Why did the Barelas Community Coalition form?
The BCC was originally formed out of a subcommittee of the Barelas Neighborhood Association concerned about the possible re-development of the Rail Yards. At the time, certain decisions about the re-development were made without community input. In order for the Rail Yards and other developments throughout the community to be developed responsibly (with the community’s interest first), the community’s input needs to be included. The BCC formed to be the community’s voice and representation.
The Coalition has since expanded its mission to organize and promote responsible economic and affordable housing development throughout Barelas to help minimize the widespread displacement of lower income residents from the community. This includes our continued work around the redevelopment of the Rail Yards, revitalization of 4th Street as a Main Street corridor, and our current efforts to build permanently affordable housing in partnership with non-profit developers.
Barelas is one of Albuquerque’s oldest neighborhoods. Originally settled during the Spanish Colonial period it has gone through numerous cultural and economic changes over the years. This includes its early colonial history as a significant river crossing route for the El Camino Real and its development as a thriving farming community in the early 1800’s. Early development took place in and around the farms adjacent to the swamps of the Rio Grande and three irrigation ditches that served the community, the primary one being the Acequia Madre de Barelas.
The arrival of the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad to Albuquerque in the 1880’s effectively transformed the small farming village into the largest industrial complex in the territory. The company built a station house, switchyards, car shops, roundhouses for locomotive repair, warehouses, and office buildings on the eastern edge of the Barelas community. As a result lands around the original town site of Barelas began to flourish with commerce and housing as the railroad industry employed as many as 1500 people during the height of railroad construction. In 1914 the Santa Fe Railroad remodeled and upgraded the steam engine repair shops providing additional employment for Bareleños. These shops employed men from Barelas who were descended from the original Hispanic families who settled the area as well as a diverse group of immigrants. Many of the newcomers were Chicano/Hispano migrants from rural villages and farming communities throughout New Mexico who came in search of work and new opportunities. The merger of U.S. Routes 85 and 66 through the center of the community (4th Street) in 1924-1926 gave rise to further commercial development. Over the next 30 years, the area flourished, reaching its commercial peak in the mid-1950s as a thriving automobile commercial and tourism strip. The commercial strip offered local residents and farmers from Albuquerque’s South Valley a full line of businesses, and provided Route 66 motorists a range of gas stations, grocery stores, and souvenir shops. At the height of activity, 4,000 to 6,000 cars traveled through the community each day.
By the mid 1950’s the community began entering a long period of economic decline and disinvestment. The Santa Fe Railroad began downsizing after converting from steam to diesel locomotives and eventually shut down altogether in 1970. Route 66 and 85 were rerouted and the completion of Interstate Highways 25 and 40 in 1966 further diverted traffic away from the neighborhood. In 1970 much of South Barelas was razed as part of the Urban Renewal Program displacing one-third of the neighborhood’s population. Barela’s was further impacted with the construction of Civic Plaza in 1974 cutting off through traffic on 4th Street (Vazquez et al. 2001). Several historic commercial buildings and historic houses were demolished during this period as the economic vitality of the community continually spiraled down to the point where it was place on the Federal list of neighborhoods located in the Pocket of Poverty.