I love old buildings, the sense of time and history, the little, handcrafted touches; an ornately carved cornice or a wildly sweeping staircase. Often these buildings have been abandoned and sometimes I like them better that way. Although, with a few exceptions, I hate to see them torn down because I know they will never be replaced by anything better. Albuquerque recently lost the wonderfully strange Aztec Motel along old Route 66 and, if anything is ever built on that lot again, it will never match the warped charm of that historic motel. You know, if you’ve seen one modern K-Mart or 7-11, you’ve seen them all.
I’ve photographed hundreds of old structures throughout the United States, so, I feel that I can speak from some experience when I say that the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe (ATSF) rail yard complex near downtown Albuquerque is one of the finest (and most historically important) set of buildings one could ever have the pleasure of setting foot in. Most of the surviving workshops were built around 1920 and used to service locomotives in what was one of the major rail hubs of the Southwest. This means that inside the buildings you get towering ceilings, narrow catwalks, massive cranes, and acres and acres of glass windows, some colored blue and green. When the light hits the windows just right, it is like being in an industrial cathedral. I consider myself privileged to have spent many hours exploring and photographing the complex.
Not too long ago I heard that there were plans to develop the rail yard. I heartily support any effort to utilize the rail yard buildings that does not fundamentally change their character. I understand that alteration would be inevitable, but putting the buildings back to use in some way would be a very good thing. More recently I’ve been told that there has been a breakdown of some kind and that the development plans have been put on hold. Whatever the case, aside from an occasional movie shoot, the railyard still sits largely vacant, looming over the Barelas neighborhood, its ultimate fate still unknown. What I know to be true is that 100 years from now nobody will wander through empty Wal-Marts with any of the sense of awe that one feels in the rail yard. No one will ask: “How did they build this place?” or, “What did they do here?” No one will care when the bulldozers arrive because there are thousands of Wal-Mart buildings, all devoid of character, each one exactly the same. But the ATSF rail yard? Well, there’s only one of those in the world and it’s well worth saving. Hopefully, the photographs included on this site and in the upcoming exhibition convey a fraction of its beauty and grandeur.