Was Albuquerque’s Highlands District always a food desert? One would assume that a reasonable amount of motels would preclude some decent dining options; in a past post, I postulated that attached lobby/office complexes frequently had dining rooms, as well. Using a 1949 AAA Western Tour Book (generously lent by Sharon), I mapped the recommended motor courts in and around the Highlands area (from the east side of Carlisle all the way to San Mateo, for purposes of this blog). They are, in no particular order, the Ambassador Lodge (4501 E Central), the Aztec Court (3821 E Central), Cooksey Court (5210 E Central), De Anza Motor Lodge (4301 E Central), Premiere Motel (3820 E Central), and Zia Lodge (4611 E Central). Here they are, in all their Google Maps glory:
One interesting feature? None of them (according to the AAA guide) had dining rooms by 1949; they are all described as “restaurant convenient” or “restaurants nearby.” Similarly, a 1993 map of Albuquerque’s Route 66 attractions list only one historic cafe/drive in between Carlisle and San Mateo. Where were these restaurants, and was the definition of “convenient” any different than the one we employ today?
According to the 1949 city directory, the Nob HIll Business Center had a bakery and a barbecue–but that isn’t really the Highlands proper. Moving east along Central, diners could choose from:
-a frozen custard shop at 3704 Central (between Hermosa and Solano)
-Hoyts Dinner Bell restaurant at 3900 Central (between Aliso and Morningside, very close to the Aztec Court and Premier Motel)
-Paramount Cafe at 3911 Central (also close to the Aztec/Premier)
-El Cortez restaurant, at 4001 Central
-A & W Root Beer Stand at 4203 Central
-White Cafe at 4236 Central (next to Top Notch Drive Inn and Circle K Motor Court)
-El Sombrero Restaurant at 4415 Central (right next to the Ambassador Lodge, close to Zia Lodge as well)
-The Owl Cafe, at 4902 Central (right next to Coronado Lodge tourist court)
-The Wayside Inn restaurant at 5001 Central (on the same lot as Semke-Nichols trailer sales)
-the Iceberg Cafe at 5219 Central (combined with Iceberg Service Station)
-Duke’s Fish and Chips at 5407 Central
One thing stands out immediately: the relative dearth of chain restaurants (especially compared with the Highlands today). This is not at all surprising; after all, chain restaurants thrive in somewhat forgotten neighborhoods near large thoroughfares. The sheer amount of dining options puts today’s district to shame, as well. There’s no way to tell exactly what kind of food each place served, but it’s no stretch to assume that American fast food and Mexican food were the dominant modes. Given Route 66’s ethos throughout the Southwest–the reification of Americana alongside the fetishization of Native culture–this makes a good deal of sense. Also, I’m immediately crestfallen I never got to visit El Sombrero:
I digress. Another interesting pattern: all the liquor stores/cocktail lounges are concentrated between Morningside and Washington.
-Mike’s liquor store at 4003
-Ned’s Package Liquor at 4200 Central
-Heights Cocktail Lounge at 4217 Central
-Paramount Cocktail Lounge at 3911 Central
Morningside, in particular, piqued my interest–after all, that’s the eastern extremity of any restaurants I’ve ever frequented in the Highlands. Today, dining opportunities drop off precipitously as you continue eastward from there. Yet in 1949, restaurants were spread relatively equally along Central (in the Highlands, that is).
One more interesting pattern: two grocery stores within two blocks, both on Central.
-a grocery store at 3808 Central (between Solano and Aliso)
-Campbell’s Food Store Grocery at 4000 Central
At 1949, was the western part of the Highlands populated enough to support two stores? If I had to guess, this might change by the mid-1950s, when Highlands High, a bank building, and some doctor/dentist offices announced settlement in the eastern part of the Highlands.
To return to my original question, the 1949 AAA guidebook wasn’t lying. The motor courts/motor lodges/motor inns that it recommended were, indeed, close to dining destinations. But what about the hotels not recommended by the guidebook? Were they blighted at such an early date? Simply omitted? Whatever the answer, it remains obvious that the Highlands had a plethora of dining and lodging options in 1949–quite a departure from the district today.