John Casorla was feeling romantic when he checked into the Ritchie Motel one night a couple of years ago. He planned to surprise his wifewith a big kiss and a bottle of champagne.
But she took one look around the room and started to sob.
Before he had a chance to pop the champagne cork, she was begginghim to switch to another motel to celebrate their anniversary.
"She was crying and saying, 'This isn't what I had in mind,' " recalledCasorla, who works next door to the dilapidated motel. "It was a real mistake. We left."
By the time it closed in April, the Ritchie Motel had such a notorious reputation that few couples ventured there for an anniversary celebration.
Most of the motel's clients rentedrooms by the week instead of the night. Some were homeless families who stayed in rooms rented by the county Department of Social Services. An elderly man scraping by on a fixed income lived there 15 years.
But the majority of its residents were prostitutes, drug dealers and pimps, neighbors and police said. The Ritchie rocked all night, with taxis pulling to the door every few hours and prostitutes standing on the street corner to solicit customers.
"You'd hear people screaming through the walls," said Lynn Sturgill, who works as a bar maid at Pop Rick's Tavern, cheek-to-jowl with the motel. "That place was for partying. It wasn't a place you'd go to for a quiet night."
Leaning over the bar, Sturgill began giggling as she remembered the stories.
The 14-room strip motel was Brooklyn Park's most infamous landmark, known in local legend as "a place where you could get anything -- a woman, a man, any drugs you'd want."
"It wasn't your average one-night motel," Casorla acknowledged.
Neighbors living on the quiet residential street next to the Ritchie complained bitterly about the noise, the fights in the parking lot and the prostitution. Many residents of the neatly kept single-family homes on the adjacent street angrily labeled the motel an "eyesore."
They were delighted when it closed overnight.
"I hate to say it, but I don't think there's a lot of tears being shed over its closing," said state Sen. Philip C. Jimeno, D-Brooklyn Park. "It really had a bad reputation."
Built over community protests in the early 1950s, the Ritchie startedas a small family motel that served traffic between Baltimore and Annapolis. A doctor and a dentist rented space and set up office there.But the motel soon fell into decline.
"In the beginning, it was kept fairly well," said Al Anderson, who has lived on the adjacent street for 32 years. "It really went downhill when the bar started to have live music. We had busloads (of people) fighting it, but they wentahead with the music."
When the bar had concerts, the crowd oftenspilled over to the motel, Anderson said. He recalled walking acrossthe parking lot strewn with broken beer bottles and needles. "The sweet, sickening smell" of marijuana would drift from rooms, he said.
Anderson and other neighbors blamed the motel's decline on frequentmanagement turnover. The motel passed into new hands every few years, they said.
The last manager, Rick Johns, had trouble running a profitable business, even though he charged rates of $180 a week and more, the evicted tenants said.
A 43-year-old woman who was rentinga room for $500 a month said she didn't know about the financial troubles until she was suddenly evicted. She believes a police crackdownon prostitution earlier this year was the final straw.
Several rooms were vacated when the vice squad arrested a number of prostitutesliving at the motel, she said. County police were cracking down on prostitution along Ritchie Highway earlier this year, said Officer V. Richard Molloy, a police spokesman.
A few years ago, a woman was evicted from the motel for keeping dozens of dogs and cats in her room, said Rick Bittner, president of the Greater Brooklyn Park Council, an umbrella organization of 13 neighborhood groups.
"There are some colorful stories about that place," he said.
Lara Greenberg, a Baltimore businesswoman who owns the property, did not return repeatedphone calls to her office last week.
Bittner and other community activists hope the motel will either be razed or completely renovated. The county fire marshal has declared the building "unsafe" since two fires were set by vagrants who broke in and took over rooms.
"I'd like to see it redeveloped to get something that's more compatible with the community," Jimeno said.