• City may designate the Central river crossing as historic landmark, but it's the concept that counts
  • Old Town studio fits customers with 'permanent jewelry,' for the sake of carefree wear and sturdy commitment
  • Updates on Motel 21, Monterey Place, Imperial Inn projects
City may designate the Central river crossing as historic landmark, but it's the concept that counts
This earlier version of the Central bridge was on the narrow side. The outline of the Sandias and Manzanos is barely visible in the background. Via Albuquerque Museum and Roger Zimmerman

At an informal question and answer session last week, planners unveiled a proposal to give the river crossing at Central Avenue the status of an official city historic landmark. But in a twist, the designation would not actually apply to the bridge people use to make that crossing.

The Central bridge, which is used by some 32,000 vehicles on a normal weekday, was built in 1983 - not exactly historic. But people have been driving over the river there since long before that, and that concept is what the landmark status would commemorate, city planner Leslie Naji said at the meeting.

"We are honoring the crossing of the river rather than the particular bridge that is there," Naji said. Most likely, she added, putting up a plaque at the bridge and noting the crossing's landmark status on city websites would be the only tangible results of the designation.

Officially marking the crossing's place in history would most likely not affect any future bridge renovations, Naji said, "partly because the bridge itself is not a historic structure."

"Should traffic patterns change," she said, "we wouldn't want to interfere with that."

The Landmarks Commission would weigh in only if the city someday proposed to have no crossing at all - a nearly unthinkable scenario in which the bridge would be torn down and not replaced, Naji said.

No opposition to landmark designation surfaced at the meeting from the four neighborhood representatives in attendance.

Construction of the original two-lane Central bridge began in 1930. In 1953, A second two-lane span was added alongside the original to double the capacity of the crossing. In the early 1980s, the current bridge replaced the two older ones.

The crossing's history is intricately tied up with the rerouting of Route 66 to Central, which itself was part of a larger effort to cut about 100 miles off the highway's run through New Mexico. Previously, the highway had run along Fourth Street, and its new placement helped redirect growth toward the Westside and away from streets paralleling the railroad tracks. (Though perhaps a victory for efficiency, the move did hurt the commercial sector on Fourth in neighborhoods like Barelas.)

The proposal for landmark status originated with local historian Roger Zimmerman, who also encouraged the city to give the Central underpass the same official recognition (DAN 1/23/23). The city dropped that effort in favor of informally putting up a marker describing how the underpass separated auto and train traffic - another key step that cleared the way for rerouting the highway.

While president of the Albuquerque Historical Society, Zimmerman researched the Route 66 rerouting project across the state and said he considers its impact on New Mexico and the city well worth commemorating. 

"Do we treasure our history or not?" he said. "It's nice to know where you have been as you anticipate where you are going."

Next in the city's process, a planner will evaluate how the crossing proposal fits with city historical landmark criteria, and staff will submit it to the Landmarks Commission, likely at its March 8 meeting.

—By David Lee

Old Town studio fits customers with 'permanent jewelry,' for the sake of carefree wear and sturdy commitment
This ruby heart necklace can be removed only with the help of sturdy scissors or perhaps wire cutters.
Jewelry other than rings usually stays in place thanks to those old standbys, clasps and pins. But Old Town's Love Weld Studio does it differently: They fit customers with 14-karat gold bracelets, necklaces, and anklets and then weld them into one piece. The items can't be removed at that point without cutting and, theoretically, could stay on for life.

To be sure, the welding they do does not involve a gruff technician with a formidable torch and a heavy mask. After cutting a length of gold chain for a good fit around the wrist, neck, or ankle, a studio welder hooks the ends of the chain together, using a small gold ring with a narrow gap, and then employs a "tiny, precise" shot of electric current to close that gap, said studio manager Claire Patterson. The welding process requires no skin protection for the jewelry buyer, she added, and the ring is cool to the touch immediately afterward. The chains on offer average 1.5 millimeters in diameter, and many customers opt to add charms before welding.

Patterson, a silversmith and jewelry maker with ten years of experience, has been working with Love Weld Founder and CEO Sarah Sides since before the studio opened last summer in the Poco a Poco Patio off San Felipe.

"It's fascinating to see how wide the range is of people who want to get something permanent," she said.

Some customers come to the studio in pairs or groups, looking for something to honor their relationship. She's seen couples in romantic relationships, mothers and daughters, best friend duos, and larger groups of women friends.

Imagine it as an "elevated friendship bracelet," Patterson said. She thinks those customers wanting to celebrate a relationship treat their time in the studio as a "very bonding, close personal experience." It's a ritual she thinks may have been made even more attractive by the pandemic's various social separations.

"People are seeking personal connection again after not having it for those years," she said.

Other Love Weld customers are attracted to having no clasps to catch on clothing and no chance of taking off an item and forgetting where they put it, Patterson said. (And yes, the items get through TSA security just fine without triggering the metal detectors, she added.)

While the majority of her customers are women, "We have tons of men that are getting welded," she said. Most make their purchases in conjunction with a female partner, but some buy a permanent jewelry item for themselves just because they like the idea.

The permanent aspect of the jewelry, in the end, is more psychological than literal: Pieces can be quickly removed by the wearer with decent quality scissors or wire snips and can be re-welded easily in the studio, Patterson said. That solves the problem presented by surgery and some medical tests like MRIs, which require the removal of all jewelry.

The studio also sells and welds rings, but they sometimes are removable without cutting. Finger anatomy varies from person to person, Patterson said, so some wearers are able to slip theirs off.

As with many trends, pinpointing the origin of permanent jewelry is not an exact science, but Patterson traced its birth back just a few years to two separate stores in Paris and New York that added some permanent items to their regular offerings. Sarah Sides decided to focus on the trend and started Love Weld in Austin about three years ago, building on her years of experience elsewhere in the jewelry industry.

"I think that she, Sarah, is the first person to try to capitalize on this," Patterson said. The company now operates eight brick-and-mortar locations around the country, mostly in upscale neighborhoods in major cities like New York and Denver, and it plans to open more studios this year.

"It's definitely been super rapid growth," Patterson said.

Opening a studio in Albuquerque seemed like a good idea to Sides after she and her husband moved here to live near a new job he'd taken. The choice of venue came about serendipitously, through another family connection.

"Her mom was walking around Old Town and came across this gem of a location that was coming up for rent," Patterson said.

Patterson called the neighborhood "an incredibly central hub," and she said they got "floods of people" when the weather kept shutting down Balloon Fiesta events last fall and visitors lingered around the plaza.

"It's also been fun to have local clients come in and [say] 'Yea, I haven't been in Old Town for years,'" she said. 

—By David Lee
Updates on Motel 21, Monterey Place, Imperial Inn projects
Chad Rennaker, the developer behind El Vado and many of the buildings around Sawmill's Ponderosa Brewing, was in Barelas on January 28 to meet with neighbors about a forthcoming project there (DAN, 1/5/22). It will be a long-term effort indeed: The next year or so will be devoted to zoning hurdles and finding financing, with construction wrapping up toward the end of 2025 at the earliest.

In the meantime, however, Rennaker has three other active projects in Greater Downtown. We asked him about those after the meeting, and here's what he said:
  • Monterey Place, the apartment complex just east of El Vado (DAN, 4/27/21), should finish up around April and begin leasing by September.
  • The property just north of Monterey Place, which was formerly home to Motel 21 (DAN, 6/7/22), looks set to finally exit its dormant period this year. Rennaker said he will be sending a proposal for what to do with it to the city's Metropolitan Redevelopment Agency as part of its recent call for ideas backed by $3 million in potential subsidies. Details of what that would look like are not yet public, but the city has specified that the projects must add at least 50 housing units to the market.
  •  The Imperial Inn project, a renovation of the notorious East Downtown motel into a boutique operation, should be done by August.
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