Nob Hill Highland District in Albuquerque, NM

The historic Route 66 Highway runs through Albuquerque, NM in the Nob Hill Highland District.

Laura Hill
On Tuesday, April 26, 2011 - 05:38
Albuquerque NM

Route 66‚ that fabled road of song and story‚ is still a busy thoroughfare dotted with colorful reminders of its glory days as the road to California. But it’s also the center of one of Albuquerque’s most vital neighborhoods.

Nob Hill-Highland‚ nestled close to downtown and adjacent to the University of New Mexico‚ has it all: a charming mix of locally owned businesses‚ professional offices‚ restaurants‚ galleries‚ middle-class housing and the good fortune of lying along one of the nation’s most historic roadways.

Connecting Chicago to California‚ Route 66 was a well-traveled road whose popularity boomed in the 1930s and ’40s‚ when it was the only paved road across the state. In its heyday‚ it bustled with motor lodges‚ gas stations and attractions such as iceberg-shaped cafés and motels with teepees‚ but with the construction of Interstate 40 in 1959‚ the area dwindled.

Park your car today and amble along what’s now known as Central Avenue‚ and you’ll feel like you’re on Main Street – with a distinct twist. The old pueblo-style Monte Vista Fire Station‚ now a restaurant‚ the 1930s-vintage Nob Hill and Aztec motels and Campbell’s Grille‚ reborn as a police substation‚ remain‚ as do other historic landmarks.

But next to them‚ you’ll also find some of the best shopping‚ dining‚ arts and entertainment in the city served up with a funky‚ laid-back air.

“There is a really diverse kind of feel to it‚” says Jim Neustel‚ a board member of the Nob Hill-Highland Business Association. “We’ve got people in suits and ties‚ people in cutoffs with skateboards‚ an amazing assortment of people. It’s a destination kind of place. In my view‚ this is one of the most interesting and fun parts of town.”

The Nob Hill-Highland business climate is home to a wide variety of ventures. Its two ZIP codes boast the largest concentration of artists in the state‚ 210 antique dealers‚ 19 art galleries and studios‚ and 23 dine-in restaurants.

Peacecraft‚ of which Neustel is executive director‚ is one of the area’s unique shops‚ a nonprofit retail store that features fair-trade merchandise from 43 coops around the world.

Jerry Lane‚ whose Book Stop store has been a fixture in the area for more than 30 years‚ describes the mixture of businesses as “goofy” – which is part of its charm‚ he says.

“Nob Hill-Highland is wonderful‚ first‚ because it’s one of the only pedestrian areas in Albuquerque‚ where most people are on the Los Angeles plan – they drive from here to there. Here people can walk‚ shop and enjoy the area. Our proximity to the university is also key; we’re close but not right on top of it.”

Demand for development in the neighborhood is strong‚ Lane says‚ as interest in downtown housing grows and business continues to flourish.

“Nob Hill is one of the few places where a little more metropolitan lifestyle is possible‚” he says. “Something slightly more urban – but with a southwestern touch.”

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Laura Hill is a former reporter/columnist for the Tennessean and a contributor to Journal Communications publications since 1996.