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In Memoriam

Reflections on the Aztec Motel a year after its demolition

The Aztec’s neon sign remains at the site of the motel.
The Aztec’s neon sign remains at the site of the motel.

The third of three pieces about the life and death of the famed, doomed Aztec Motel, demolished in June 2011.

Albuquerque rose to prominence among New Mexico towns for myriad reasons: access to the Rio Grande, its location on El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro (the Royal Road to the Interior), the acquisition of the railroads in the 19th century and an Air Force base in 20th century.

Route 66 tourism also helped the city grow in the last century. One of the oldest landmarks of that era was the Aztec Motel, located on Central Avenue in Upper Nob Hill. A year ago it was demolished, the owner claiming its restoration would cost too much money. The neon sign still stands (among preservationists there are discussions about nominating Nob Hill’s neon for historic designation). Although shops and condos were proposed for development in its place, the dirt lot next to the 7-Eleven where the motel once stood remains empty.

There were, and still are, mixed feelings about the property, a repository of folk art that oozed character. Those that understood it to be a landmark—the nostalgic and history buff types—tend to lament its absence. The less sentimental (such as a friend who owns a home near the site and wrote, “if you miss it so much I can come over to your house and throw trash and bottles on your lawn”) seem to celebrate the removal of the old Route 66 motels. Some call for saving the neon, and removing the buildings.

As we mover further from that mid-century golden age where these places resided, and as the properties fall further into disrepair, there will be more reflection on their value. Younger generations will likely be more captivated by them than older generations. At the same time, the environmentally-minded and proponents of Smart Growth point to the energy-saving value in salvaging any building. So, if they survive the present, unlike the Aztec, the fates of the best the bunch in the next decade or so may be reuse. I hope so.

 
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