It was more hideous than I thought.
For a final walk-through of the old Twin Bridges Motor Inn in Bettendorf, expectations started low. Everyone knows the place was a frequent flyer for police calls. Even a couple of years ago, the condition of the lobby, including the smell, gave a powerful first impression/warning of what was to come.
But I had no idea it was that bad.
Even though it's accurate, you hate to call it a dump. For many people, it was home.
Over the next couple of weeks, Twin Bridges will be emptied of its soiled contents, stripped of asbestos, then taken down. In its place, a shiny new $22 million housing complex will rise from the grounds just north of the Mississippi River. The Des Moines-based Newbury Living is redeveloping the site, making it much more suitable to our area's self-proclaimed "premier city."
The two-story motel with 68 rooms had become a serious thorn in the side of its next-door neighbor, the Bettendorf Police Department.
"The Police and Fire departments responded on a very regular basis to Twin Bridges," Police Chief Phil Redington wrote Wednesday in an email. "It was for medical calls, assaults, noise complaints, drugs."
When we pulled into the parking lot Wednesday to meet our tour guide, Newbury Living district maintenance supervisor Chris Jackson, he was pointing a large flashlight into an open window.
"We sealed the building, and someone broke in the next day and went through the whole thing," Jackson said. "We spent the whole day changing locks, and they broke in again by the next morning."
Some of the trespassers were after whatever they could steal. The thieves had taken the breakers out of a breaker box, but must have been interrupted before yanking the wires and stripping them of copper. Several of the air/heat units that are built into the rooms were hauled away, too.
Somebody broke the water line, so we heard the constant run and drip of water as we walked the dark hallways. The demo crews will need water to keep areas damp and dust out of the air as they remove asbestos next week. But the power was turned off.
We walked around broken ceiling tiles that fell onto bad-smelling carpet. Jackson said that whoever broke in was looking for copper lines in the ceilings, too.
But it was the guest rooms that were most disturbing. After all, the thefts were no great loss. Most of that stuff was headed for the Dumpsters in the parking lot, anyway.
As we entered one of the second-floor guests rooms, Jackson offered an admonishment: "I would suggest touching as little as you can. There's nothing in here worth getting sick over."
The warning was unnecessary.
We saw at least a half-dozen motel rooms that were being used, right up until the sale of the motel last week, for long-term housing.
Someone clearly had been living in Room 38. I will forever wonder why that person didn't collect his or her belongings. The bedding was personal, not motel issue. Handmade artwork hung on two walls. A shelf was full of canned foods, and there was a half-full bottle of TUMS on the nightstand and several CDs on the unmade bed.
I felt myself wrinkling my nose. The room smelled of cigarettes, and the painted concrete walls were the color of nicotine. The bathroom was filthy.
Then I saw a cane resting against a wall behind the door, and my disgust turned to sympathy. The stinky, dirty, 14-by-14-foot room had been someone's home. Why didn't they take the clothes that hung from the rack inside the door? Why not take the food?
As we crossed the threshold of another junk-cluttered motel room — an overflowing ashtray resting upon an open package of moldy cheese slices — it occurred to me the Twin Bridges Motor Inn looked like a refugee camp. And I wondered why so many of the refugees failed to claim their few possessions.
"It's easy to get more free clothes and free food," Jackson said, shrugging his shoulders at conditions that stopped me in my tracks. A former housing inspector, our tour guide is not easily impressed by overturned mattresses and moldy refrigerators. When I asked about an odd-looking device in the hallway outside a room, he replied, "That's the steering column out of a car," and he kept on walking.
Just about everything in the place now is gone or going. Furniture, appliances, carpeting, residents' personal property — it's all headed for the Dumpsters. Even the blue roof on the building isn't being spared. Though fairly new, Jackson said, removing it will destroy it.
The asbestos crew will be in next week. When that's all been removed, the place will be torn down, and Jackson estimated it will take mere hours to fall.
Twin Bridges was built in 1961 — one year after its namesake second span was added to the Interstate 74 bridge. And now it's about to be carted off in piles of rubble.
"We are pleased that the residents from Twin Bridges have found new places to live," Chief Redington wrote in his email. "I look forward to the new development on the site. It will be a great addition to our downtown."
It'll be a pretty good subtraction, too.