Albuquerque’s Nob Hill neighborhood’s major business district is along Central Avenue – which carried Route 66 from 1937 until it was decommissioned – stretching from Washington Boulevard on the east to Girard on the west.
When I was in college at the University of New Mexico, which is located just west of Nob Hill, running from Girard to University mostly north of Central, I would head into Nob Hill with some frequency, mostly to do shopping at War Games West. While I did walk up Central on at least a few occasions, and biked up Silver, one block south of Central, at least once, I’ll confess I mostly drove up Silver to the parking lot at Silver and Amherst that served War Games West and the rest of that block of buildings.
But, my recollection was that most of the other businesses in the area weren’t that interesting.
Over the last few years, Tara and I have discovered that at least the section from Richmond on the west to Carlisle has a number of interesting and eclectic shops, and is always worth a visit when we are in Albuquerque.
Much of the development along Central was started after 1937. But a major development was done in 1946 and 1947 when Robert Waggoman built the Nob Hill Business Center, the first modern (i.e. car oriented) shopping center in New Mexico (according to Wikipedia), and possibly west of the Mississippi (according to a reference I’ve misplaced).
Nob Hill Business Center is a Streamline Moderne style building with hints of the New Mexico Territorial style. The structure is U shaped around a small, but probably sufficient in 1947, parking lot. The parking lot faces Central, and the building runs along the other three sides of the block bounded by Central on the north, Carlisle on the east, Silver on the south, and Amherst on the west. There are store fronts available that both face the parking lot, and the three outside streets. Since Silver is up Nob Hill (the geographic feature) from Central in that area, most of the Silver frontage is made up of the upstairs sections and backs of the stores.
In the two interior corners are two larger store spaces. My understanding is that, originally, these were occupied by a grocery store and a drug store. The remaining store fronts are available for smaller shops.
Now, the two corner shops are occupied by the La Montanita Co-op grocery store, and a salon and day spa. But there are two stores in between that we like visiting. One is a gallery (whose name I’ve forgotten) and the other is Beeps, which I can only describe as an eclectic store as it carries toys, jewelry, novelty kitchen accessories, and other interesting things. We used to also enjoy browsing at the design shop that used to face Carlisle at the northern end.
Continuing west from Nob Hill, we pass an Asian “street food” restaurant in the building that was occupied by the late lamented War Games West when I was in college, and later Bow Wow Records.
A bit further down the block is The Flying Star Cafe‘s original location. When I was in college, their easternmost storefront (one storefront west of the former location of War Games West) housed a Double Rainbow ice cream parlor (possibly only until 1987). As I understand it, the franchise owners wanted to go a different way, and converted the shop into the first Flying Star. Since then, they’ve taken over every storefront west until a small alley. The rest of that block has two free-standing buildings, one a fairly mundane building containing a pizza parlor, and another housing a Starbucks.
The building containing the Starbucks was a KFC when I was in college. But I think it was built for something else – but more recently than when much of the rest of the area was built up. It is a fairly long and narrow building with a rectangular footprint. But its roofline is mostly a half-cylinder, except at the front it is cut in a circle.
Continuing into the next block west is an Arby’s and one of several sushi restaurants along this stretch as well as business well off of Central. I’d guess that, like the Starbucks, this is a newer development with even more parking.
The block after that has Kelly’s Bar and Grill, located in what was a Ford dealership, and later (or at the same time) may have been a Texaco station. I’ve never been to Kelly’s – too many other favorites to go to a place that could be found elsewhere – but it has a good reputation.
Kelly’s apparently leases part of the building to a Cold Stone, and to a flower shop. The rest of that block is occupied by the Hiway House motel, and a Korean barbeque located in what I think was once the motel’s lobby and check-in area.
The next block is where the eclectic nature of the area is most apparent. In that block, in addition to a restaurant or two and a store selling smoking supplies, is a vintage clothing store, Masks y Mas – which specializes in mostly Mexican arts and crafts largely focused on Dias de Los Muertos – and Astro-Zombies – a comic book store with a good selection of comics and graphic novels, and a whole lot of other geeky toys and games.
The north side of Central through that area has some more mundane stores, including a dry cleaner, Kurt’s Camera Corral, a Redwing Shoe store, and Disco Display House, a party supply place. These were all there when I was in college, as was The Guild arthouse movie theater.
There is also a block where there is a complex with shops on the lower floor and condos on the upper levels. This is less than two years old, since it was strikingly out of place to me; more so than it would have been if it had been built in the prior 23 years. But it also has been there long enough for one business to go out of business. Most of the business there are pretty mundane.
On the north side is also where we find a Satellite Coffee, owned by the same people as The Flying Star – which yesterday was full of hipsters and nerds in the mid afternoon. There are also a couple of clothing boutiques catering largely to the hipster demographic.
As I said at the top, Tara and I always find it worth a trip. On the other hand, I still will miss War Games West and we’ll miss the design shop.