They dot the streets like the abandoned toys of giants.
There’s a bowling ball and pin big as a house. There’s a lumberjack tall as a tree. There’s John Wayne times 10. There’s a red arrow massive enough to make a missile cower.
From humble beginnings as attention grabbers, these business signs and sculptures have turned over the years into something greater. Today, by the power of their sheer oddity, size or both, they mark Albuquerque like a tattoo telling the story of what the city was and is.
They’re also handy for giving directions, say many of the employees who work at businesses overshadowed by the monuments.
Here are a few of their stories.
The biggest red arrow you’ve ever seen
Indian Plaza Shopping Center, 2103 Carlisle Blvd. N.E.
If you believe the tale of lifelong Albuquerque resident Dave Saunders, Lil’ Beaver used a giant bow to shoot the arrow into an awaiting patch of soft concrete.
Lil’ Beaver was the Indian sidekick of Red Ryder, the cowboy of TV, movie and comic strip fame whom Saunders has been playing for more than 40 years. Ryder and Lil’ Beaver performed for Indian Plaza’s 1961 ribbon-cutting ceremony.
“The engineers built a great big bow . . . and they fitted that arrow to it,” Saunders says. “I beat the drum, and Lil’ Beaver pulled the trigger.
“They had fresh concrete there and it landed right in it, and it’s been there ever since.”
Gene Hinkle, a longtime Albuquerque developer and businessman who helped develop Indian Plaza with Elmer Sproul in the early 1960s, has a slightly less colorful explanation.
“Elmer had American Homes, and their trademark was the arrow,” Hinkle says. “It was kind of a natural to do the same thing.”
It also made sense to have an Indian arrow in Indian Plaza on Indian School Road, he says.
“It wasn’t a great act of genius that that happened,” he says. “It was just something that seemed to fit.”
Paul Bunyan – but he was supposed to be Abe Kreider
K&S Service Center, 7521 Menaul Blvd. N.E.
When woodcarver Ron McDowell was putting the finishing touches on the chain-saw-toting lumberjack statue outside K&S, McDowell’s chain saw jumped and cut off the bill of the figure’s hat, says Abe Kreider, owner of K&S.
Because Kreider always wears a hat with a bill, it didn’t make sense for the statue to be named after him as originally planned. McDowell carved a ski cap instead, and in December 1985, a wooden Paul Bunyan, not Abe Kreider, first stood outside the small engine sales and repair shop, Kreider says.
The log from which McDowell carved the statue stretched about 60 inches at its base and 40 inches at its top, Kreider recalls. It was so heavy, he thought it might crush the trailer carrying it. When he and his sons rolled it off into the parking lot of K&S, it boomed loud enough to bring people out of nearby stores, he says.
“They thought it was an earthquake,” Kreider says. “That thing really hit, shook the whole corner.”
In nearly 20 years of existence, the statue – created to advertise that the shop worked with chain saws – has been burned, knocked over, broken apart and put back together, Kreider says.
Mother Nature is the statue’s latest enemy. Kreider says a water-collecting hole in the statue’s base encourages rot, and it’s also drying out beneath the steady gaze of the sun.
“I’m going to try to keep him,” Kreider says.
The last hero
Aesop’s Gables, 4810 Pan American Freeway N.E.
Money-strapped artists from the East Coast visited Bill Falkenthal’s carpet store on Pan American Freeway in the late 1970s, and they asked him what they could make in exchange for some carpet, he says.
A giant Styrofoam bust of John Wayne – with white hat, blue scarf and red shirt – was his answer.
“He was the last hero, wasn’t he?” Falkenthal says. “I haven’t found anybody since.”
Falkenthal set the bust in the parking lot of what was then Southwest Carpets and used it in many of his commercials for the store.
Shortly after raising the statue for the first time, wind knocked it over, Falkenthal recalls. The artists repaired it, and with the addition of sandbags it stood steady. But wind wasn’t the bust’s only threat; vandals took aim as well.
“It had more bullet holes than you can shake a stick at,” Falkenthal says. “People would just go by and shoot him.”
When Aesop’s Gables, a cabinet store, moved into the location about two years ago, the owners repainted the front of the building and the bust, says Daina Wade, co-owner of Aesop’s. The sculpture, which began with red, white and blue coloring, is now teal and brown to match the building behind it.
“The colors weren’t particularly good any more,” she says. “Rain was getting into it. We wanted to brush him up a little bit.”
Gale Francis, a receptionist with Aesop’s, often refers to the statue when giving out directions to the store.
“I say we’re on Frontage Road,” she says, “and there’s a cowboy in the parking lot.”
Bowling for . . . office supplies?
Staples, 6001 Menaul Blvd. N.E.
Though pens have taken the place of pins inside the former Fiesta Lanes bowling alley at Menaul Boulevard and San Pedro Drive, the alley’s old sign still towers over the street.
Sue Ribble, who owned and ran Fiesta Lanes for 36 years, says her father, T.E. Ribble, had the sign built along with the bowling alley in 1962.
“A lot of the customers like the fact that it stayed,” says Tammy Kramer, a sales associate with Staples, the office supply store that took over the space in 1999 and recolored the sign red from its original turquoise. “They think it’s pretty neat.”
Ribble called the closing of Fiesta Lanes a “mixed blessing.” It was nice to move on but difficult to say goodbye to employees of the alley and friends who frequented it, she says.
Ribble still clearly remembers the alley’s features when walking through the Staples that replaced it.
“The poles are still there,” she says. “You can think of Lane 23 and 24 here, 22 and 21 there. It’s a nice tribute that they kept the sign.”