Place & Re-Place: Las Cruces Urban Renewal, 1960-1975

Archivists Jennifer Olguin and Dylan McDonald will talk about their exhibit, “Place and Re-Place: Las Cruces Urban Renewal, 1960-1975” on Tuesday, November 9th at 8:00 a.m. MT on KTAL 101.5 FM as guests on Cafe Con Leche with Nan Rubin, and on Wednesday, November 17th at 5:30 p.m. MT [Zoom link forthcoming]. Produced in partnership with the City of Las Cruces’ Branigan Cultural Center (BCC), the photographic exhibition runs from October 23, 2021 – January 15, 2022 at the BCC (501 N Main St, Las Cruces) and features images and archival material from NMSU Library Archives and Special Collections.  The exhibit is free and the viewing hours can be found here.

Corner of Main Street at Griggs Avenue looking east

The corner of Main Street at Griggs Avenue looking east with the demolished ruins of the Las Cruces Rexall Drugs (103 Main Street) in the foreground, and the U.S. Post Office and the Masonic Temple in the background, c.1971.
NMSU Library Archives & Special Collections, Ms0478 Las Cruces Urban Renewal Agency

Urban renewal efforts in Las Cruces during the 1960s and 1970s saw civic officials and business leaders dramatically change the nature of the city’s downtown. Like many U.S. cities of the time, Las Cruces attempted to turn around the fading economic prominence and the deteriorating built environment of its urban core, particularly Main Street. However, this redevelopment effort forced businesses and families out of downtown and came at the cost of the city’s culture and cherished historic landmarks.

As the city’s population grew after World War II and its physical boundaries pushed outward, the central business district began to show its limitations. Although home to a diversity of businesses and government services, downtown faced stiff competition from the emerging modern and convenient shopping complexes at the city’s growing edges. Numerous buildings in the heart of the city, several of historic significance, needed considerable repairs. The surrounding streets and parking areas proved substandard, as did other basic city infrastructure. The economic success of the new, trendy shopping centers, which played off the growing car-centric American culture, soon had businesses relocating away from downtown.

To lure shoppers and businesses back downtown, city leaders proposed a radical plan to “renew” the area in the name of the public good. Financed by federal funds and backed by new building and zoning codes, the area bounded by Lohman, Campo, Picacho, and Water streets would be redeveloped to meet the needs of shoppers who favored the new and convenient. If a building could not be repurposed or rehabilitated to meet this economic goal, it faced demolition regardless of its significance. As the urban renewal experiment progressed and the new pedestrian mall neared completion, many Las Crucens questioned the program’s stated benefits and overall economic return.

Jennifer Olguin is the Rio Grande Historical Collections Archivist at New Mexico State University Library Archives and Special Collections. Jennifer was born and raised in New Mexico and enjoys working with archival material which allows her the opportunity to make the rich and unique history of New Mexico and the Spanish Borderlands accessible to researchers. She obtained her undergraduate degrees at New Mexico State University and MLS from the University of North Texas.

Dylan McDonald has served as the Political Collections Archivist and Special Collections Librarian at New Mexico State University since February 2019.  Prior to his appointment at NMSU, he worked for fourteen years as the Deputy City Historian and Manuscripts Archivist at the Center for Sacramento History where he curated several exhibitions. McDonald earned his MA in History at Boise State University and is a Certified Archivist.

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