By Helen Horwitz
Like many little girls of my generation, I sometimes fantasized about living in a palace. Now, many years removed from those girlish daydreams, I realize that while I didn’t actually get to live in a palace, I visited one very often.
In the Albuquerque of my 1940s and 50s childhood, local residents considered a massive dark grey building alongside the town’s railroad tracks to be the epitome of Southwestern elegance and glamour. The Alvarado Hotel, for that was the name of my palace, was a rambling, Mission-style complex with a hotel, several restaurants and shops. Lush gardens, complete with goldfish-filled fountains, provided a breather for train-weary movie stars and other travelers who took the Santa Fe Railway between Los Angeles and Chicago.
I never rode in the posh Super Chief favored by the likes of Bette Davis or James Stewart, but I took many trips on the all-coach El Capitan. The majestic bell towers of my palace always stood tall on Albuquerque’s skyline both to bid me farewell and welcome me home again. In between trips, there were delicious meals with my parents and brother in the hotel’s coffee shop, and important family celebrations like my great aunt and uncle’s 50th anniversary gala in the splendid Alvarado dining room.
The Alvarado is intertwined with some of my best childhood memories and I will tell you about one of them – the day that I interviewed Vincent Price.
Yes, reader, at the tender age of 13, wearing something that I thought made me look as grownup as that fictional ace reporter Brenda Starr – but probably tottering on my low “Louis” heels – I interviewed this suave, sophisticated and utterly charming actor in the lobby of the Alvarado Hotel.
Here is how it happened. The late George Baldwin z’l, who was then managing editor at The Albuquerque Tribune and a family friend, knew about my budding interest in journalism. To encourage me, George occasionally invited me to contribute a short article to the paper, and in return he gave me a byline that I considered ample payment. When he asked me to interview Vincent Price, who was starring in a play at the Albuquerque Little Theatre, I was over the moon!
For a good half hour, this tall, elegantly dressed gentleman with the instantly recognizable, silken voice sat with me in a well-lit corner of the Alvarado’s grand lobby. He told me about his role at the Little Theatre, his work in the recently released film “House of Wax” and other now-forgotten topics. During the interview, a Tribune photographer arrived to snap a picture of me with the incredibly gracious Mr. Price.
My article, with a byline and that photo, appeared soon afterward in the newspaper. Sad to say, the clipping was lost over time, and scouring pre-digital microfilms in the library is now too daunting a task for me. But that momentous event in the Alvarado lobby sealed my future as a journalist and writer. Thanks to George Baldwin, I got to interview the warm, delightful Vincent Price, who graciously treated a 13-year-old girl as an adult – without a trace of condescension in his responses or manner.
Regrettably, the Alvarado fell to the wrecking ball in 1970, a victim of newly popular air travel and corporate greed. But my memories endure – not just of the years when this magnificent structure was my personal palace, but also of the kindnesses of two men. One was a small-town newspaper editor and the other was a distinguished actor, and together they strengthened a young girl’s aspirations and self-confidence.
If I didn’t actually get to dwell in that palace, my cherished memories of the Alvarado still made me feel like a princess – and of course, a real-life Brenda Starr.
Helen Horwitz is an Albuquerque native. After a long career in New York as a communications and marketing executive, she returned home in 2000 to telecommute to the East Coast, retired in 2011, and is now a freelance writer. She has a B.J. from the University of Missouri School of Journalism and is a 1958 graduate of Highland High School.