by Marcella Ortega
The paintings, crosses, tiles and folk dÇcor that cover the Aztec Motel are an inspiration to Jae Whitehorse.
"I'm very visual," said Whitehorse, an artist and resident at the motel. "I never thought of doing anything like this on the outside of the building. Everything is always on the inside."
The Aztec Motel, at 3821 Central Ave. N.E., is the oldest operating motel on Route 66 in New Mexico, said owner Matthew Terry. According to Aztec Motel's fact sheet, Guy and Mae Fargo built the motel in 1931. The fact sheet states the business was operated by a series of owners until it later fell into disrepair and was inhabited by prostitutes and drug dealers.
In 1991, Mohamed Natha purchased and repaired the building, Terry said.
He said Phyllis Evans, a professor at Michigan State University, lived at the motel and decorated the exterior in 1994 as a retirement project. He said Evans no longer lives there.
Evans covered the building with multicolored Mexican tiles, perforated metal crosses and plates, Mexican and American Indian paintings and wood-carved musical instruments. There are tables with candles outside each unit, too.
"She was always adding little things here and there," Terry said. "She periodically makes me desserts, so we keep in touch."
Whitehorse, who has lived at the motel for three months, said his favorite decoration is a mannequin of a 1920s flapper in a brown fur shawl.
"She's gorgeous, only she's missing one hand," he said.
Terry bought the motel last year.
"I've instructed anyone who manages the
property not to alter the decoration until we decide on the ultimate use of the property," he said.
Terry would not comment on the future use of the property.
The motel discourages one-night lodging, he said.
"It really doesn't function as a motel," Terry said. "There are many issues with crime and drug use that are associated with Central Avenue. We think that nightly stays would expose us to that potential risk."
Terry said the motel is managed by a family and has a contract with the city and social service agencies to provide temporary housing.
The motel charges $130 to $140 for a week's lodging and $480 for a month.
Whitehorse said he likes the motel's
"That's how I make my living, is through my art," he said. "I can't depend on it every single week, but I get by. I'm a starving artist, in other words."
Small gardens of wild plants and flowers complement the dÇcor, Whitehorse said.
"It's not all prim and proper," he said. "It sort of has a wildness look to it. I don't like things all prim, proper and preppy."
Whitehorse said the motel's residents and staff are like a family.
"The place is funky and quirky and accepting of the weird, which I am, and I fit right in," he said. "I love it here."
Xavier Mascare§as / Daily Lobo
A toy horse is tied to a piece of wood in a stuffed-animal graveyard behind the Aztec Motel on Wednesday.
Xavier Mascare§as / Daily Lobo
A mannequin that a groundskeeper dressed overlooks Central Avenue from the balcony of the motel.