Route 66: Iceberg Cafe, Albuquerque

No, not a mirage — it really IS an iceberg oasis in the desert…

by Paula Bosse

The Iceberg Cafe (spelled “Iceburg” in a later incarnation) was one of those wonderfully kooky thing-shaped buildings built to attract passing motorists. “Vernacular kitsch.” The Iceberg — just outside Albuquerque, New Mexico — was one of the many roadside oddities that dotted Route 66 back when the highway was in its heyday.

The Iceberg began life on May 27, 1931 as a frozen custard stand. It offered curb service, and its drinks were served in “sanitary Vortex cups.” (Most images are larger when clicked.)

iceberg_grand-opening_albuquerque-journal_052731

Albuquerque Journal, May 27, 1931

The Iceberg was owned by C. A. “Mac” McAdams, who also appears to have designed the building. (The icebergian elements in the ad above are difficult to make out — see a larger image of the still-hard-to-make out photo here.)

Tourists weren’t, of course, the only patrons — locals also seemed to enjoy both the “new and very different type of architecture” as well as the new-fangled frozen custard.

iceberg_grand-opening_albuquerque-journal_052831

Albuquerque Journal, May 28, 1931

iceberg_albuquerque-journal_071631

Albuquerque Journal, July 16, 1931

Even though it seems everyone loved the desert iceberg, the place went belly-up a year after it opened. The quirky custard stand into which McAdams had sunk over $8,000 went into receivership. In the notice for the receiver’s sale, he made sure to highlight the fact that the “equipment includes only frozen custard machine in state.”

iceberg_receivership_albuquerque-journal_050832

Albuquerque Journal, May 8, 1932

New owners turned it into a cafe with attached gas pumps (and a second ‘berg). In 1949, the cafe offered its guests “TV nightly” which must have been enthusiastically welcomed, as television sets weren’t yet common in American households. Surprisingly, it also took reservations (after 5:00).

iceberg-cafe_albuquerque-journal_101549

Albuquerque Journal, October 15, 1949

The building was moved to new locations two or three times over the years, but wherever it was, it proved to be a roadside favorite, until it was finally demolished in Bernalillo, New Mexico in the 1960s or early 1970s. I’m sure there were more than a few frozen tears shed for the demise of the New Mexican iceberg.

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Here are a few photos of what we’re missing.

First, a super-crisp photo by the wonderful Russell Lee, taken in July, 1940 for the Farm Security Administration, from the Library of Congress:

iceberg-cafe_russell-lee_LOC

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From the book Route 66 in New Mexico by Joe Sonderman:

iceberg-cafe_route-66-in-nm-bk

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From Insight Guides USA, On the Road:

iceberg-cafe_insight-guides-usa-on-the-road

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And from the Sandoval County Historical Society, via the Town of Bernalillo Facebook page:

iceberg-cafe_sandoval-county-historical-society_town-of-bernalillo-FB-page

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And for some retro cool, a really great painting by Dennis Ziemienski (which appears to be available for purchase here).

iceberg-cafe_dennis-ziemienski

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Lastly, a few pertinent questions/comments about the Iceberg posed to the editors of the Albuquerque Journal over the years (click to see larger images):

iceberg-cafe_albuquerque-journal_020969

Feb. 9, 1969

iceberg-cafe_albuquerque-journal_021769

Feb. 17, 1969

iceberg-cafe_albuquerque-journal_060377

June 3, 1977

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Copyright © 2017 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

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