Glenrio, NM on the Texas border was the point of entry for Route 66 in the state. Next came Tucumcari, the first town of any size to be included, and the road proceeded due west from there to Santa Rosa. At that point, however, things got political. As the state capital, Santa Fe insisted on having the road come through. So at Santa Rosa, Highway 66 made an abrupt turn north, going through Dilia, Romeroville, the outskirts of Las Vegas, and then Pecos before arriving in Santa Fe, where it passed alongside the downtown Plaza in the heart of the city. Then it hooked south to New Mexico’s largest community, Albuquerque, entering the city along Fourth Street, a north-south road. Only when it got downtown did Highway 66 head west again, crossing the Rio Grande on the Barelas Bridge. The road then went on to Gallup before entering Arizona.
Fourth & Central
That’s how Fourth Street became one of Albuquerque’s two Route 66’s. As for Central Avenue, well, that too was political. The New Mexico governor when the road first began winding its way through Santa Fe was A. T. Hannett. But he lost a bid for re-election and blamed local politicians for the defeat. He wanted to punish them, so before his successor’s inauguration, Hannett furiously ordered the state Highway Department to construct a Route 66 path directly from Santa Rosa to Albuquerque, bypassing Santa Fe.
Getting the Job Done
Working double shifts, the crews had the job too far advanced for the new governor to halt the project when he took office. The work was completed in 1937. On the primitive roads of the day, the new, straighter link cut some 90 miles and four hours off the drive from Santa Rosa to Albuquerque. Route 66 was also the only paved highway going all the way across New Mexico it passed through the Duke City along Central Avenue.
Albuquerque’s Economic Boom
With the coming of the highway, Central Avenue boomed. Already established on the avenue, east of the University of New Mexico, was “Albuquerque’s first suburb,” Nob Hill. The streetcar line did go out that far, but the city itself was still off to the west. Yet with only a few motor courts, a campground and a café, Central Avenue in Nob Hill was little more than a country road when it first joined Route 66. That quickly changed. Motels, restaurants and retailers sprang up everywhere, replete with neon signs, all vying for the motorists’ attention.