Detective DAN answers your questions: 
  • What's up with the pyramid house in Sawmill?
  • Why is the corner of Kinley and Los Tomases labeled differently on the sidewalk?
  • Was the crime that led to the descanso near Kit Carson park ever solved?
  • Can old descansos be removed?
Welcome to the first installment of a new ongoing series featuring your questions!

As the ranks of Alert Readers have grown month after month (keep telling your friends - word of mouth is like rocket fuel for us), we've been getting more and more queries that poke into some very interesting corners of Downtown history, current events, and day-to-day life. And we love it. So please, keep 'em coming.

What's up with the pyramid house in Sawmill?
The unusual house is located near 21st and Zearing, just north of the Sawmill Market.
Alert Reader Seth wrote in to ask about the origins of the unusual structure. "I walk past there several times a week and am always curious," he said. "Perhaps a greenhouse?"

As it turns out, that's a good guess.

"Originally it was a greenhouse," said Stan Harada, who has lived down the street since the late 1970s.

Back around 1971, a group of people working under the banner of "Sunshine Enterprises" moved onto the block with aspirations of setting up a commune.

"These guys got it into their mind that they were going to build a real pyramid in Albuquerque," Harada said. "Because it was hippie-dippie time, pyramids were a big thing."

For all its eccentricity, the pyramid seems to have been built like a tank. The skeleton is made up of 12-inch I-beams which graduate to six inches toward the top, all assembled by a British welder with a background in shipbuilding, Harada said.

The original greenhouse venture, however, didn't last more than a couple of years, though at one point there was also an unsuccessful attempt to turn it into a worm farm. The group seems to have dissolved by the mid-1980s.

Harada said the pyramid is now used as an apartment. The building's current owner did not respond to messages seeking comment.
Why is the corner of Kinley and Los Tomases labeled differently on the sidewalk?
Set in concrete: Seemingly incorrect street names.
While visiting Wells Park recently, Alert Readers Peter and Patricia found a puzzling set of street markers: "On the one hand, the street signs said Kinley Ave. NW and Los Tomases Dr. NW," Patricia reported. "On the other hand, the sidewalks said McKinley Ave. (note that Kinley became McKinley) and Virginia Blvd."

The inlaid markers are taken from older versions of the sidewalks and represent the names of the streets before 1952, the year the city undertook a massive reform that also involved the establishment of official quadrants, with Central and the railroad tracks as the lines of demarcation.

Lots of streets in Wells Park and Sawmill were named for presidents before the big change, writes Judy Nickell in Atrisco to Zena Lona: A Snappy Survey of Selected Albuquerque Street Names:

"Cleveland Avenue became Rosemont Avenue; Coolidge became Haines; Harding became Hannett; Harrison became Summer; Taft became Bellamah; and Wilson became Aspen. McKinley merely lost the 'Mc' and became Kinley."

Nickell adds that Virginia "became Los Tomases Drive NW, aligning with Los Tomases farther north. This Virginia was likely named for Virginia Clayton, [a] member of a prominent family."

So how is it that the street markers are still there, even after what appears to be a thoroughly modern ADA-compliant renovation of the intersection's sidewalks?

The answer goes back to the 2016 retrofit that eliminated the one-foot curbs in favor of ramps, according to Alert Reader Catherine, who lives nearby.

"Neighbors asked that the old street names be preserved," she said. "So the crews graciously cut out the old names and repositioned them."
Was the crime that led to the descanso near Kit Carson Park ever solved?
The descanso is located just outside the park's fence, near the Albuquerque Country Club's tennis courts. (map)
Alert Reader Len wrote in late last year to ask about the descanso, which was put up following a 1998 murder case:

There is a marker there on the ditch side, against the fence, and the family keep it up. There are new Christmas decorations on it now with a 'Merry Christmas' message. Must have been an awful time for the family. I was wondering what the details were and if they ever solved the crime.

The gruesome murder remains unsolved, according to a 2018 story by KOB (most of which is no longer available online). The body of Stephanie Lynn Chavez was found in the ditch on Christmas Day, 1998 by two boys riding their bikes. Police told the Journal a few days later that she had been reported missing on November 22 of that year.

Chavez, a registered nurse who as a girl attended St. Mary's Catholic School, left behind four children, according to an obituary published on January 1, 1999. She is buried in the Mount Calvary Cemetary in Martineztown.
Can old descansos be removed?
Alert Reader James recently noticed a descanso on his morning commute to the Raynolds neighborhood and got to wondering if and how such memorials are eventually removed.

"What if you had one in front of your house? What if it looked ugly and had been forgotten for months or years," he asked. "Would anyone care if you dismantled it?"

Official guidance is a bit thin, but the short answer is that removing a descanso is a misdemeanor, per state law. Private property owners, however, are exempt from that, and governments can "move or remove a descanso that obstructs or damages any public road," but that's about it. If it's on public land and not blocking anything, it can legally stay there indefinitely.

Installing a descanso, meanwhile, is a pretty open business.

"They just pop up along the roadways and there is no formal process and/or permitting that is required," state transport spokeswoman Kimberly Gallegos said. "The NMDOT does provide some guidance so they do not become a hazard to the motoring public, but that is IF they contact us prior to placement."
Send in your questions to Detective DAN
Contact us here.
Downtown Albuquerque News covers greater Downtown, which we generally define as the area created by I-40, the Rio Grande, and the railroad tracks. We publish weekdays except for federal holidays. If someone forwarded DAN to you, please consider subscribing. To subscribe, contact us, submit a letter to the editor, or learn more about what we do, click here. If you ever run into technical trouble receiving DAN, click here.
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