Reflections on the Aztec Motel a year after its demolition
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-
“The Aztec,” a 2001 film documenting life at the motel
Cinéma vérité on Route 66
The second of three pieces about the life and death of the famed, doomed Aztec Motel.
In 2001, then-Alibi-art-director Kirsten Browne collaborated with former NuCity photographer Jennifer Lipow and UNM Internal Medicine Resident Steve Pergam to shoot and edit a 10-minute film which featured interviews with Aztec resident Phyllis Evans and owner Mohamed Natha. “The Aztec” won for best documentary in the Flicks on 66 Wild West Digital Shootout competition and hasn’t been seen for 10 years.
Jen and I made this film for Flicks on 66. We could've picked ANYTHING to shoot a film about. It wasn't my idea to shoot the Aztec and its people—I was a bit intimidated, but Jen was all bitchin' and NYC about it, so three made a team. (At around the same time we did the feature in the Alibi, "Motel Hell," where Noah Masterson stayed a night in a bunch of Route 66 motels. It wasn't your typical sponsored travel story—they all must've been glorious once.)
We didn't have a plan for the film because we didn't know what would happen there or who lived/stayed there. We just knocked on the office door and asked. Phyllis and Mohamed were happy for the audience. And proud of their incarnation of the Aztec. All Jen and I went in with was an agreement to ask questions and stay out of shot so we could be edited out. We didn't need many questions, things just happened.
We won our section of Flicks. And came away with way more than we expected. I lived in Albuquerque for six years (I'll be back!). Now, back in New Zealand for eight years, that experience sticks out for me like climbing Cabezon or Old Town at Xmas. It was a worthy use of time (more so than fluffing round the kids' section of Old Navy or reading magazines with a latte in the Flying Star).
Visions of the Aztec: A demolition gallery
Marking the one-year anniversary of the death of the iconic Route 66 motel
The first of three pieces documenting the life and death of the famed, doomed Aztec Motel.
It was one year ago this week that punk rock print maestro Patrick Shorty documented the Aztec Motel’s demolition.
By most accounts, the Aztec was the oldest surviving motel in New Mexico—it was six years older than the El Vado, which the city designated as a landmark site and spared from development a few years back.
The hodgepodge of paintings, bottles, tile, pottery and tchotchkes that positively bloomed off the stucco was painstakingly installed by Phyllis Evans in the ’90s. She was a professor at Michigan State University who sometimes lived at the motel and treated it like a retirement project.
I’d like to point out that the Aztec is renowned (everywhere but here, it turns out) as a folk art heritage site. It’s featured in art books and tons of websites, and it a was a priority stop on Larry Harris’ Orange Show Eyeopener Tour, a roving event that hits important regional folk-art environment landmarks.
Many thanks to Shorty for sharing.
Welcome back to the De Anza
For the feature in the May 30 issue, I explored the adaptive reuse of a city-owned Route 66 motel in Upper Nob Hill. Read about why it’s a landmark, and how it’s being preserved here: The comeback of the De Anza Motor Lodge. Ty Bannerman supplemented the piece by writing about El Vado, another city-owned motel further down Route 66.
The artistic history and impending comeback of the De Anza Motor Lodge
A Ford in the Rio Grande
El Vado Auto Court’s uncertain but promising future
Aztec Motel razed
A piece of Americana was lost last week as the Aztec Motel, which once stood at Central and Aliso in Nob Hill, was demolished. According to this KRQE report, owner Jerry Landgraf, said it would have cost too much—an estimated $1 million (which, in the scheme of things, seems like an insignificant amount of money)—to restore the memorabilia-bedecked landmark, built in 1932. Landgraf now intends to erect lofts or shops at the site. On the bright side, the City of Albuquerque owns El Vado and the De Anza, and plans to restore those historic Route 66 motels.