By Sonya Ewan
Photos by Michael Meyer
You’d never guess from the outside, but walking through the entryway of Dale Whale’s East Mountain home feels a bit like walking inside the old downtown Alvarado Hotel in Albuquerque. In fact, the 100-plus-year-old bricks paving Whale’s entryway are indeed from the Alvarado—a once lavish and storied Harvey House business. Furthermore, the tin lining the hallway ceilings is from the old Roswell courthouse and dates back to the turn of the 20th century. Rounding the corner into the kitchen, perched on the countertop, is a section of old mailboxes—the sort with tiny round knobs and little windows for owners’ names. Those glass windows now display samples of Whale’s personal photo collection.
Designed by an architect friend of Whale’s, the house was built in the 1980s. And while specific features are more or less glamorous, they’re virtually all recycled. “The only reason I ended up with this stuff and we built the house is because of > the business I was in—demolishing buildings,” says Whale.
Now retired, Whale is the former owner of Coronado Wrecking & Salvage, which he operated in Albuquerque for over 40 years (his son Keith runs it now). Some of the architectural salvage from those projects made it into his home, adding to its unique character by giving renewed purpose to what was considered past its prime. “If I see something that I know is unique and old,” says Whale, “I’ll save some of it.”
Repurposed timber and brick from a variety of projects were used for floors and walls. Sections of leaded glass windows removed from Our Lady of Belen church line the top of a living room wall, catching morning sunlight. The kitchen and bathroom cabinets are made of oak foam from a gymnasium floor. The entertainment center shelves were once bifold closet doors. On colder days, Whale’s wife, Linda, can be found reading in the sunroom. It was added onto the house after Whale’s company demolished the Spaghetti Machine restaurant in Albuquerque, and he saved the glass panels that once enclosed the patio. The structure of the home itself, built with two-foot-thick walls, is likewise eco-friendly—no need for air conditioning. And in winter, says Whale, “We heat it up and it doesn’t transfer through the walls.”
There is cultural history here, too. The living room and guest bedrooms have beams from the 1920s, hand-painted by Carl von Hassler and his wife. A renowned Southwestern painter, von Hassler emigrated to the U.S. from his native Germany in 1922. Eventually settling in Albuquerque, he received his first important commission painting murals for the KiMo Theater. In addition, says Whale, the couple was also hired to paint the vigas in the reception area of the Franciscan Hotel, once located between 6th and> 7th on the north side of Central. Whale oversaw the Franciscan’s demolition, but saved the vigas.
Times have changed, though. By the time paperwork is completed and demolition is scheduled, Whale laments, vagrants have stolen all the salable materials, including copper and steel. “They ruin a nice sink trying to get the brass.”
Touring Whale’s home, I’m reminded of retired National Hockey League goaltender turned environmental advocate, Mike Richter, who commented on the broader nature of litter, “What’s the difference between tossing cigarette butts out a car window and tossing them in a garbage can, where they’ll end up in a landfill?”
Whale has prevented what most folks would call useless debris from going unused. Not only that, around every corner is something with an intriguing story. Stepping into the recreation room is like walking onto the movie set of an Old West saloon. “This was a back bar in a drugstore in Roswell,” says Whale of the tall wooden structure lining a large mirror. The counter trim was repurposed from railing in a Roswell home, while the walnut top is from the Capitol, a reputed swanky Amarillo hotel built in the 1920s.
Whale acknowledges that his work could be emotionally charged at times. The 1970 demolition of the Alvarado Hotel, for instance, wasn’t an easy assignment. “Everybody was mad at me for that,” he says. “But the city condemned it; the fire department condemned it; they forced [Santa Fe Railway, which owned the property] to do it.” He salvaged what he could—the brick in the entryway as well as the Aztec tile now bordering his fireplace. “I peeled it off the wall of the coffee shop,” he says. The bricks of the hearth, an intriguing metallic color, are also salvage. “They’re from the same walkways that were prevalent at Fort Marcy military post in downtown Santa Fe during the 1880s to 1910.”
Back outside, Whale points out an old Chevron station canopy from Santa Fe, now serving as his carport. Talk about saving landfill space—Richter would be proud.
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