LATE BREAKING: A protest at Albuquerque Museum's La Jornada sculpture turned violent last night. One man was shot and taken to UNMH as protestors attempting to take down the statue were met by another group that wanted to keep it in place. Police blocked off Mountain Road between Rio Grande and 15th in the process.

Mayor Tim Keller released a statement on the shooting late last night in which he announced that the sculpture would be removed "
until the appropriate civic institutions can determine next steps."


Here are stories on yesterday evening's events from the Journal, KOB, and KRQE. For an extensive primer on how La Jornada came to be and the fraught legacy of Juan de Oñate, the conquistador depicted in the sculpture, check out this article/podcast from 99 Percent Invisible.
Once upon a time, Coronado was just a normal park

Before it became the flashpoint for a debate on homelessness and shelters, it was a place to while away lunch breaks, eat ice cream, and harass prairie dogs.

ALSO: Would a Coronado shelter use adjacent land? The city is leaving the door open.
Coronado Park, circa 1956, at the installation of the AT&SF Steam Locomotive. Generations of children enjoyed playing on the locomotive before it was moved to a nearby warehouse for restoration in 2002. (Photo: Albuquerque Museum, gift of John Airy)
For many years now, homeless people have been the main - if not exclusive - users of Coronado Park, and it's possible the city will move to formalize the arrangement by putting a shelter or triage center there.

But the situation was not always so grim.

For many decades, going back to a time before it was even an official park, locals were using the space for all manner of recreation and entertainment.

Back in the 1930s, the area was just a series of empty fields at the edge of town, and not-yet-punctuated by I-40. Martin Vigil, who was born in 1930, grew up nearby, and still lives in Wells Park, remembers gathering friends and slingshots to play in the area.

"We used to kill prairie dogs there," he said.

(Or at least that was the theoretical goal. He didn't report any actual success.)

Lee Amador would take walks to the park in the early 40s with school chums, and described the terrain as soil that had been turned over by a farmer's plough. It was the site of at least one Easter egg hunt he participated in. 

He recalled the land becoming an official park in about 1955, one year before Congress created the interstate highway system, an act that would see the construction of I-40 over the next several years. The city subsequently planted grass and those famous elm trees that tower over the park today.

Amador worked at the nearby Creamland plant for a few years starting in 1955, first on the bottled milk assembly line and later as a maker of cottage cheese. Lunch breaks often involved a sandwich, a glass of milk, and relaxing on the Coronado Park grass. (Buying ice cream at the now-shuttered Creamland retail window and eating it in the park was also a popular pastime.)

In 1956, celebrations of Albuquerque's 250th anniversary combined with the installation in the park of the famous AT&SF steam locomotive (which, since 2002, has been parked at a nearby warehouse and is now on the cusp of complete restoration.) The locomotive's nearly 50-year residence proved very popular with the children of the era, particularly before authorities put up a fence around it.

Melissa Renteria remembers family trips to the park with her mother and grandparents in the 1980s. The kids enjoyed burning off the energy from blue slushies by climbing on the locomotive.

"To go see the train was the exciting part of the park," Renteria said. "I just have fond memories of it."
From a 1959 aerial photo, Coronado Park from the days before I-40. Drawing on other historic photos, the Better Burque blog recently ran a commentary about the freeway and its long-lasting social implications.
Rhonda Redstrom was a train climber herself as a child back in the 70s, and she later took her own kids to Coronado Park, often after a visit to the Main Library. But although her granddaughter, born in 2012, is at a prime park frolicking age, they're not returning to Coronado.

"It has gotten so bad that you can't even drive by there without somebody yelling at you," Redstrom said.

Exactly when Coronado Park ceased to be a reasonable place to recreate seems to vary depending on who you ask.

Vigil said he hasn't been back much since the late 80s or early 90s, when he went for a walk with his wife and got creeped out by someone hiding behind a tree in a way he took to be menacing. For Redstrom, it was at least somewhat tolerable until about six or seven years ago. There were certainly homeless people there before that, but "you could co-exist," she said. 

Over the years, many factors have combined to encourage the evolution of the park into a kind of day shelter. The Albuquerque Street Outreach ministry began providing clothes and hot breakfasts in the park in the late 90s. More service providers later moved to the area, including The Rock at Noon Day in 2014. The city started using the park as a pickup spot for its massive shelter near Double Eagle Airport, first as a winter-only option and later year-round. And at a national level, the homelessness crisis has only grown.

"Little by little, it just seemed to get worse," Renteria said. "There's no way I would ever go there now."
The city might still put a homeless services facility at Coronado Park, and it's not shutting the door on adjacent land either
Ongoing efforts to find a place for a new homeless shelter and triage intake area (dubbed the "Gateway Center") have lately shifted away from the idea of one large centralized complex toward a group of smaller facilities (DAN, 5/7). But back when the large campus idea was front and center, the city was investigating the possibility that they might need to buy up land around Coronado Park to fully accomodate the project (DAN, 3/17).

That investigation, it seems, has yet to conclude.

We asked recently if the city had made any offers on or purchased properties adjacent to Coronado and whether such a move would even be necessary given the new emphasis on smaller facilities.

Lisa Huval, the city's point person on housing and homelessness, sent this response: "At this point in time, we are in the process of making these evaluations for the Gateway Center, so I am unable to speak to these questions specifically."
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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