Category Archives: Broadway of America

A Modern Motel Ghost Town

Report From a Motel ‘Ghost Town’
May 6, 2010
By Leslie Linthicum
Journal Staff Writer

Hawkins' Court, Lordsburg, New Mexico

LORDSBURG — Spring weeds have shot up through cracks in the pavement and a swimming pool sits filled in with concrete, a surrealist’s vision of summer fun.

The wind persuades some hanging metal to break into a tuneless song while faded paint advertises a menu lost to the passage of time, as well as the grammarian’s pen: “Truckers Special $5 Super Breakfast Anytime.”

Life along Motel Drive in Lordsburg can be pretty lifeless.

Oh, there are things happening along the three or four miles of the drive, which stretches from the easternmost offramp of Interstate 10 to its westernmost on-ramp.

Chile is being ladled out to a lunchtime crowd at Ramona’s Cafe. Downtown,they’re just putting this week’s issue of the Hidalgo County Herald to bed. And the TVs are on in a few of the rooms of the handful of motels still open for business.

Motel Drive has not been entirely forgotten, but it sure can feel that way.

In the 1930s, when cross-country car travel was young, Lordsburg — jammed into the bottom-left corner of our map — was sitting pretty on U.S. 80. The “Broadway of America” linked the East Coast and San Diego and was more traveled than Route 66.

By 1964, Lordsburg had 31 service stations, 21 motels and 20 cafes, mostly clustered along U.S. 80, and it was the biggest travel stop between Texas and Arizona.

What happened?

Two things: An interstate highway replaced Highway 80, spelling a familiar doom.

And, maybe because it’s harder to find rhymes for U.S. 80 than it is for Route 66, nobody wrote a famous song about the road that passed through Lordsburg, depriving its ghostly remnants of nostalgic cachet.

This is not ancient history. The interstate was completed in the 1970s, so thedecay of Motel Drive is only about 30 years old.

Still, it qualified recently for the Society for Commercial Archeology’s list ofthe 10 most endangered roadside places in the U.S.

John Murphey, a board member with the Society for Commercial Archeology and architectural historian with the National Park Service in Santa Fe, nominated the drive for the designation after taking a lonesome trip down the road.

“I was struck — for lack of better words — by this modern ghost town of motels,”Murphey tells me. “And I’ve watched them dissipate over the last 10 years.”

That dissipation has included some examples of important architectural styles, especially “cabin courts,” falling down or being torn down.

A few motels are open for business, catering mostly to long-term rentals, and a few still stand vacant. But most live on only in photos.

Lordsburg has been tied to transportation since its beginning. It was founded in 1880 on the route of the Southern Pacific Railroad and named for a train engineer, Delbert Lord.

When U.S. 80 was being replaced by Interstate 10, Lordsburg did not just roll over. Its townspeople knew that traffic flying by at high speeds did not mean good things for the town. One property owner built herself a shack on one of the proposed ramps, moved in and held up the project for three months. Her sit-in ended when she was arrested and thrown in jail.

The town won some concessions: The highway was elevated slightly so travelers could look down over Lordsburg, see its amenities and be encouraged to stop there. And three exits — one at each edge of town and one in the center — were
supposed to draw people through town.

They didn’t. They stopped them at the edges, where chain motels and truck stops now sit. People who study transportation patterns call these “interstate villages” — places where travelers jump out of their cars for a bathroom break,a fuel-up and some fast food.

Debbie Greene bought the old Vendome Hotel building in downtown Lordsburg on Motel Drive and is running her bookkeeping business out of it. She would like to renovate and open to interstate travelers, but she suspects that would be futile unless something changes in tourist patterns.

“You get off (I-10) and go to the bathroom and get your stuff and go. And you don’t see Lordsburg,” she says.

What you miss when you stay in that interstate bubble, according to Murphey, is a good collection of vernacular architecture of the 1920s and ’30s and 1950s and ’60s. The one remaining little cabin court with its Mission Revival parapet is a gem, and the big “spreaders” with their pools and neon come-ons conjure up images of family trips taken at a more leisurely pace.

“It’s a fairly good representation of the full spectrum of roadside accommodation in New Mexico.” Murphey says. “If these were along Route 66, they would have been nominated to the National (Historic) Register years ago. But that hasn’t happened here.”

When you roll along Motel Drive, it’s not that hard to envision the properties rehabbed to their historical glory and tourists making a destination of the old road in their classic cars. Route 66 through Tucumcari easily comes to mind.

Will it happen here? Is it too late?

The Society for Commercial Archeology distinction comes with nothing but attention. It’s going to take local action to make anything happen.

Edmund Saucedo, a Lordsburg native who returned home after a 35-year hiatus in San Francisco and was saddened to see the downfall of downtown and the rest of Motel Drive, has tried to ignite interest in preservation and revitalization. He
has, frankly, been frustrated by the response.

In City Hall, there’s a new mayor — Frank Rodriguez — who says he loves nostalgia, but knows there is little money available for rehabbing an entire street.

He hopes some moneybag is out there with an eye for neon and cabin courts, someone who can see all those potential customers zipping by on I-10.

“If somebody came in with the right ideas and some financial backing, that would be great. That would be great for our city,” Rodriguez says.

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UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Reach Leslie at 823-3914 or llinthicum@abqjournal.com.

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Filed under Broadway of America, Road Trip, Route 66, Uncategorized, US Highay 80

Ten Most Endangered Roadside Places

Organization with odd name announces “ten most endangered” roadside places…


National Organization Announces Ten Most Endangered Roadside Places

“From a huge concrete cowboy statue in Canyon, Texas; to California’s once common roadside orange stands; to a three-mile strip of forlorn motels in Lordsburg, New Mexico; to a Depression-era pullout in Garrison, Minnesota, many of America’s iconic roadside places are threatened.

The Society for Commercial Archeology announces its first Falling by the Wayside, a list of the ten most endangered roadside places in the United States. The list, ranging from a single building to a 65-acre park, includes the following threatened places:

1. Buckhorn Baths, Main Street, Mesa, Arizona
2. California’s Roadside Orange Stands, US Highways 66 and 99, California
3. Clark County Rest Area, Interstate 64, Clark County, Kentucky
4. Pig Stand Coffee Shop No. 41, Calder Avenue, Beaumont, Texas
5. Motel Drive (former US Highway 80), Lordsburg, New Mexico
6. Dinosaur World, Arkansas State Highway 187, Beaver, Arkansas
7. Garrison Concourse, US Highway 169, Garrison, Minnesota
8. Vale Rio Diner, Pennsylvania State Highway 23, Phoenixville, Pennsylvania
9. “Tex Randall,” US Highway 60, Canyon, Texas
10. Teapot Dome Gas Station, Yakima Valley Highway, Zillah, Washington

These places are all marked by threats which can include natural weathering, economic hardship, neglect, abandonment, inappropriate zoning, lack of maintenance and demolition. The list showcases the diversity of roadside places and highlights the issues and challenges facing the preservation of important roadside places.

The Society for Commercial Archeology (SCA) established the Falling by the Wayside program to raise awareness of the importance of roadside places throughout the United States.

“Our hope is the list will bring attention to roadside commercial architecture—especially these threatened places,” says Nancy Sturm, co-president of the organization. Along with the attention, SCA will help property owners connect with local, state and federal preservation programs.

Established in 1977, the SCA is the oldest national organization devoted to the buildings, artifacts, structures, signs, and symbols of the 20th-century commercial landscape. The SCA offers publications, conferences, and tours to help preserve, document, and celebrate the structures and architecture of the 20th century: diners, highways, gas stations, drive-in theaters, bus stations, tourist courts, neon signs, and more.

“We’ve encouraged research and appreciation of highway architecture over the years. Now it’s the time to move toward advocacy, as more roadside places are threatened,” says Sturm.

1. Buckhorn Baths, Main Street, Mesa, Arizona
Buckhorn Baths, a ten-acre oasis of palms, gardens and Spanish bungalows, sits along Mesa’s busy Main Street, a reminder of the town’s former life as a desert resort community. Closed for over a decade, future restoration and reuse of the property is growing less likely as the surrounding area redevelops for commercial use.

History: The business opened as a service station in 1936 on US Highway 60, the Apache Trail. While drilling a well on the property, the owners hit a mineral spring. In 1939 they constructed Roman-style bathhouses and guesthouses near the well, turning the property into a hot springs resort. In the 1940s the baths played a role in bringing the New York Giants spring training camp to Mesa, leading to the eventual establishment of Mesa as a center for baseball spring training. The resort remained open and operated by its original owner until 1999. The buildings are remarkably intact, which helped their listing on the National Register of Historic Places in 2005.

Threat: The property has been for sale since 1999. It is still owned by the original owner, Alice Sliger, who is in advance of 100 years old. It is feared that if a suitable buyer does not come forward, the property could be sold for redevelopment. Buckhorn Baths is located in a transitional area that is currently undergoing redevelopment—including a new Walgreens across the street. In 2007, the Arizona Preservation Foundation included the property on the Arizona’s Most Endangered Historic Places list.

2. California’s Roadside Orange Stands, US Highways 66 and 99, California
Before it was the Inland Empire, it was the Orange Empire. Long stretches of California US Highway 66 once passed through picture postcard landscapes of citrus orchards. Dotted along the highway were fruit stands shaped like oversized oranges. Here tourists could pick up a bag of fruit and delight to a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice. With the widening of highways and spread of suburban growth after WW II, the orchards, along with their stands, soon disappeared. Now only a few are left scattered across California.

History: Orange blossoms, back-dropped by snow covered mountains, form an enduring image of Southern California. Tourists driving Route 66 between San Bernardino and Monrovia inhaled the sweet smell of the citrus orchards lining the highway. Similar scenes were seen on US Highway 99, tracing through the agricultural middle section of the state. In the 1920s, with the rise of auto tourism, enterprising citrus ranchers opened roadside fruit stands. Stands designed to look like huge oranges were an innovation that drew attention from drivers. From a window in the “orange,” attendants sold bags of fruit, snacks, and, of course, fresh juice.

Threat: Changes in land use patterns and the widening of highways resulted in destruction or relocating dozens of these stands. Now only a handful still exist in California: in Dixon, San Jose, Williams, Chowchilla, Shasta Lake and Fontana—most of them moved and none selling fresh-squeezed orange juice. While Fontana’s Orange Stand was saved, it now sits restored but unused in the parking lot of Bono’s Italian Restaurant and Deli. The Mammoth Orange, owned by the City of Chowchilla, awaits a new owner, while the orange in Williams continues to deteriorate behind a chain-link fence.

3. Clark County Rest Area, Interstate 64, Clark County Kentucky
Like a mushroom, the I-64 Clark County, Kentucky rest stop rises from a small knoll, surrounded by greenery. Designed in the early 1960s, it is wholly modern, with a folded plate roof and strong concrete and glass composition. Inside the circular space, a tile mosaic map of Kentucky stretches along a curving wall. Despite its architectural significance, the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet may demolish this space-age rest stop.

History: Designed in 1962 by the notable Louisville modern architecture firm Sweet & Judd, the rest area was built two years later, one of four of the same design on the Kentucky Interstate System. Only two exist today. In 2005 the Clark County Rest Area was included on the Federal Highway Administration’s list of exceptionally significant features of the national Interstate Highway System.

Threat: In 1996 a long-range plan issued by the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet for rest area development called for the removal of the building. The building and its sister rest area in a neighboring county were inspected in 2009 by a consultant for structural integrity and were determined to be badly deteriorated. The consultant estimated $300,000 in rehabilitation costs for both structures. In response, the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet Maintenance Division recommended the demolition of both rest stops. Despite this recommendation, the Transportation Cabinet directed the maintenance division to maintain the buildings for up to five years. An additional threat is posed by a proposed new interchange that would require demolishing the Clark County rest area; the project is expected to be considered within the next year.

4. Pig Stand Coffee Shop No. 41, Calder Avenue, Beaumont, Texas
A horseshoe shaped building, tinted purple and green, with an adjacent wavy carhop canopy, the Pig Stand Coffee Shop in Beaumont, Texas is a classic post-war drive-in. But for all of its neon and flying saucer design, the owner of the closed restaurant cannot find a new tenant, and has threatened demolition.

History: Built in 1941, No. 41 is the most distinctive and architecturally significant of the Pig Stand chain, which started in Dallas in 1921. For over 60 years, the Beaumont restaurant served pig sandwiches—the chain’s signature—and delivered shakes and fries to cars parked under the canopy. It closed in 2006. The significant architectural design of No. 41 includes its circular shape and twin roof pylons, spelling “PIG STAND” in neon, and its distinctive carhop canopy. The property has been determined eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

Threat: The owner recently threatened demolition and proposed replacing it with a gas station and convenience store. Negotiations, however, with a potential buyer, continue.

5. Motel Drive, former US 80, Lordsburg, New Mexico
Motel Drive—a strangely desolate strip of highway devoid of operating motels—defines, for better or worse, Lordsburg, New Mexico. At one end an abandoned café announces “Trucker’s Breakfast, Only $3.50,” at the other is a boarded up nightclub, and in between three miles of eviscerated motels, some missing roofs and others with their pools full of garbage. Things were different before the interstate.

History: Lordsburg, a city in southwest New Mexico, benefited for years from being located, like a curb along a street, on the edge of US Highways 70 and 80—proudly announcing in its newspaper in the 1930s that it was on the Broadway of America highway. In 1964, Lordsburg boasted 21 motels, 20 cafes and 31 service stations—making it the biggest gas-food-and-lodging stop between Arizona and Texas. But less than ten years later, the completion of Interstate 10 took it all away. The State Highway Department tried to appease Lordsburg merchants, promising to build the interstate at a slightly higher elevation so that travelers could look down and “see” the businesses. But this failed, and the interstate dealt a crippling blow to Lordsburg, a trauma from which it has never recovered.

Threat: Motel Drive continues to decline, with only one motel offering overnight accommodations. While the three-mile strip offers a catalogue of mid-century roadside commercial architecture, the interstate directs travelers and their business to another part of town.

6. Dinosaur World, Arkansas State Highway 187, Beaver, Arkansas
The sign at the entry of Dinosaur World in northwest Arkansas announces the park is “CLOSED Until Further Notice.” And beyond, in a heavily wooded, 65-acre designed landscape, nearly 100 prehistoric replicas remain unvisited. Closed for five years, the future of the “largest dinosaur park in the world” is uncertain.

History: Built in 1960 and originally known as Farwell’s Dinosaur Park, Dinosaur World was a tourist attraction touted as the largest dinosaur park in the world. The life-size concrete dinosaurs were observed along a two-mile road. The prehistoric replicas were created by Emmit Sullivan, a sculptor who had fashioned similar creatures for Dinosaur Park in Rapid City, South Dakota, Wall Drug, Wall, South Dakota, and the famous Christ of the Ozarks statue, in nearby Eureka Springs. The park served as an opening scene for the horror movie “It’s Alive.” Closed in 2005, presumably much of the park is still intact, but deteriorating.

Threat: Dinosaur World remains closed; plans for its future are unknown.

7. Garrison Concourse, US Highway 169, Garrison, Minnesota
Sitting along a curve of US Highway 169, in the tiny town of Garrison, Minnesota is a pullout to a stone-edged rest area built by the CCC. Landscaped with mature trees and with a sweeping view across Mille Lacs Lake, and a more recent addition of a huge walleye sculpture, it is the town’s only tourist attraction. Years of deferred maintenance have put the structure in a precarious position; urgent advocacy is needed to stabilize and restore the historic wayside.

History: The concourse was built between 1936 and 1939 by Civilian Conservation Corps Camp SP-15, one of four camps in Minnesota dedicated to roadside development projects. It was the cornerstone of highway improvements in the region. Collectively, the work represents the most extensive roadside development project undertaken by the CCC in the state. In 1990, it was determined eligible for the National Register of Historic Places for its design and as a rare Federal Relief property, significant to the history of roadside development.

Threat: The threat facing Garrison Concourse is primarily one of lack of maintenance. Most crucial is the condition of the overlook wall, the base of which is under water and deteriorating. One concern is the structural integrity of the wall: if action is not taken to stabilize it, the entire structure could be lost. Lack of funding is a barrier to preservation and stabilization efforts. Nomination of this property to Falling by the Wayside is supported by the Minnesota Department of Transportation and the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota.

8. Vale Rio Diner, Pennsylvania State Highway 23, Phoenixville, Pennsylvania
Fabricated in 1948, the Vale Rio Diner sat at the intersection of Nutt Road and Bridge Street for 60 years, serving up food to residents and workers at the Phoenix Iron Company and local textile mills. Like many diners, it was shiny and silver, but distinguished by an unusual pattern of stainless steel circles along its exterior; what diner experts call a “burnished disc pattern.” It was, as one Internet reviewer remarked, “a classic greasy spoon with horrible service.” But progress, in the way of a new Walgreens, pushed it from its coveted location to a storage lot a mile away, where its sits with an unknown future.

History: Paramount Diners of Oakland, New Jersey, fabricated the diner in 1948, which opened in Phoenixville, a town at the confluence of French Creek and Schuylkill River, on Thanksgiving of that year. It operated at its original location for 60 years and became a landmark for local residents. During the last weekend of its operation, a line of people formed out the door and onto the sidewalk.

Threat: The diner closed in 2008 when the lot on which it stood was sold. It was moved to a presumably temporary location for storage and has remained unused. Today it sits on cinder blocks, covered with a black tarp, its future uncertain.

9. “Tex Randall,” US Highway 60, Canyon, Texas
Looking over US Highway 60, the big cowboy leans on his knee, staring at traffic with a bemused smile. Constructed in 1959, Tex Randall—47′ feet high and seven tons heavy—is a landmark in the Texas Panhandle. But exposure, lack of maintenance and an unknown future is threatening the roadside giant.

History: Tex Randall was constructed by industrial arts teacher Harry Wheeler in 1959 out of concrete, steel and wire mesh. Originally known as “The Biggest Texan,” the cowboy advertised Wheeler’s Western Store, holding a cigarette and wearing real denim jeans and a red checkered shirt. Tex was restored in 1989 after a semi crashed into his left boot. Local businesses rallied around the cause, starting the “Save the Cowboy” campaign. Though deteriorated, Tex Randall remains a visual landmark in the Texas Panhandle.

Threat: Wheeler’s Western Store, which Tex once towered over, has been long closed and the building sits vacant. Discussions of redevelopment for the property have involved removing the statue. In 2008 a restaurant owner in Canyon bought the statue reportedly with plans to move it to his business, but was unable to complete the task when moving and reinstallation costs were estimated at $50,000. Current plans for the cowboy are unknown.

10. Teapot Dome Gas Station, Yakima Valley Highway, Zillah, Washington
Constructed in 1922 to look like an actual teapot—with handle, spout and top—this gas station paid tribute to the infamous Teapot Dome Scandal. Today the iconic roadside structure sits vacant on the outskirts of Zillah, 15 miles southeast of Yakima.

History: Constructed by Jack Ainsworth, the form of the building referenced the infamous controversy which clouded Warren G. Harding’s presidency. Historically located along a US Highway 410 between Zillah and Granger, the construction of Interstate 82 forced the removal of the building from its original location in 1978. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is widely recognized as a significant roadside icon and one of the few tangible reminders of the 80-year-old scandal.

Threat: The building has stood vacant for several years. The Washington Trust for Historic Preservation placed it on its 2007 Most Endangered Historic Properties list. The Friends of the Teapot Association formed with the intention of moving the structure to nearby Zillah for use as a visitor/tourism center. But the move and its restoration were priced at $250,000. The Friends group continues to raise money, but the rare roadside attraction sits unused.

Contact: sca.endangered@gmail.com”

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Filed under Broadway of America, California, history, Los Angeles History, preservation, Road Trip, Uncategorized, US Highay 80, US Highway 70, US Highway 99

Rare Broadway of America Mural Found

Rare BOA mural discovered.

The Broadway of America was an important highway. Formed in the fall of 1927, it was the “last” named highway, and learned from the mistakes of its predecessors. As an organization, it continued (regionally) until the late 1970s.

The BOA started in New York City and ended in San Diego. It didn’t follow US 70 all the way. Making the cross-country trip, the BOA stitched together eleven different US highways that had already been improved; this is how it succeeded where other named highways failed.

Tennessee is the only place along the BOA that still retains the name. And this find contributes to our understanding of the highway.

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Filed under Broadway of America, highways, preservation, Road Trip, Travel, US Highway 70

Giants On the Trail

Giants on the Trail

Fifty years ago the Old Spanish Trail highway was in the middle of getting its fifth makeover.

Struggling to compete with Interstate 10, a new organization, the Old Spanish Trail Inc. formed in Tucson to link–once again–Florida to San Diego.

One of its members, Joe Maierhauser, promoter of Colossal Cavern outside of Tucson, saw in the new effort a way to get tourists to his business.

With his experience in billboard advertising, Maierhauser came up with an idea to market the trail: a giant, eye-catching conquistador.

The giants were not to be the proud, blood-thirsty conquerors of the Black Legend variety, but benign helpers, guiding motorists to the next Old Spanish Trail attraction.

Standing nearly nine feet tall, the helmeted and goateed figure held a banner announcing: “Next on the OLD SPANISH TRAIL.”

The organization planned to fabricate 250 of them; how many were actually made is a mystery.

One rare sign is tucked away at the archives of La Posta Quemada Ranch at Colossal Cave Mountain Park.

J. J. Lamb, the park’s education director found it several years ago in a dump pile at the park. She didn’t know what it was, but had the good sense to bring it to the archives.

Aside from the Colossal Cave conquistador, the only other confirmed sign stood in Van Horn, Texas.

Last spring, an odds and ends seller outside of Oklahoma City put one half of a conquistador (they are double-sided) up for auction on eBay. He wanted an exorbitant five-figure price.

No one bit, and the seller took it down, later shipping it to a sign auction in Kansas.

And with it, perhaps vanished the only other known conquistador… unless his other half turns up some day.

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Filed under Black Legend, Broadway of America, Colossal Cave, Florida, highways, history, Interstate 10, Old Spanish Trail, Road Trip, Uncategorized, US Highay 80, US Highway 90

Desolation Boulevard, Lordsburg, New Mexico

LORDSBURG, NEW MEXICO

Motel Drive—a strangely desolate strip of highway devoid of operating motels—defines, for better or worse, Lordsburg, New Mexico.

“This used to be where we went for burgers and shakes, and now it’s nothing, gone,” says Lordsburg resident Edmund Saucedo pointing to a crumpled drive-in surrounded by dead cars.

Down the avenue an abandoned café announces “Trucker’s Breakfast, Only $3.50,” and beyond, starts a parade of eviscerated motels, some missing roofs, others with their pools full of garbage.

Things were different before the interstate arrived.

In 1964, Lordsburg boasted 21 motels, 20 cafes and 31 service stations—making it the biggest gas-food-and-lodging stop between Arizona and Texas. But less than ten years later, big, bad I-10 took it all away.

Rita Hill, owner of nearby Shakespeare ghost town, saw the handwriting on the wall, and in 1973, moved a shack onto the path of one of the interstate’s planned interchange exits. There she sat defiantly for several months, protesting the Highway Department’s condemnation of her ranch land, and in effect, Eisenhower’s juggernaut. The standoff came to end in November 1973, as the Hidalgo County Sheriff led the 71-year-old widow away in handcuffs.

The Highway Department tried to appease Lordsburg merchants, promising to build the interstate at a slightly higher elevation so that travelers could look down and “see” their businesses.

But this failed and the interstate dealt a crippling blow to Lordsburg, a trauma its never recovered from.

Saucedo, who left for San Francisco as Rita was being whisked away, returned to Lordsburg 30 years later, stunned by its desolation.

While still shocked, he and a few other forward-thinking locals are turning their attention to a five-block section of commercial buildings, forming the historic core of Motel Avenue.

These buildings—most constructed before 1950 and made solidly of brick—hold promise as a potential historic district, maybe to become an “old west” tourist spot.

But for now, tumbleweeds are its most frequent visitors.

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Filed under Broadway of America, history, New Mexico, Old Spanish Trail, Southwest New Mexico, Uncategorized, US Highay 80

Historic Overpass Threatened

It’s a long, steep climb up and over the Union Pacific Railroad at Cambray, Luna County, New Mexico. Providing the thrill is a timber, steel and concrete viaduct — the Cambray Overpass. But the thrill may end, as the New Mexico Department of Transportation (NMDOT) contemplates replacing the 80-year-old bridge.

Crossing the Railroads

Constructed in 1929-30, the overpass was built as part of a program to eliminate dangerous railroad crossings in New Mexico — to separate highway traffic from fast-moving freight trains.

The unhealthy mix of automobiles and trains first came to the public’s attention in 1921, when a study revealed 7,000 fatalities had occurred that year at rail crossings across the United States.

In 1924, the first National Conference on Street and Highway Safety recommended state highway departments make the elimination of hazardous grade crossings a top priority. By 1927, at least 19 states had formed agreements with railroad companies to build grade separations.

Starting in 1926, the New Mexico State Highway Department worked with the railroads crossing the state to realign tracks and construct new underpasses and overpasses to eliminate the problem.

Each year the program set a goal of eliminating bad grade crossings, removing 47 in 1929 alone, and building 25 major grade separations between 1926 and 1934. Nationally, 385 hazardous railroad crossings were eliminated in 1929.

The overpasses were often built at a skew to allow passage for freight trains. To provide the extra horizontal clearance, the piers of the Cambray Overpass were arranged at 45-degree angles.

But during its first seven decades of operation, it only crossed one track —the Southern Pacific — and now spans the double tracks of the Union Pacific.

A Sturdy Crossing

The 229-foot-long bridge rests on braced timber bents and huge concrete piers arranged at a skew. Smoke guards, coated rusty brown, protect the deck from errant sparks. Old telegraph lines of the Western Union pass under its east span. Its steep approaches are humped; their shoulders covered with native vegetation.

Started at the onset of the Great Depression, the Cambray Overpass — the fifth grade separation to be built under the program — cost a total of $47,602. Its completion contributed to a program to improve U.S. 80 across New Mexico.

Begun also in 1929, the program paved the roadbed with asphaltic oiling, eliminated sandy stretches and bypassed earlier alignments, upgrading the highway for cross-country travel.

The highway, finished in 1931, became the first hard-surfaced highway in New Mexico, six years ahead of Route 66.

For years the overpass carried the transcontinental traffic of U.S. 80 as well as the Old Spanish Trail, Borderland and Broadway of America highways, giving passengers a high view of the surrounding desert scenery below.

But the construction of Interstate 10 to the north changed everything, diverting traffic and drying up tiny Cambray to its current state of one inhabited house.

Bypassed for over 40 years, the overpass serves a local and sparse population of ranches in western Dona Ana and eastern Luna counties.

One can drive this stretch and never see another living soul. Yet, according to NMDOT statistics, over 800 vehicles cross the bridge daily.

Bridge Threatened

In 2002 the NMDOT determined the overpass eligible for listing the National Register of Historic Places at the state level of significance. They noted the structure was the oldest railroad overpass in the state and remained in good condition.

But its virtually unaltered design is also what threatens its future.

While a 2007 bridge inspection report found the overpass in fair condition, requiring no immediate action, NMDOT considers it structurally deficient — it is narrow and steep and does not meet current standards of road geometry.

Adding to this, the Union Pacific Railroad wants additional vertical and horizontal clearance, which could require demolishing or greatly altering the overpass.

If replaced, so will go one of the last 1920s highway bridges in New Mexico and the thrill of driving up-and-over the railroad.

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Filed under Bridges, Broadway of America, highways, history, New Mexico, Old Spanish Trail, preservation, Southwest New Mexico, Uncategorized, US Highay 80

Highway Overpass Added to Most Endangered List

BERNALILLO, NEW MEXICO

The New Mexico Heritage Preservation Alliance announced the listing of the Cambray Overpass to its 2009 “Most Endangered Places in New Mexico” designation. The alliance advocates protecting New Mexico’s heritage, especially places it considers imminently threatened.

More than 60 places have been recognized as endangered since the program started in 1999. The bridge joined the Coronado State Monument in Bernalillo, the Luna-Otero Mansion and fence in Los Lunas and the De la O Saloon and Village of Doña Ana in Doña Ana.

Built in 1929-30, as part of a project to improve U.S. Highway 80 (the Old Spanish Trail and Broadway of America highways) across New Mexico, the overpass carried automobiles over the Southern Pacific (now Union Pacific) railroad for decades, until bypassed by Interstate 10.

Despite its current light use, the New Mexico Department of Transportation (NMDOT) considers the bridge outdated and plans to replace it. Adding to the pressure, the Union Pacific seeks additional clearance for its trains, threatening the bridge’s future.

Radian Engineering of Santa Fe, New Mexico is conducting a study of the overpass for NMDOT. The study will result in a report proposing alternatives for the structure, including a potentially “no-build” option, though replacement is expected. At the same time, Radian, Parametrix, an Albuquerque-based consulting is preparing a historical study on the overpass and the village of Cambray. The study will be available to the public.

With the recent demolition of Bridge 8, an early Route 66 bridge north of Bernalillo, New Mexico, the Cambray Overpass moves to the position as one of the oldest “on-system” highway bridges in New Mexico.

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Filed under Bridges, Broadway of America, highways, history, New Mexico, Old Spanish Trail, preservation, Road Trip, Southwest New Mexico, Uncategorized, US Highay 80