What This Town Wouldn’t Give For a Few Robber Barons

I’m firmly convinced that the biggest difference between major cities and second/third-tier towns that never quite made it was/has been/is the existence, or lack thereof, of underregulated avarice, leading a few among us to become billionaires.

While thousands, if not millions of workers, were trod (and sometimes literally shot) upon in the processing of creating what was known back in Industrialism days as “Robber Barons,” some of these questionably moral rich dudes became/have become/are vital civic leaders in terms of spending a portion of their, to one degree or another, ill-gotten gains on things like colleges, art museums, opera houses, and that more modern anti-intellectual twist: sports stadiums.

More recent robber barons in sports have further twisted their Snidely Whiplash mustaches by having taxpayers pay for their sports stadiums, but that’s the subject, perhaps, for a future post.

As a socialist, I’ve always been deeply torn by this historical fact. Having thousands, if not millions of workers trod, sometimes literally, and shot upon by Pinkertons and such, while Vanderbilt pays way too little to have a 250-room mansion built for him, is reprehensible. Deeply so.

That said, I rather like that places like Stanford University (railroad tycoon), Carnegie-Mellon (steel magnate) and the art museum of my youth, the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth (foodstuffs and grocery stores) exist, and know that worker trodding and, sometimes, shooting were directly or indirectly involved in generating the capital that built them.

It’s a quandary.

As for major city status, the astute among you might point out that Fort Worth, Texas is not a major city, but I would argue that its having the Kimbell Art Museum makes it so. It defines the difference between, for instance, two cities with roughly the same population: Fort Worth and Albuquerque.

Of course Fort Worth’s major problem is that it’s right next to Dallas, creating a civic neuroses of the most Freudian/Jungian order. Dallas is toxic, period, but, again, that’s a subject for another post. Instead, let me finally get to the “topic sentence” of this blogpost:

Albuquerque needs its own robber baron, or two, to restore its Rail Yards.

Most photos of the Rail Yards are taken from the North or West, but the most picturesque side is actually from the East, I feel. Here taken, poorly, from Commercial Rd. S.E.

KRQE’s Rebecca Atkins has a story on the slow progress of such a restoration made possible, eventually (maybe), by the City buying the site a few years back and hiring the unfortunately named “Samitaur Constructs” (a company name so bad I had to look it up to confirm its existence).

Unlike back in the day, when Cornelius Vanderbilt could pay pittance salaries to have mansions built, and concepts like “asbestos abatement” were nonexistent, today we have an admittedly poor, financially, city paying an unfortunately named outfit to get the job done.

And it shows.

Who knows if the Rail Yards will ever be restored to anything beyond the strikingly beautiful heap it currently is. Which gets me to my final point in this poorly constructed essay: I kinda like the way it looks now.

No, I REALLY like the way it looks now. Yeah, it’s a death trap ruin, filled with jagged (but very pretty) glass, and Superfund-sized amounts of countless chemicals, but there’s such a beauty in its capturing of industrial decay. The Rail Yards is, in fact, the BEST kind of art museum, one that exhibits, with irreplaceable accuracy, all that was right and ultimately wrong about unfettered capitalism.

So, as a socialist, and after some thinking: I’m glad Albuquerque never really had any robber barons (AT&SF officials were out-of-towners and relatively low on the robber baron standard), and that the City bought the Rail Yards site, especially because its very unlikely the site will ever lose its current museum status beauty of ruin, particularly if it hires unfortunately named firms like Samitaur Constructs to restore it.

You see, everything works out in the end. Government cures all. In its weird way, socialism really is the way to go, Rail Yards “restoration” included.

One thought on “What This Town Wouldn’t Give For a Few Robber Barons

  1. I, too, love seeing the rail yards as they are – though am not opposed to a thoughtful, respectful restoration.

    The thorn that remains buried in my heart is the fact the old Santa Fe train depot and Alvarado Hotel were demolished all those years ago (~1970), by the rail road company itself. I have a fond memory of breakfast in the hotel coffee shop before my father boarded the train to travel to Chicago on business.


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