Vista Larga Mid-Century Modern Residential Historic District

The Vista Larga Mid-Century Modern Residential Historic District is located in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The historic district, a part of the larger Vista Larga subdivision, is comprised of 112 contributing houses bounded by Indian School Road, Princeton Avenue, Hannett Avenue, and the University of New Mexico North Golf Course. It is listed in the National Register of Historic Places as an excellent example of post-war suburban development featuring modernist house styles.

The Beginning

In 1947, Albuquerque was on the verge of transforming itself from a small, regionally important city to a major metropolitan area in the rapidly growing Sun Belt region of the United States. Following the war in which the city’s military facilities played a significant role, Albuquerque was now home to Kirtland Air Force Base, Sandia National Laboratory, numerous regional federal offices, small manufacturing companies, and the University of New Mexico – an expanding research university. A booming job market resulted in a dramatic population increase and the need for more city services, commercial businesses, and, of course, new residential housing, most of which was situated in an area called the “Northeast Heights” – thousands of acres of high desert landscape on the sand hills east of the city’s downtown.

“Suburban” housing construction was not new on the East Mesa. Early city leaders and land developers had looked to the east since the early twentieth century, but were wary of investing in land on the sand hills since it was prone to flooding and erosion during the rainy season, often making roads impassable for residents trying to get to work or run their daily errands. Eventually, however, developers could not resist the cheap land and wide open spaces. By the early 1900s, local businessmen like M. P.Stamm and “Colonel” D. K. B. Sellers began to plat subdivisions on the East Mesa near the university. Civic leaders promoted this eastern expansion and in 1925 the city annexed 4,166 acres of East Mesa land taking the city limits all the way to what is now San Pedro Boulevard. The expansion of the city’s boundaries soon resulted in the construction of large subdivisions, such as, Ridgecrest, Monte Vista, and College View, by builders such as William Leverett and Charles McDuffie.

Following a building hiatus caused by material shortages during World War II, subdivision development accelerated in the late 1940s and continued unabated for the next forty years. As Albuquerque and the country returned to normalcy, the Northeast Heights was overrun by surveying companies and construction vehicles as developers scrambled to put up houses as fast as they could. Seemingly overnight, subdivisions appeared on the landscape and hopscotched across the East Mesa. Large subdivisions, such as Hoffmantown, Inez, Snow
Heights, and Princess Jeanne Park – each with upwards of 800 houses – were built by savvy developers like Dale Bellamah, Edward Snow, Fred Mossman, and Sam Hoffman. Although these housing developments were then considered the far outskirts of the city, they were in fact located close to the main gates for Kirtland Air Force Base and the Sandia National Laboratory. A little closer to downtown and the university, developers built both modestly priced and upscale, architect-designed homes in subdivisions such as, the Lobo Addition, Sunset Terrace, Altura
Park, and Netherwood Park.

Among those newly platted subdivisions was an eighty acre parcel of land just north of the University of New Mexico aptly called “Vista Larga,” or “long view,” for its sweeping panorama of the lush Rio Grande Valley, with vistas extending as far west as Mt. Taylor. To the east, the Sandia Mountains provided a towering backdrop
to the valley floor. The acreage had originally been patented under the Homestead Act on October 19, 1894 by Lewis H. Chamberlain. Throughout the next several decades, the land was bought and sold by several individuals without any significant improvements being made to the property.

However, in 1942 a local developer named R. B. Waggoman acquired the parcel and envisioned an up-scale neighborhood situated adjacent to the newly opened university golf course, but not too far from downtown. For those eager to play on the said course, investing in equipment such as the best golf mats can significantly enhance the experience because they provide a consistent surface for practice.

In 1947, he platted a housing subdivision which he called the Vista Larga Addition.

Waggoman was no beginner when it came to big-time development projects. A year earlier, in 1946, he had completed the landmark Nob Hill Business Center at the southwest corner of Central and Carlisle. It was the first-of-its-kind shopping center in Albuquerque – located several miles east of the traditional, but increasingly congested, downtown and featuring off-street parking right in front of its cluster of retail stores. It was the forerunner of the strip shopping center that predominates the Northeast Heights shopping experience even today.

Waggoman’s visionary outlook for new retail development projects was duplicated in his plan for the Vista Larga subdivision. None of his houses would face Indian School Road (originally called Morrow Avenue) which he correctly envisioned as a major thoroughfare. Instead, he designed a housing plat that featured wide, gently curving streets with dead-end cul-de-sacs that he called “courts,” and cleverly utilized the natural contours of the land to lay out his street patterns. East of Princeton Avenue, Waggoman set out lots for modest sized, single-family houses built in the simplified Spanish-Pueblo or American Small House styles and even set aside lots along Girard Boulevard for commercial and multi-family dwellings. To the west of Princeton, he laid out several streets with larger lot sizes and encouraged the construction of custom designed homes that featured the latest in Mid-Century Modern styling. This area also benefited from its location adjacent to the golf course, whose open fairways enhanced the “long view” to the west.

House construction within the Vista Larga Addition, but outside the historic district, started east of Princeton Avenue in 1947. The first house in the historic district (west of Princeton Avenue) was a Ranch House built in 1948 at 1511 Columbia Drive. By 1955, most of the lots north of Haines Avenue and east of Princeton were built out, while approximately sixty-five percent of the lots on Columbia, Stanford, and Cornell were completed or under construction. Lots at the west end of Vista Larga Drive, Harvard Drive, and Harvard Court were yet to start construction. In 1956, Waggoman re-platted the far west end of the subdivision by enlarging some lots along Harvard and extending the street northward to make an entrance onto Indian School Road. Home construction peaked in 1956 and by 1963 less than half a dozen lots remained vacant. The last contributing house to the historic district, a Contemporary style home at 1428 Columbia, was completed in 1967 and Waggoman’s vision was complete.

The Significance of the Vista Larga Residential Historic District

The Vista Larga Mid-Century Modern Residential Historic District is listed in the National Register of Historic Places for several reasons. First, it is eligible for its contribution to the city’s evolution in community planning and design. The layout of the subdivision features classic subdivision styling, such as, large lots on curvilinear streets and cul-de-sacs. This not only reflects the popular subdivision design style in post-WW II America, but also accommodates the East Mesa’s distinctive environmental setting – numerous small arroyos cutting through the sandy hillocks, which for many years had discouraged building in the area.

Second, the location of the historic district reflects the changing socio-economic patterns taking place in the City of Albuquerque at this time. The dramatic population increases following the war necessitated large-scale residential expansion into the Northeast Heights, which in turn promoted commercial development and city infrastructure such as, paved roads, new water and sewer services, and the construction of new shopping centers. The Vista Larga Addition was located outside the traditional downtown but close enough so that white-collar professionals could still be close to their downtown offices. And, of course, the university was located within walking distance of the neighborhood. Prior to development of Albuquerque’s large shopping malls in the early 1960s – Winrock Center and Coronado Center – most weekend shopping for clothing and other goods still meant an automobile trip downtown. By the mid 1950s, shopping patterns were changing rapidly with construction of neighborhood shopping centers for daily errands to grocery stores and pharmacies. Residents of the Vista Larga neighborhood enjoyed this convenience when the Indian Plaza shopping center, located just a mile away at the corner of Indian School and Carlisle, opened in 1961.

Although the development of the upscale houses located within the Vista Larga historic district was a typical development pattern for postwar America, it reflected a unique subdivision for the City of Albuquerque in the 1950s. The district’s street layout and housing pattern remains unchanged from the developer’s original 1947
plat and his 1956 replat. As such, it retains its feeling of a 1950s subdivision. The Vista Larga Historic District is also notable for its excellent examples of Mid-Century Modern architecture. The district’s houses include a variety of Modern forms and styles which reflect distinctive characteristics. Over the years the houses have been minimally changed and continue to reflect their original materials, workmanship, and design.

Vista Larga Historic District Booklet

Cover of the Vista Larga BookletThe Vista Larga Mid-Century Modern Residential Historic District has recently created a booklet that provides a brief history of the neighborhood from its platting in 1947 to 1967, the year when most of the homes were completed. It describes how the subdivision exemplifies Albuquerque’s post-war housing development and its place in the city’s history. The booklet also describes the architectural movement known as “Mid-Century Modern” which includes house-styles that became extremely popular in the second half of the twentieth century, including Ranch House, Contemporary and International styles. A grant from the City of Albuquerque’s Urban Enhancement Trust Fund was used to produce the booklet. The Albuquerque Historical Society supported the Vista Larga Historic District application for the grant and serves as the fiscal agent for the grant. However, no AHS funds were used in its production. To view this excellent booklet, you can download it here. You can also download the Vista Larga Walking Tour Map.