,” Mayor Richard Berry said in the news release announcing the commendation. “It is such an honor to now be recognized nationally for this historic neighborhood.”

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Information from: Albuquerque Journal, https://www.abqjournal.com


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