Albuquerque: City buses wail up and down Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - Albuquerque's Martin Luther King Jr. memorial, an oasis of grass, art and inspiration wrapped in concrete, asphalt and downtown traffic noise, is aptly enough a reminder that most change comes with struggle.
In 1994, then-Mayor Martin Chavez proposed pumping up the city's tribute to King by changing a section of Grand Avenue between Broadway and University boulevards Northeast to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue. The move would incorporate the brief span of King Boulevard and add 14 blocks that connect the heart of Albuquerque's business and government district to the University of New Mexico campus.
Albuquerque was divided.
The proposal drew support from members of Albuquerque's small black community, which is about 5 percent of the city population. They thought that the original, two-block boulevard was not fitting enough testimony to the memory of the late civil rights leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner.
Those opposed to the change included people who lived along or near the affected part of Grand and those who had businesses on the street.
"Our objections had nothing to do with Martin Luther King Jr., the man," said Ruth Koury, vice president of the Sycamore Neighborhood Association, an alliance of people living just south of Grand Avenue. "It goes back to 1880 something, long before statehood. It was part of the scene when Albuquerque was very small. It grew up with the city and the state.
Koury said no one who lived or worked on or near the street supported the change. But Chavez's proposal prevailed.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. is the longest street name in Albuquerque, officials at City Hall say.
City buses wail up and down it. People jog on it, walk dogs on it, ride bicycles up and down it. Homeless people panhandle on the freeway offramps emptying onto it, and ambulances whip into St. Joseph Medical Center off it.
From University Boulevard to Interstate 25, there are mostly apartments occupied by university students, young couples and senior citizens. From I-25 to Broadway, there are medical offices, the sprawling St. Joseph complex and Longfellow Elementary School.
On some buildings the old addresses remain: 1616 Grand, 1620 Grand, 1418 Grand.
That last address is above the door of DG's Deli and Market, a business located in a building that was for many years the Campus Market, a grocery serving the University Area.
Amanda Golcher, 30, started her deli business just months before the street name was changed. She altered the address on her bank checks but has not bothered to change it on the building that houses her small restaurant.
"To many people it's still Grand," Golcher said. "It's just not an issue."
Nowhere is the diverse nature of the avenue's daytime traffic more apparent that at DG's during lunchtime.
Between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., the cafe welcomes students; nurses, staff members and surgeons from St. Joe's; residents of a nearby retirement center; professionals from downtown; and car dealers from Lomas Boulevard.
Albuquerque Grand Senior Style Apartments, formerly the College Inn, a dormitory serving UNM students, now serves as an independent-living and assisted-living facility for elderly persons. It was named for its location on Grand Avenue.
It did not change its name when the street did.
"Well, Grand means good," said Richard Pangborn, Albuquerque Grand manager since February 1997. "It's lost its pun since the name of the street has changed, but Grand is still appropriate for us because we feel we have a good facility."
Mary Catherine Kavanaugh, 88, an Albuquerque resident since 1920 and a resident of the Albuquerque Grand for two years, remembers Grand Avenue when most of the residences in the area were private homes rather than the apartments that line a good chunk of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue now.
Today, only one of those Grand Avenue private homes Kavanaugh remembers from her youth remains. It's the only single-family residence on the mile-long stretch of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue. Christina Alison and her husband, Eduardo Rodriguez, live in the two-bedroom adobe and tile house just west of University Boulevard.
Alison's grandparents, Dr. and Mrs. John Alison Jr., bought the house in 1946. Alison moved into the house with her grandmother eight years ago.
Alison fought against the new street name on behalf of her grandmother, who dreaded seeing such a change after living nearly 50 years on Grand Avenue.
"It was not a racist thing," Alison said. "To have your street pulled out from under you, to have someone come in and say we are changing the name of your street is kind of disconcerting." Alison's grandmother died two years ago, after her street's name was changed, after her old neighbors' houses were scheduled for demolition.
"She told me it was her time to go because her world was changing too much," Alison said.
N.D. Smith, a Baptist minister who "raised hell" about the abbreviated homage of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, is happy with the tribute of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue.
"I would have preferred a street that runs through where you find a lot of blacks in the South Valley area," Smith said. "But I thought (the Grand Avenue change) was a good move by Marty (Chavez). It leads up to a major university. It's a good neighborhood. It's got much more visibility."