What Happened to Burque’s West San Jose

Today’s users of the Bosque Path south of Dolores Huerta/Cesar Chavez (Bridge) Boulevard walk/roll past the National Hispanic Cultural Center, Bueno Foods plant, and a set of baseball diamonds. Burque Old-Timers, particularly those who grew up in Barelas, remember a slightly different set of sights and smells in this stretch.

Those of us who aren’t old-timers, at least in number of years lived here, might wonder why we hear mention of East San Jose (Elementary, Cemetery, etc.) but never West San Jose. There’s a reason for that. West San Jose doesn’t exist anymore, at least not as a residential area (one famous residence aside).

Back when a young Rodolfo Anaya moved to Barelas in 1951, the tapering sliver of land between the railroad tracks and Rio Grande looked like this (1954 map):

west san jose map 1954

Yeah, that’s a “sewage disposal” plant south of a set of streets between U.S. 85 and the Barelas Bridge (now Huerta/Chavez/Bridge Blvd.).  Anaya mentions the sights and smells of Barelas in his autobiographical Heart of Aztlán:

The air was heavy with the damp smell of just-watered gardens, dirty with the bad smell of sewage that drifted up from the sewage plant in south Barelas, and acrid with the salty sweat-smell of the grimy workers from the railroad yard.

A bit more on ABQ’s decision to build a sewage treatment plant next to a neighborhood, and that this neighborhood was Barelas can be found/linked in this 2018 BB piece. A reading of Anaya’s novel adds much personal perspective on that decision and other acts of governmental/bureaucratic oppression.

Today, let’s tackle only a part of Barelas and briefly consider what became of “West San Jose School”  and West San Jose, looking first at an aerial shot from 1961 and then from 2016:

west san jose 1961

In 1961, West San Jose School sits just south of U.S. 85, serving the many tightly-packed single-family homes between it and the treatment plant. Looking at the 1954 map and 1961 photo, keep in mind that Trumbull Avenue actually crossed the train tracks back in those days. West San Jose School was built in 1936, in large part because of the dangers in crossing those tracks.

kids at west san jose school
West San Jose School students ca. 1955 (Photo from collection at Albuquerque Museum) 

west san jose 2016

Today, there is no West San Jose neighborhood. The school closed in 1975 and eventually was remodeled to become part of the National Hispanic Cultural Center. Those tightly-packed residences became the Center, Bueno Foods, and other industrial/business sites such as the offices of the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District.

In terms of roadways, U.S. Route 85, the “CanAm Highway,” became a way to get to Downtown and the South Valley instead of El Paso and North Dakota, Trumbull Avenue was closed at the railroad tracks and those tightly-packed residential streets largely went away.

West San Jose no more.

While the sights along the Bosque Path at today’s Hispanic Cultural Center and baseball fields, and the incredible green chile roasting smells from the Bueno Foods plant are nice to ride or stroll along, it’s interesting to consider the environmental and social justice issues largely buried by history along with the West San Jose neighborhood.

Evidence of this burial might be illustrated by an informal survey of Burqueans, even those who have lived here for years: Where’s West San Jose?

We mentioned a famous residence remaining on what was West San Jose. Here’s a long excerpt from a 2000 Albuquerque Journal piece by Anthony DellaFlora about that place and its owner, Adela Martinez, who refused to sell to make room for the National Hispanic Cultural Center:

Martinez, who died earlier this year at age 80, made history when she stood up to supporters of the center, refusing to sell the land she had lived on since age 4.

Martinez maintained that she wasn’t opposed to the preservation of the Hispanic culture; she just didn’t want it sitting on top of her.

“I’m Hispanic. I have my culture. It was taught to me by my forefathers, by my parents. I’ve tried to teach my family the same way, to respect each other. To know where they came from,” she told the Journal in an interview last year.

“We never needed a shrine to tell us who we were,” she said. “We just knew.”

In a time when people move frequently and few have longtime ties to a particular place, some may not have understood Martinez’s allegiance to her family’s homestead, which for the last several years sat in isolation near the southwest corner of Fourth and Bridge SW. It was the only survivor of an urban renewal project that displaced the owners of 50 other nearby homes in the 1970s.

But Martinez lived through several cycles of birth and death on the land.
Her parents died there. Her husband, Ramon, died in 1985. A son died at 12 from an attack of appendicitis.

Until her death, Martinez shared the land with daughter Josie Martinez Montoya, son Lawrence and three grandchildren, a source of joy for her.

She lived simply. Until just before her death, for example, she had relied on wood to heat her home.

Although the state of New Mexico eventually offered her a package of nearly $200,000 for the property, including moving expenses, and sent in the big guns like then-state Tourism Director John Garcia to negotiate with her, she never budged.
Even as she faced potential condemnation proceedings, Martinez continued to speak out defiantly.

“I don’t care for the money,” she said. “I’m not hungry for money. When I die, I’m not going to take the money.”

I’m not aware of any sign in the area referencing prior existence of the West San Jose neighborhood. Maybe that says something about the cultural selectivity of history and “progress.” Nevertheless, just as Adela Martinez’ homestead still sits amid the Center along with the remodeled West San Jose school, studious observers can spot reminders of what once made up that lost neighborhood.

Something to ponder next time you walk/roll along this stretch of the Bosque Path. Remember to keep one eye on the Path.





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