It may seem unlikely to the Grand Valley’s newer and/or younger residents, but for many years, North Avenue was a big commercial and social destination that went beyond fast food restaurants and discount stores.
In the original platting of Grand Junction in 1881-2, North Avenue served as the northern boundary to town, and a quick look at the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps shows that North remained too sparsely populated to warrant a mention even in 1912. Many Mesa County Oral History Project interviewees who discuss local agriculture recall North Avenue, especially the portion east of 12th Avenue and north of North, as covered in apple trees all the way to Fruitvale. But as the eventual route of the Midland Trail, one of the first transcontinental automobile roads in the United States (established 1913), North grew to become part of the area’s first highway. The Midland Trail passed along various routes in Colorado and merged into one route in Mesa County before passing into Utah, connecting Palisade, Clifton and Fruitvale before heading west through Grand Junction on North Avenue.
With the growth of automobile traffic and the decline of apple farming due to the coddling moth, North Avenue emerged over time as a thriving commercial and service center. Glenn McFall established what was probably one of the first service stations on the strip during the Great Depression, and the avenue became home to gas stations, auto repair shops, restaurants, grocery stores (a City Market at 1000 N. 9th Street, another in the Eastgate Shopping Center at 2830 North, and a Safeway at 644 North) and department stores such as Kmart (2949 North Avenue).
North had its own movie theater in the Teller Arms Twin Cinemas at 2601 Belford Avenue, and two drive-in theaters! You could pay a pittance for a carload of people to watch a movie at The Rocket (2881 North. It closed in the 1990’s) or The Chief (2868 North. It closed in 1989). Grand Junction even had its own amusement park. Guyton’s Fun Junction was located on the northeast corner of North and 28 3/4 Road, where many a bored kid spent an afternoon or evening playing ski ball, riding the rides and looking for other kids to hangout with.
North Avenue also served as a cultural hub for youth, who used its long length to “cruise” in their cars on Friday and Saturday nights from the 1950’s through the 1990’s, showing off their hot rods or their Hondas (cruising continues to a lesser extent today). Youth used parking lots along the route as gathering spots, and the authorities tolerated the kids and their eccentricities.
Where it terminates at its eastern end, North Avenue was home to Fruitvale High School, which was renamed Central High School in 1946 (so named because its original location at 29 Road was centrally located along the old north/south highway). Ranchrite Hardware has long made its home at 2919 North, and at one time had an annual and well-attended auction of farm equipment. A video game arcade and miniature golf course existed on the northwest corner of North and 29 1/2 Road during the 1980’s, and the Memorial Gardens of the Valley cemetery has been a tenant at 2970 North Avenue for many years.
Beginning with the opening of the Mesa Mall in the 1980’s, North Avenue suffered a gradual decline. Over the years, every grocery store and nearly every department store has closed, and other stores have relocated away from the street. Some longstanding businesses and institutions remain, such as Martin Mortuary and Lincoln Park. Others, such as Big 5 Sporting Goods, have recently moved to the still busy corridor. With the expansion of Colorado Mesa University, efforts are underway to set back sidewalks and create a more pedestrian friendly corridor for students from 12th Street through 5th Street. Let’s hope things are looking up for North Avenue. To learn more about North Avenue and other Mesa County History, visit the Mesa County Oral History Project, and check out our Rashleigh Regional History Room for this history of the Midland Trail.