The Mystery of Forest Park

by Guest on 24 March, 2015 Historical 738 Views
The Mystery of Forest Park

By Denise Tessier

Rick Holben still remembers the day he pulled a “neat” 1931 license plate from a puddle of mud alongside the highway about two miles north of Tijeras. It was the mid-1970s, Highway 10 (now NM 14) was just two lanes, and Holben was nine or ten years old.

Decades later, that license plate has taken Holben on a research and writing journey resulting in the first history of the area. Home to today’s Forest Park subdivision, in the 1930s this section of the East Mountains was a resort of cabins and horse trails enjoyed by folks fleeing hot and dusty Albuquerque. Over the decades, Forest Park has also been the site of a succession of popular restaurants that changed hands and incarnations until a case of suspected arson closed them for good.

Holben’s transformation into East Mountain history detective began in earnest last year when he met a man with access to old motor vehicle records. On a whim, Holben decided to find out who had owned the license plate he’d held on to for nearly 40 years. 

The records showed that the plate belonged to a 1930 Ford delivery truck owned by James I. Easley of Cedar Crest. Even more interesting to Holben was that the two plates immediately listed next in the records were also for delivery trucks owned by Easley. “If a guy in Cedar Crest had three new trucks in 1930, I knew he must have been up to something,” Holben says. He set out to learn what that something might have been.

Turns out that Easley and one of his brothers had moved to Albuquerque in 1926, possibly for health reasons. Once there, Easley met and married Marguerite Kaseman, widow of the nephew of wealthy businessman George Kaseman (husband of Anna Kaseman, after whom the hospital is named).

In 1928, after visiting the Sandia Mountains, Easley, his wife, and his brother leased two 80-acre state-owned parcels just north of Carl Webb’s recently established resort community of Cedar Crest. There they set to work building a “Year Round Resort,” which opened in April 1929 and eventually contained 15 fully furnished cabins, a restaurant, and stables with access to bridle and hiking paths in the nearby mountains. An early newspaper ad boasted, “No Sand Storms at Forest Park,” a reference to the hot, dusty nature of most of Albuquerque in those days.

The green cabins with white trim each had a large stone fireplace, running water, natural gas for cooking, and “restful untiring views.” By August, one Albuquerque family was quoted in the Albuquerque Journal as planning to spend an entire month at “the beautiful summer resort in the Sandia Mountains.”

The Easleys also built a lodge home for themselves on the property. It was described by The Health City Sun, a business-oriented newspaper established in Albuquerque in 1929, as “filled full of western color with flaming Navajo blankets, mingled with the soft browns of pueblo pottery.”

Just days before the resort’s first anniversary, a restaurant called the Forest Park Inn opened on site, but it was run by different managers. According to Holben, the first of which was Mrs. Ralph Dunbar, a well-known caterer. A 1933 Albuquerque Journal ad described an “attractive dining room furnished in the Spanish style,” with Thanksgiving Dinner priced at $1.25. 

Three years later, the Easleys traded their interest in Forest Park for a 23-acre orange grove and ranch house in California. The grove’s former owner, Emily Garner, sent her 60-year-old brother, Warren Beckwith, to run Forest Park. He arrived in 1934 with his much younger wife, a son, and a string of polo ponies. During his research, Holben learned that Beckwith’s first wife was Jessie Harlan Lincoln, granddaughter of Abraham Lincoln, and at the time of their elopement in 1897, Beckwith was a baseball player with the Chicago Cubs. The couple divorced in 1907.

Beckwith took over ownership of Forest Park when his sister died in 1936. Two years later, apparently tired of running the business, he moved back to California after selling the resort to two New Englanders, who had run a riding school for girls in California before heading to New Mexico. 

While operating Forest Park, Gretchen Schickle and Jean F. Moore also taught riding in Albuquerque at the Sandia School, a private day and boarding school for girls founded by Ruth Hanna McCormick-Simms. Holben found a letter revealing that in 1941, when creation of Sandia Base encroached on the school’s land, McCormick-Simms considered moving her school to Forest Park. Instead, she closed the school and Forest Park remained a guest ranch. A 1940s-era brochure mentions that the resort had a “large ranch swimming pool,” no doubt adding to Forest Park’s attraction as an escape from the city. 

Bess Roseberry, who had been a house manager at Sandia School, now managed the restaurant. Holben suspects a fire burned it down in 1950, because by November 1954 an Albuquerque Journal ad announced the grand opening of Forest Park Inn at its new location east of Highway 10, in the Easleys’ former lodge home. Three months later, another ad announced the restaurant’s name change to The Cedars. 

As for the resort itself, by 1955 Schickle and Moore had paid off their state leases on all 160 acres and sold them. The land changed hands a number of times after that until it was purchased by partners Max Flatow, Jason P. Moore, Garland D. Bryan Jr., and Robert Fairburn, architects who in 1966 developed the land into the Forest Park Subdivision, with almost 100 residential lots. Two of the original Easley cabins remain today, occupied as homes.

The restaurant continued to operate under various owners and incarnations until the early 1980s: in 1969 Miss Charlie Houck, former manager of Albuquerque’s Polynesian Inn, turned it into the Cedar Manna Supper Club; by 1977 it was known as the Sandia Pass, a casual-dress steakhouse where tie-wearing patrons risked having their neckwear cut in half and hung above the bar. 

Fast forward to 1981, when new owners transformed the steakhouse and bar into Daisy Mae’s, which, despite efforts by more than 100 firefighters from seven fire districts, burned to the ground on Aug. 17, 1983. Arson was suspected, and 31 years later the land is still vacant.

But across the way from the former restaurant site, a wooden sign still leads to Forest Park. What was touted in 1966 as a year-round home-site “closer to nature”—a way to “Enjoy life amid the forest!”—remains true to this day. Away from the dust and the heat of Albuquerque, surrounded by cool air and towering pines, about 80 families continue to call Forest Park home. 

Rick Holben has written a detailed history of Forest Park. The booklet, which features copies of old newspaper ads, photos, and other documents, is available for purchase from the East Mountain Historical Society at eastmountainhistory.org.

 

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Denise Tessier

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