Friday, February 16th, 2007

Las Cruces’ Worst Mistake

The hands-down worst mistake in Las Cruces history was the destruction of Main Street under the guise of “urban renewal.”

“Urban renewal” was federal policy in the 60s, part of the big government social engineering mindset that began its rule then and is with us still. In the case of Las Cruces, the Federal Government was willing to pay two thirds of the cost of “renewing” the downtown area.

Here are a couple of post card images of Main Street, Las Cruces from the 1940s.

The justifications for the “renewal” of Main Street and surrounding area were the usual ones:

The businesses there were not doing that well,

The buildings were old and unattractive, some dating to the late 1800s,

And, of course, a wonderful urban utopia could be put in its place with businesses that would pay more taxes.

But the truth of “urban renewal” was never an urban utopia.

Instead, businesses that social planners didn’t like, but had historical and organic roots, were replaced by businesses they “favored” and were willing to subsidize. Whether the new businesses would make money was a gamble — the only firms that were certain to profit were those involved in the destruction of the “old” and the construction of the “new.”

The plan that was adopted involved closing 7 blocks of Main Street and turning it into a “shaded” walking mall. The blocks on both sides of the mall would be cleared of all buildings to make that space available for new construction. Businesses and home owners that did not voluntarily sell in the cleared areas, or agree to renovations in the walking mall, would be removed by eminent domain.

Implementation of the plan began in 1968 and was finished in 1974.

The “renewal” area contained 160 businesses. 38 agreed to make the required remodeling changes and were permitted to stay. 122 did not and moved or went out of business.

A total of 84 families and 52 individuals lived in the cleared area and were forced to relocate.

Here you can see the “urban renewal” area shortly after its completion. Main Street has been closed and the streets on both sides now loop around it. The extensive empty areas, including the swath to the right of the loop (east), are “cleared” areas.

Here’s a better view of the “front” (south end) of the mall:

As the photo makes clear, this was an extremely ugly design with very serious problems. There was absolutely nothing that was attractive to people driving by in cars. All you could see from the loop were the backs of the businesses, and in the walking mall itself, the low “shades” covered anything attractive in the buildings — not that there was much that was attactive left, because the forced renovations had resulted in the historical storefronts being destroyed or covered with “modern” facades.

The mall was and is a failure.

It destroyed Las Cruces’ historical downtown heritage and replaced it with an ugly public space that no one wanted to visit.

Here’s what the front entrance looks like today:

Here’s what the inside of the mall looks like:

Recognizing what a horrible mistake the project was, the city is now removing the mall and restoring Main Street. But it’s impossible to recover what was destroyed.

Tags: , , ,

3 Responses to “Las Cruces’ Worst Mistake”

  1. April 11th, 2009 at 12:03 am

    Tony Ruiz said:

    Great. I was the one who conceived and promoted the mall when I was in high school. I went around and got store owners’ opinions, and it was pretty much positive. It was published, along with my rendering, in The Bulletin, the local #2 newspaper. It sure seemed like a great idea at the time. A local architect I can’t remember the name of just now was commissioned by the city to design and draw it. I’d run away to California from home, returning to finish high school and that’s when I did it. I did home design & drafting for my Dad’s builder friends, was adept at it, and I’d seen the successful Pomona mall and got the idea there and then. The final design wasn’t my idea of an imaginative and well designed solution, but it sure seemed like a good idea then.

  2. April 11th, 2009 at 9:30 pm

    Tony Ruiz said:

    The Las Cruces architect’s name who designed the mall was Jerome Hartger

  3. April 14th, 2009 at 1:24 am

    Tony Ruiz said:

    The newspaper was the Las Cruces Citizen, not the Bulletin as I remembered it

Leave A Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.