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No More Writing On The Wall Demolition Of ‘People’s Billboard’ Seen As Loss Of Landmark, Funky Voice Of The City

The wall came crumbling down Saturday, scattering paint chips and concrete chunks down a dirt hill and ending 23 years of Spokane tradition.

“How else will you tell someone that you want to get married or divorced?” asked Tony Martin, who claims to have been the first to paint a message on the “people’s billboard” facing the Monroe Street Bridge.

“This thing has become part of Spokane. It’s like losing a friend.”

Martin and about 20 others gathered Saturday morning to watch giant machines drill holes into the wall, then start knocking it down in thick, heavy blocks.

Announced late Friday night, the demolition is part of a project proposed by Metropolitan Mortgage and Securities Co. The company plans to use the site as part of an 88-acre commercial and residential development. It may take two days to tear the wall down, officials said.

“I’m very sad,” said Holly Murray, standing in the cold with a camera, waiting for heavy equipment to destroy the wall - and her mural. “At least my artwork will be the last one up there.”

She and her husband, Rick, spent two hours last Sunday painting a message to her daughter. It took a month to plan the whole thing.

They had no idea that the wall was supposed to be demolished this weekend, she said. After they read about it in the paper, they raced to the bridge at 7:30 a.m.

“Happy 18th Birthday Vanessa Murray,” the greeting said in big, red letters. “Love, Mom and Dad.”

The Murrays spray-painted paw marks for their dog, Dinah, and a D inside a heart. Vanessa’s boyfriend, Chris Bovey, also left his mark: “I Love Ya! From Chris.”

“It was the greatest present in the world,” said Vanessa Murray, a senior at North Central High School.

Drivers using the bridge slowed to catch a glimpse of the demolition. Others arrived on foot to take one last photo of the Spokane icon.

“There it goes,” one woman said, as the machine started drilling into the letter Y in the word “Happy.”

“Oh God,” another woman muttered, watching 3-inch-thick strips of paint fall to the ground like the faces of buildings sinking in an earthquake. “I can’t believe it’s coming down.”

“Bye, Vanessa,” people yelled out of their cars, waving.

A longtime Spokane resident, Martin was especially disappointed to see the wall go. Hundreds have painted the old railroad bridge abutment. The 50-year-old businessman claims to have started the tradition in 1974.

Back then, painting the wall was considered almost criminal, said Martin, who owns a sign shop. People were forced to sneak spray paint and stipple silently in darkness.

After a while, graffiti on the wall became so accepted that “even the South Hillers did it in the middle of the day,” Martin said.

Over the years, the wall served as a memorial to community activists, rock stars and lesser-known Spokane residents. It was also a billboard for birth announcements, weddings, even divorces.

Words were still discernible Saturday in some of the broken blocks at the bottom of the hill: “love,” “miss you,” “always.”

“You were the first?” Vanessa’s father, Rick Murray, asked Martin as the two leaned over the bridge railing. “I was the last.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Color photos