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Statehood Government
U.S. Statehood Government, 1912-1945

When New Mexico became a state in 1912, Albuquerque extended from High Street to Fifteenth Street and Mountain Road to Cromwell. The mayor then was businessman D.K.B. Sellers, who had also worked vigorously for statehood.

In 1917, during the nation’s Progressive Era, Albuquerque became the first city in New Mexico to adopt a commission-manager form of government after voters narrowly approved the charter. The idea was to make government more efficient and professional and less subject to political whim by abandoning the former mayor-aldermen type government. Elections became nonpartisan. One of the strongest backers was the new Albuquerque Rotary Club. 

A year later City Manager A.R. Hebenstreit said city government “had separated from partisan influence.” Hebenstreit himself helped develop the city’s first budget systems under the direction of Clyde Tingley. And because Tingley wanted more streets through town, Hebenstreit started a paving company, New Mexico Construction Co., because there were no local pavers.  

City government was then concerned with the expected issues of streets, crime and garbage, but it also embraced the Progressive agenda, which included health, sanitation, water and parks. There was great interest in beautification; the city encouraged residents to plant lawns and shrubbery. The city also began to inspect restaurants, meat shops and dairies.  

In 1916 Clyde Tingley, a machinist and toolmaker who’d come to Albuquerque with his convalescing sweetheart Carrie, easily won election to the City Commission from the Second Ward, which included the Santa Fe Railroad shops and the Albuquerque Machine Works. He would remain on the commission until 1934, serving as chairman for 12 years. He was rough-spoken, honest and absolutely enthusiastic about his adopted city. 

One of his first acts in 1916 was to lead a drive by the city to acquire the water works. The privately owned water company had stubbornly resisted extending lines unless it could justify the cost and expected to earn an 8 percent return. Residents thought the policy was retarding the city’s growth and expansion. It didn’t help the company’s case that its customer relations were poor. That year voters authorized $400,000 in bonds to either acquire the privately owned water works or build its own. The transaction was completed in 1917. 

In 1918, with the passage of prohibition, the city not only lost the source of a revenue stream from licensing saloons, it also lost the free labor it had relied on for street maintenance. These were the men arrested for being drunk and disorderly who couldn’t pay their fines. 

Flood control began in 1920, when the Chamber of Commerce organized a mass meeting of property owners to form the Middle Rio Grande Reclamation Association. The group then pressed for legislation to create the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, which passed in 1923. It had the powers of a public municipal corporation, including fiscal authority and the power of eminent domain. It covered four counties and six pueblos. After two years of court challenges were overcome, the district MRGCD organized and spent the next three years preparing a master plan for a network of dams, levees, drains, canals and laterals to be financed by $8.7 million in bonds. Flooding continued to be a problem. As late as 1941 a levee broke; water rushing down First Street caused massive damage. 

In the 1920s, with subdivisions proliferating, developers pressured City Hall to annex their subdivisions, and the City Commission, led by Tingley, obliged. In 1925 the city added nine sections, doubling Albuquerque’s land base overnight. The land stretched from Mulberry to San Pedro and Gibson to Constitution. The last annexation before the Depression was the Huning Castle Addition, 156 acres of pastures and drained swampland acquired from Franz Huning’s heirs by contractor A.R. Hebenstreit and attorney William Keleher. 

Following the Stock Market Crash of 1929, Albuquerque didn’t feel the full force of the Great Depression right away, the result of its isolation and lack of major industries. But soon the city reeled from business failures and bank failures. Tourists were replaced on Route 66 by the migration of impoverished travelers immortalized in The Grapes of Wrath. Unemployed Hispanic and Indian people formed another wave, traveling north to work in Colorado or in the cotton fields of southern New Mexico. 

By 1931, as the tide of transients increased, Bernalillo County commissioners asked the governor to post signs on roads leading into New Mexico saying there were no jobs for anyone other than New Mexico taxpayers. The commission also ordered an emergency 30-day road program to provide short-term jobs. It wasn’t enough. By then 1,500 were unemployed. To keep the road program going, commissioners asked all government employees to contribute a portion of their salaries to the Unemployment Road Fund.

One of the early federal programs was the Reconstruction Finance Corp., which provided loans. Bernalillo County was a big borrower.

By 1933 the needy were multiplying. Local charities were stretched to their limits. Newspapers reported occasional suicides, usually of unemployed men. In one case a man killed himself after being publicly humiliated for stealing food for his family. A “Hoover Village” (a shantytown of the unemployed) grew on the city’s southern border. Through 1933 federal relief funds primarily provided commodities to the unemployed. Relief workers were also paid in commodities. 

That year the Roosevelt administration recognized that early relief programs were insufficient and created the Civil Works Administration, a temporary work relief program to quickly put 4 million unemployed Americans to work.  

Tingley began looking for a way to provide jobs and proposed creating a park in some barren hills on the East Mesa. A developer donated some land, and John Milne offered a 99-year lease on adjoining APS land. The City Commission thought Tingley was crazy. Only he could see a park in the unsightly expanse. Driving his Buick, Tingley himself marked out where the roads around the park would be.  

Albuquerque officials in 1933 secured CWA funding to begin construction of Terrace Park (later Roosevelt Park). Because federal money could only be used for labor, the city used equipment as little as possible to maximize human labor. In the next two years the work would keep 300 men busy. The park followed the natural contours of the land. Stone retaining walls shaped arroyos.  

Tingley’s beach project was also a stretch. Only Tingley, it seemed, could see a recreation area where there was only a dump. Tingley arranged for the conservancy district to divert water for a small lake that became Conservancy Beach (later Tingley Beach). In 1933-34 the CWA supported more than 30 projects in Albuquerque. 

In 1933 the federal government also created the Civilian Conservation Corps for young men who would work in the government program and send money home. One of the first in New Mexico was the Sandia Park Camp. CCC workers built or improved most of the picnic and recreation areas we enjoy today. They also widened and surfaced the Crest Road and built ski runs, tows and lodges.  

In 1934 Tingley was elected governor. 

Relief measures continued to fall short of the city’s needs. In 1935 Clinton P. Anderson became a relief program administrator. His first challenge was 500 unemployed workers rioting at the Bernalillo County Courthouse after they learned relief checks would be delayed. Custodians used fire hoses to disperse the crowd. Anderson began cutting red tape to help the workers, who were doing everything from building Roosevelt Park to hauling firewood to the needy. Even at 30 cents an hour, men welcomed even a few days of work. 

In 1935 Roosevelt created the Works Progress Administration to replace another program and to shift workers from direct relief to work projects. Tingley became a friend of Roosevelt and learned the ins and outs of the Washington bureaucracy. As governor he made at least 23 trips to secure federal aid for New Mexico projects. The impact for Albuquerque was enormous.  

New facilities included parks, a railroad overpass at Central Avenue, the Albuquerque Little Theater, a zoo, an airport terminal, State Fair buildings, Monte Vista Fire Station, Roosevelt Park, Jefferson Middle School, Nob Hill Elementary School, Monte Vista Elementary School, Pershing Elementary School, plus street and sidewalk construction, sewer and power lines and road paving. UNM gained $1 million in projects, including Zimmerman Library, the administration building (now Scholes Hall), the original Student Union Building, and a stadium.          

The government also built a number of regional federal offices, along with the Veterans Hospital on the Southeast Mesa.

By 1937 the city’s boundaries were San Pedro on the east, Constitution on the north and Gibson on the south.

After completing his term, Tingley returned to Albuquerque and successfully ran for City Commission, where he again took charge. After the war, the population had changed. They were more educated and had less tolerance for Tingley’s heavy-handed style. He lost his election in 1947.

Tingley’s legacy, in addition to the many buildings and civic improvements, are the city’s Siberian elms. He never cared for the native cottonwood, with its floating fluff, and looked instead for another tree that needed little water. A gardener, Charles Roehl, suggested Chinese elms. Tingley bought 2,000 Russian elm seedlings for $20 from a Nebraska nursery. He planted some along the river and urged every city employee to buy one. He gave the rest away.



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