*Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include comments from the city
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – From a staple for New Mexico nightlife to Albuquerque’s newest library, the transformation from Caravan Nightclub to the International District Library is complete. The project took six years – and here’s how it happened.
A stage for Hurricane, Pride, Campbell, and more
Although all that remains of the former nightclub is the sign, the club’s legacy lives on. Originally built in 1961, it was known as the Crescendo Club, before being changed to Caravan East in 1963.
That same year, owner Robert J. Johnson announced a $50,000 to $75,000 renovation, according to an article in the Albuquerque Tribune. That’s roughly half a million dollars in today’s money.
The renovations included combining the club’s dining room and stage room into a new performance space that could hold 400 people, the Tribune reported. That performance space ended up hosting some great performers. Al Hurricane, “the Godfather” of New Mexico music reportedly performed there, as did Charlie Pride, and Glen Campbell.
Soon after it was established, the Caravan East became a go-to spot for country music. Through the 1970s, it was the city’s largest country western club, with a 50 feet by 20 feet dance floor. According to a feature in the 1979 Albuquerque News, the spot hosted a wide range of dancers, dates, and music. It was a place a where folks could have good time, and was known as a relatively safe club.
In its heyday, club’s popularity allowed it to grow into a larger building. But the fun couldn’t last forever.
ABQ country scene cools, city steps in
By the early 2000s, country dancing and clubs like the Caravan East were fading fast. “Here we are, living in a hip-hop generation, and country-western clubs are having to keep up with the J.Lo’s, not the George Joneses,” J.M. Barol wrote for the Albuquerque Tribune in 2004.
By then, many of the local county dance halls had already closed. Boot Scoots, on Candelaria Road, closed in 2001, according to Barol. Cadillac Ranch closed in 1996. The Golden Inn was killed with a bout of arson in 1983, and the list didn’t stop there.
Caravan East managed to hold on longer than most. But by 2016, the club shut its doors for good. At the time, KRQE News 13 reported that the City of Albuquerque had been eyeing the property for a while, because it would allow the city to fill a gap in its 2007 Library Facilities master plan.
Story Continues Below
Annotated map from Albuquerque’s master plan shows that the Caravan East location would fill a gap in library services. Modified, from the Public Library.
The deal went through and demolition of the old club began in 2017. But turning the lot into a library took a lot of planning and patience.
To decide how the library should take shape, the city took input from the community during a town hall meeting in 2018. Those comments showed that residents wanted the library to be more than just a building that holds books. Residents showed interest in literacy programs, meeting spaces, and an activity space, such as an amphitheater.
Building delays, remaining questions
Once the city had input from the public, they put together a plan, then got started. Originally, the library was scheduled to be done in 2020. However, a spokeswoman with the Albuquerque Arts and Culture Department said the initial plan compiled by an architect “did not take into consideration the time it takes to secure funding from the state legislature or the City’s procurement process.”
In May 2020, the city finally broke ground on the $16.5 million library. The building was one of several projects the city pushed forward amid COVID-19 related shutdowns.
Now, after years of planning, the library is here, complete with the historical Caravan East sign as a nod to history. The community room also has wood floor that can be used for dance demonstrations, in homage to the old nightclub.
But a key remaining question is how will the city keep the library safe? Ahead of construction, a 2018 planning document for the site noted that there may need to be “a substantive maintenance component to deal with hypodermic needles and other drug paraphernalia that is left on-site daily.”
During a 2020 ribbon cutting, Mayor Tim Keller acknowledged the library’s construction in the International District, referring to the project as a significant investment in an “underserved neighborhood.” And the planning document recommended the City “have proactive discussions with homeless advocacy, other community service organizations and public safety to develop opportunities for unhoused and other distressed Library users to obtain services and support as part of scheduled events and activities that could occur at the Library site.”
KRQE News 13 reached out to the city of Albuquerque to ask what plans are in place to ensure the library stays safe and clean. A spokeswoman for the Arts & Culture Department said the city will rely on existing programs to clean up needles if needed.
“The City’s Parks & Recreation Department has a two-person team that gets deployed city-wide to pick up discarded needles. They respond within a day. They will also do this at the International District Library if needed,” said Tanya Lenti, the marketing manager for the Arts and Culture Department. “People who see needles anywhere in the city can report it to 311.”