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Saturday, September 15, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Artists bid farewell to a seedy city landmark

Seattle Times staff reporter

Motel performances

Goodbye Bridge Motel: Performances today will begin at 5 p.m. and run until midnight at the Bridge Motel, 3650 Bridge Way N., Seattle; free (www.motelmotelmotel.com or 206-632-7835.)

Motel Cubed: Tonight's show is the first installment of a three-part series, "Motel," which invites local artists to perform or display their art at three motels over the next few months. The next installment will begin at 6 p.m. Friday and run until Sept. 28 at The Ambassador Motel, 12059 Aurora Ave. N, Seattle; free (www.motelmotelmotel.com or chairmanmin@yahoo.com.)

The Bridge Motel, that iconic, seedy little roadhouse off Aurora in Fremont — whose red-lettered sign, M-O-T-E-L, has stood sentinel over Seattle's north end for 53 years — will be torn down next week to make way for a row of new townhouses.

Some can't wait for the paint-blistered eyesore — home of drugs, murder and ladies of the night — to go the way of the Twin Tepees Restaurant, another Aurora pit stop torn down in 2001. The more nostalgic at heart lament the symbolic demise of "the Bridge."

Tonight, a group of local artists will gather in the gutted motel to eulogize its checkered history and the five decades of guests — traveling salesman, transients and prostitutes — who've stayed in its rooms. Beginning at 5 p.m. and ending at midnight, the old motel will transform into a free-form gallery and performing-arts space.

Each of the empty bedrooms will feature murals, painting or sculpture, and a makeshift theater downstairs will host dance performances, music and a five-hour interpretive theater production by nearly 30 artists.

The artwork on display — everything from carpentry to ink drawings to "the cooking of weird food" — is inspired by a range of issues, said D.K. Pan, the last manager of the Bridge Motel and organizer of this event. Major themes? The "surreal and iconic" nature of the Bridge Motel, its changing role in Seattle and what its destruction suggests about the future of this city.

When the Bridge Motel opened in 1954, it served mostly as a way station for traveling salesman and a sentry for traffic entering Seattle from the north, Pan said. In recent decades, it has become a home to drug users and prostitutes, and the site of several murders.

Many artists worry that the extinction of these "funky, bizarre old spaces" portends the end of Seattle's vital, soulful quality, said actor Ryan Mitchell, 25.

"Our performance will be fun, but it'll also be wrought with sadness," he said. "Seattle's at the brink of destroying itself. It's saying, 'We love the art, but we hate the artists.' All the empty space, all the affordable, accessible spaces are being turned into condos."

Mitchell's play will be an act of Surrealist-style protest. Expect fake blood, bags of live crickets and "intense nonsense."

On the whole, though, neighbors of the Bridge Motel, who stand to watch their homes rise in value and their neighborhood become safer, will not mourn its destruction.

"I used to work the north end for 10 years, so I'm intimately familiar with the Bridge Motel," said Mark Jamieson of the Seattle Police Department. "All kinds of illicit activities happened there, prostitution and drugs — it was bad."

On a table in the motel's old foyer, Pan has gathered a stack of historical photographs of the Bridge Motel. Underneath the rest, there's one of a cute single-family home, built between 1910 and 1920.

"That was what was destroyed to make room for the motel," Pan said, pointing. So it goes.

Haley Edwards: 206-464-2745 or hedwards@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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