Sep 29, 2017

New Albuquerque Library Set for Historic Site in a Unique District


For decades, music and dance lovers from around New Mexico and the larger region of the west made their way to the famous Caravan East Night Club.

Located at 7605 Central Avenue NE, the nightclub was billed as “America’s Finest Western Club.”   It was host to a variety performers, including Charlie Pride and Al Hurricane.  That club finally closed its doors for good last December.

Now plans are set to replace the 10,000 square-foot iconic Caravan with a new city library serving the residents of the surrounding International District.

“We want to build a 25,000 square foot facility,” says Dean Smith, the director of the Albuquerque and Bernalillo County Public Library.

The genesis for this library project stems from a 2007 facilities master plan identifying three locations across the city as, says Smith, “top priorities for providing new buildings and more square footage for our system.”

One of the identified areas was Albuquerque’s busy International District, which stretches from Wyoming Boulevard on the west to San Mateo Boulevard on the west, with Lomas Boulevard and Gibson Boulevard as the north and south borders.

Home to more than 60,000 people, the four-square mile section of town today is primarily served by the 7,000 square-foot San Pedro Public Library at 5600 Trumbull Avenue, a facility that opened in 1967.

“It’s served the people of the community well for all of these years,” says Smith of the San Pedro Public Library. “But it really is no longer big enough for the needs of the neighborhood. It doesn’t have a community room, it doesn’t have enough programming, it has a small stack of books, and no small study room.”

Construction of the Caravan-site new library could begin sometime in the summer of 2020 if Albuquerque voters next month give their approval to a $2 million bond, one of eleven proposed bonds totaling $125 million, to fund the project.

“It’s really going to be a great thing for everyone in the community,” says Pat Davis, the Albuquerque city Councilor whose District 6 includes the International District.

“This is a part of the city that has been neglected for a long time,” says Davis, “so, in response, we’ve been trying to make a concerted effort to refocus city resources here and the new library is very much a part of that.”

Certainly one of the most unique sections of the city, the International District is dotted with small restaurants and shops and is called home by thousands of Vietnamese and Laotian residents who moved into the area after the fall of the South Vietnamese government in 1975.

But in more recent years, refugees from Central America, Africa, and other points of the globe have also moved into the district, giving it, says Davis, one of the most unique demographic mixes in the city.

“We want this new library to be more than just a place where you come in and read a book and check your email,” says Davis. “Because we have a lot of refugees and immigrants here, we want to have a library that has space for things like English language classes.”

While the future of the San Pedro Library remains uncertain, the site for the new library will see the demolition of the Caravan nightclub, an event that will undoubtedly signal the end of an era for a generation of music lovers.

But certain parts of the Caravan’s interiors and neon signage will be preserved.

If the November bond passes, a roughly 15-month design phase for the new library headed by the Albuquerque-based RMKM Architecture will begin either later this year or in early 2018.

That phase will include community meetings with International District neighbors offering their thoughts on both the services they would most like to have in the new library, as well as how the building will look.

The “look” part of the project is more important to library officials than might be commonly known.

“Our libraries are probably the government buildings that are most used by the public in the city,” says Smith, adding that for that reason alone, “they should be places that are welcoming, inspired, and even beautiful.”


By Garry Boulard

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