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A Short Stroll to the Albuquerque Press Club

by David Donaldson

I like to think of Huning Highland as a walking neighborhood and at this point in time, I’ve established several short routes that I follow when I feel like getting out of the house for 20 minutes or so, or, whenever I want to give guests and visitors an overview of the neighborhood. I live on Iron Ave, which “technically” is the southern edge of the historical district, so sometimes I walk south—and believe me, there are some cute little houses in the South Broadway neighborhood— but more often than not, I head north—cutting down alleys, or strolling along Walter to Central. I don’t know why, but Central seems to be the dividing line for me, even though I happen to like the houses along Copper, and I frequently use the library on Edith between Central and Copper. It’s one of the neighborhood’s hidden gems. I retreat to it quite often with my laptop when my twice-a- month cleaning lady comes and I don’t want to be underfoot. (Or, more accurately, struggle with my not so fluent Spanish!)

I discovered another hidden gem during one of my peripatetic meanderings back in November 2013, when I came across the Albuquerque Press Club. It’s that quirky, wooden structure with wrap around balconies that sits atop the hill in the neighborhood park. Of course I’d seen the building before, but I always assumed that membership was limited to reporters or journalists. However, on that afternoon stroll, I had no particular agenda nor was I rushed for time, so I decided to explore the building. At first it seemed a bit intimidating. A sign clearly reads “members only,” and, after climbing the wooden stairs leading to the balcony, I confronted a sturdy wood door with an unusual log-latch.

Once inside, I felt as if I had been transported back to the 19th century. I found myself in a cavernous great-room with a raised ceiling and heavy wooden cross beams. Most surprisingly, it appeared as if no one were there. (At least on the day I decided to venture in.) The walls are lined with well-stocked book cases. To the right I spotted a huge field-stone fireplace, and an upright piano, and I noticed an organ on the left. I heard sounds coming from within the building so I decided to pass through a dimly lit doorway and step down a short flight of stairs. I could hardly believe my eyes: I encountered a well-stocked Irish “pub,” but most importantly, I met Seth Hall, the bartender.

As it turns out, Seth is also on the membership committee of the Press Club, and since no one else was around that afternoon, he explained the history of the building, as well as the club’s membership policy. In short: the building was the home of George Whittlesby, an architect for the Santa Fe railroad, who based his design on a Norwegian country house. More important for the purpose of this article, Seth explained that the club is officially part of the world-wide Press Club network, and while a certain percentage of members is associated with newspapers, magazines, the media, and marketing, he elaborated that the Board offers “Associate Membership” for individuals who are not associated with the press, and approximately 70 percent of overall membership falls within that category. Seth had time to show me around the building that afternoon and he pointed out the card room; the comfortable lounge area that serves as the game room; the dart room, the billiards room and the expansive outside patio.

I was impressed with the quirkiness of the building; the expansive outside balconies; the cozy atmosphere inside, and particularly, Seth’s warm welcome. The fact that I can walk to the club in about eight minutes, was an added feature. I made up my mind to join. Seth sponsored me for associate membership, and after the board reviewed my application, I became an official Press Club member. Board members later told me that they are delighted when “local” people join the club. As it turned out, I was elected to the board of directors myself this past January and I now serve as the Press Club Secretary. And, because I live in the neighborhood, I volunteered to act as chair of the Community Liaison committee.

One of the benefits of belong to the Press Club, as far as I am concerned, is that I can take friends up there on summer afternoons and we are able to sit out on the balcony with our drinks. For the record, a dry gin martini at the Apothecary Bar (same view) is approximately twice what the Press Club charges. The Press Club doesn’t have a restaurant, so they permit “carry-ins”. I often bring chips, cheese & crackers; pizza, or pot-stickers that I’d steamed at home. Another advantage is that members can use the Press Club facilities for meetings and since my home is too small for large gatherings, I’ve held potlucks for as many as 28 at the Press Club, and a few months ago, I arranged for two guest lecturers to speak to a group of 18 men. In other words, the Press Club is a lot more than a bar. It’s a place to meet and to socialize with neighbors and friends. It’s also serves as a great “pit stop” during my neighborhood walks, and I inevitably find someone interesting to chat to.

If you are reading this newsletter and would like to see the building for yourself, I would be more than happy to show you around. In my experience, the Press Club is definitely part of our neighborhood, and I would love to see more neighbors recognize that the quirky building atop the hill is one of Huning Highland’s “hidden gems.” And, while I certainly have ulterior motives, I wouldn’t mind seeing an increase in neighborhood members. 

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