With the economy taking a dive and people losing jobs and (struggling to get their unemployment benefits), it seems like an odd time for a neighborhood to grow by increasing housing and services, but that is what has been happening in Barelas, even after our current recession began
There are the Barelas Townhomes across from the famed Barelas Coffee Shop, the Barelas Homes housing units near the railyard, the striking renovated triplex project, Casas de Barelas, pictured in the header and just up the street from the Filling Station (home of the Mother Road Theater and the Church of Beethoven), and a few houses being built on lots that have long been vacant.
For some reason, Iron Street between 4th Street and 7th Street is showing signs of a building boomlet – three new homes have been built, with a fourth in the works, there has been major renovation of established homes, plus an active discussion regarding the possibility of a small land trust development, and soon, a renovated school.
Last week I walked over to Iron to take a few more pictures for my blog before posting. There’s a duplex going in that I’ve been keeping my eye on that has some creative design features - I’ve enjoyed the guessing game that comes with them. With the place just about completed, I decided it might be fun to take some pictures and include it in a series of photos of what is happening in Barelas.
As I walked up to the construction site, a man of indeterminate age, with a face that had spent plenty of time outdoors, stepped out of the front duplex. He smiled and we exchanged greetings – I told him I lived in the neighborhood and was glad to see the new construction going on.
He introduced himself as Stan, and explained that he was anxious to return to Barelas after living in Corrales for some time. His plans were to build a duplex, and soon afterwards, a house. Walkability and easy access to downtown were the first reasons he offered for returning to Barelas; having family in the area was another plus. From the building site, he pointed out homes of 3 members of his extended family!
We chatted for a bit about the newly built two-story house across the street, and the neighborhood discussion the previous week regarding a proposal to create a land trust arrangement similar to the Sawmill development for housing on the site of the Iron Apartments.
But buying land in Barelas is challenging.
First, there is the challenge of finding a site that is big enough to build on. Second is the challenge of finding someone who is willing to sell.
People here hold on to their land for generations, and are very reluctant to sell to outsiders. Much of the time, a Bareleño will tell others in the neighborhood that he’s interested in purchasing some land. Sometimes a parcel of land becomes available through a neighborhood or family exchange, sometimes an elder passes on and her adult children, who have moved away and cut their ties with the community, are willing to sell.
Yet even with the slow housing turnover, Barelas is one of the few neighborhoods in the core of the city where the population of children is increasing rapidly. As a result, APS is renovating Coronado School, a Barelas landmark for many Albuquerqueans.
The old Coronado School has been an administrative site for a long time – children in the neighborhood attending public school go to Dolores Gonzales Elementary School across the street from the zoo. After I moved to Barelas, I learned that many of my senior citizen neighbors once attended Coronado School on 4th Street just south of Iron, including my best friend's mother.
Midway through 2008, we noticed some changes afoot at the old Coronado School. Updated fencing surrounded the property, scaffolding appeared at the front of the school, and the old letters proclaiming the school name were removed. More changes could be seen behind the original building, including the beginnings of two buildings – a cafeteria and a multi-media center.
By and large, longtime residents of Barelas are pleased to see the old Coronado school being prepared for a new generation of Bareleños. Some have talked about wanting to volunteer at the school they attended long ago, others have remarked that it will bring back memories to see children playing where they once did. Still others have commented that the re-opening of Coronado School will bring an increased police presence to deter people from conducting drug deals and other unsavory acts in the neighborhood.
Me? I’m hopeful that the school will be the start of a resurgence of good things for Barelas.
And maybe, just maybe, APS will invite the neighborhood to take a peek at the changes they’ve made before school starts next fall. I’d love to see the expressions and reactions of the former students as the reality of the new Coronado School is juxtaposed with their childhood memories.
Despite the gloomy news of the economy, there are still a few bright spots.
Barelas seems to be turning into one.