ABQ’s Dearth of Suitable Music Venues: Isaac Stern Performs at the Gym

If you have lived in Albuquerque for quite some time, you may have had the experience, pre-pandemic, of attending a musical event at Tingley Coliseum. And you may have thought about that experience in ways unmistakably stolen from David Byrne and the Talking Heads:

And you may find yourself
Attending an Iron Maiden concert
And you may find you’re doing it
In a facility designed for rodeos
And you may find yourself
Unable to hear, listen, or think
Because the place is acoustically unsuitable
And you may find yourself wishing Burque had a real music venue
With beautiful sound and sight lines
And you may ask yourself, well
How did ABQ get here?

That’s a good question, David Bryne Better Burque reader. And like a great many good questions, the answer is more complex than “Albuquerque sucks” or “Iron Maiden would only play ABQ on a Tuesday,” which your humble blogger has heard as reasons for our lack of a mid/large-sized indoor auditorium.

Long-time residents still possessing the necessary brain cells to recall, will point out the city’s Civic Auditorium hosted concerts by many artists, including two shows by the Jimi Hendrix Experience on June 19, 1970.

But now, that Civic Auditorium (to continue stealing from David Byrne) is metaphorically “Nothing But Flowers.”

Why does this city still lack that sweet spot indoor auditorium sized larger than Popejoy Hall and smaller than a rodeo barn? That a good story going way back as least as far as the 1940s, to the City’s long-time Commission Czar Clyde Tingley, and a smoldering battle of wits, wills, and geography with the University of New Mexico and a bunch of other folks.

As Better Burque transitions a bit from matters transportational, although that will still be a focus, we’ll dive into the history of how Albuquerque got here, looking at some of its distinctive elements, positive and not-so-positive, with a modern lens on news and events as reported at the time.

In short, BB will examine answers to historical “why” questions surrounding The Duke City with a social justice focus that almost universally wasn’t included in the reporting at the time. The idea is to also help make “Burque Better” through this process, with the thinking being that knowledge of our past, particularly including a social justice emphasis, will better inform our decision-making in improving things now and in days to come.

That’s the idea, anyway. Idealistic, admittedly, but there’s also the simple fun of looking back and pointing out all the good, dumb and mystifying ideas that have made this city what it is.

Let’s start simple. Back in 1947, famed violinist Isaac Stern wasn’t yet quite so famous and was touring the country with the St. Louis Sinfonietta along with notable Wagnerian soprano Helen Traubel.

Full Stern Albuquerque_Journal_Tue__May_6__1947_ (1)

Here’s an excerpt of the above story from the May 6, 1947 Albuquerque Journal, explaining the site of this upcoming performance.

Isaac Stern at Gym Albuquerque_Journal_Tue__May_6__1947_

Carlisle Gym is still standing on UNM campus near its first eventual replacement in the 1950s, Johnson Gym, and The Pit years later. It serves many gym-like functions during this earlier period, such as hosting a 1940s UNM graduation ceremony:

inside carlisle gym

One can imagine Isaac Stern playing Brahms not far from that basketball backboard. How do you get to Carnegie Hall? You first play Carlisle Gym next to a basketball backboard.

With Stern, Traubel, and that basketball backboard in mind, we’ll spend some blog time looking into why things were this way back in 1947 and why things Burque auditorium have strangely continued to be inadequate ever since. Hope you have a chance to drop by for those future posts.




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