Downtown building gets its name from 16th century explorer

The Alvarado Transportation Center in Downtown Albuquerque. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

To understand how the Alvarado Transportation Center got its name, one must follow a line of bread crumbs all the way back to the 16th century and the expedition of Francisco Vázquez de Coronado.

The transportation hub, located at First Street and Central Avenue, is named for the grand Alvarado Hotel, which stood there from 1902 until 1970 when it was demolished. There were calls to save the hotel, but they went unanswered. The wrecking ball came instead and reduced the historic building to rubble.

Coronado came to New Mexico in 1540 looking for the “Seven Cities of Gold” based on rumors he had heard. Among the Spanish explorers’ traveling party was captain of artillery Hernando de Alvarado. According to legend, Coronado’s men, including Alvarado, once camped in the exact spot where the hotel, and now the transportation center, were located.

It was for Hernando de Alvarado that the famous Alvarado Hotel was named.

According to a historical essay by Shirley Cushing Flint and Richard Flint, Alvarado was 22 when he came to New Mexico. He was an hidalgo and caballero of the Order of Santiago, which was one of the three great religious-military orders of Castilla.

He is said to have saved Coronado’s life when he was ambushed by a group of men hurling large cobbles from a rooftop as Coronado ascended a ladder. When Coronado fell unconscious, Alvarado threw himself on top of his captain general and eventually dragged Coronado away to safety.

Hundreds of years later, the railway would come to Albuquerque and with it a train depot and the rise of passenger services along its lines, including hotels. None were more glamorous than the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway Harvey Houses, named for railroad hospitality behemoth Fred Harvey, who had not only hotels but restaurants, dining cars, souvenir shops and his famous Harvey Girls who worked in them.

View of the Alvarado Hotel across the railroad tracks between 1930 and 1939. (Courtesy of the Center for Southwest Research Libraries)

Construction on the Alvarado Hotel began in 1901 and was finally completed in the late spring of 1902.

Its opening was a big to-do in Albuquerque. The Albuquerque Journal-Democrat dedicated an entire page to the opening in its May 11, 1902, edition. According to the article, the hotel had 88 guest rooms, 20 bathrooms, a lunch counter, a reading room, a barber shop, parlors, a club room, a 150-person dining room, lush courtyards and a curio shop that sold Southwestern goods and provided a glimpse of local history.

“The long cherished hopes of the citizens of Albuquerque have, at last, been realized, and the city possesses a splendid hotel that will be remarked with large admiration by every visitor who comes this way.”

A post card with a picture of the dining room inside the Alvarado Hotel between 1908 and 1909. (Courtesy of the New York Public Library)

The hotel was updated two years later to add more rooms and bathrooms.

Time and the emergence of automobiles, which eclipsed trains as the primary mode of travel, led to the decline of Harvey Hotels. The aging and dwindling use of the Alvarado was obvious and rumors began to swirl in the late 1960s that the railroad company was going to close and demolish it.

That day came in the fall of 1969 when the Santa Fe Railway announced it would close and demolish the once popular structure in January of 1970.

The Fred Harvey lunchroom inside the Alvarado Hotel in 1935. (Courtesy of the Albuquerque Museum)

The city formed a committee to discuss ways the historic property could be salvaged, but if ever there was a “Negative Nancy” dashing the hopes of those trying to save the building, it was Santa Fe Railway Vice President George W. Cox. Newspaper reports at the time said that during a meeting with the committee, Cox called the Alvarado a “firetrap” and said the railway was reluctant to postpone razing the property.

“Every day’s delay costs more in wages,” he said. “I feel you’re just wasting a lot of people’s time if you feel you’re going to rehabilitate that old building.”

But the city’s architect disagreed and said the building was well-constructed and well-designed and there was hope for it.

The exterior of the Alvarado Hotel. (Courtesy of the Library of Congress)

The committee chair told Cox the group was “willing to waste our time” if the railroad would tell them how much time they were willing to give them to waste.

The railway company came back a few days later, via telegram, letting the city know exactly how much time they had – 60 days. But that time was going to cost the city $5,000 a month in rent plus liability insurance and taxes. If the city needed more than 60 days, the rent would double to $10,000 a month and must be paid in advance.

Santa Fe Railway gave the city officials less than a week to reply.

The city counter-offered: How about we pay you nothing and you just donate the building to us?

The city probably needed to work on their negotiating skills.

As one might suspect, that didn’t go over well, and the company said no thanks.

A post card depicts the scene outside the Alvarado Hotel complex.

Hope remained. The Albuquerque Historical Society filed a lawsuit, supporters passed around a petition, launched a massive telephone campaign and protested in front of the building, but those efforts all proved fruitless.

Demolition crews began dismantling the hotel on Jan. 30, 1970. It was completely wiped from physical existence that summer.

The historic railroad depot that was part of the Alvarado Hotel complex was spared, but destroyed by a fire in 1993. The city replaced it with the current Alvarado train and bus terminal in 2002. The design includes features such as a tiled roof, arcade and tower, similar to the original depot.

The Alvarado Transportation Center in Downtown Albuquerque. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

The conquistadors are gone, train passengers have dwindled and the once magnificent hotel no longer stands, but the Alvarado Transportation Center is a memento to all three.

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


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