On May 4, Fort Ryland and Clark Lane Maul, two houses on Ryland Street that had hosted punk concerts in their basements since the early 2000s, were torn down to make way for townhouses. Generations of underground music fans had formative experiences at those places. Those houses were regularly the sites of new bands’ first shows. They were occasionally the sites of something strange, exciting and beautiful.
Back in February 2020, in one the last print editions of the RN&R prior to our suspension of publication, we ran a story about the plans to tear down those houses. It was written by a freelance journalist who lived nearby. She was also getting evicted to make way for the new “development.” The news was greeted with outrage, not least from residents who didn’t even know that their homes were slated for demolition.
It took a couple of years, but now the houses are gone, and many local music fans are frustrated.
“They all had people living in them until they decided they’d build townhouses in their place,” local activist Natalie Handler wrote on Facebook the day after the demolition. “They displaced the residents and boarded them up. Some folks were squatting in them during the winter months when the shelters were completely full. And then yesterday, all in a day’s work, one guy in a dozer took them all down. Nothing was saved. The developer who bought these took incentives given from the city. … These will not be affordable just like many projects which took advantage of the city’s incentives. Just more profit for the developers and less community for us.”
What’s most disheartening about the demolition isn’t the physical destruction of the buildings, but the symbolic destruction of the memories and the communities centered around those places.
I’ve written for this newspaper for two decades. I started as a freelance contributor in 2002, became the arts editor in 2008, and then the editor in 2016. I was laid off in March 2020. Northern Nevada was hit by a pandemic you might have heard about, and the RN&R saw most of its advertising revenue vanish overnight. Everyone in the Reno office, along with most of our colleagues at our sister papers in Sacramento and Chico—not to mention our friends and neighbors in other industries around town, and family members around the country, and abroad—were suddenly jobless. And then many of them got sick. Some didn’t survive.
Time slowed. We stayed home, and our children tried to engage with a sick, and not-at-all-funny, parody of school called “online learning.” We didn’t see our friends. We didn’t hear live music. We didn’t hug our mothers for fear of spreading diseases we didn’t understand. Germs of mystery.
I parented. I wrote. I learned to cook. I slept.
And when I awoke, it felt like decades had passed.
In Washington Irving’s short story “Rip Van Winkle,” set in the late 18th century, the title character drinks some potent booze and falls asleep, and when he awakes, 20 years later, the British colonies have become the United States of America. It feels a bit like that.
There’s a classic Portlandia sketch where Jello Biafra, singer of the punk band Dead Kennedys, slips into a coma in the ’80s and then wakes up 30 years later to discover the world has been overrun by yuppies. “How big is this yuppie part of town?” he asks in despair. It feels even more like that.
While the rest of us slept, sheltered in place, the yuppies took over Reno. Yuppies stand in line to buy sugary tea laden with sugary lumps of sugary tapioca, to then suck said lumpy, sugary beverage through a fat straw—and then they wonder why they don’t feel refreshed. And they buy up property. They tear down old buildings. They make uglier buildings. And then they raise the rent. And then they raise the rent again. And then again.
For the yuppies, a city, like Reno, isn’t a place to live. For them, a city is a machine for generating profit.
When a city becomes a money machine, things are lost. People are lost. Workers have to work more and more just to pay the bills. We don’t have time to enjoy the things that would otherwise make this city a great place to live, like outdoor recreation and the arts. We have to work and work, and then make tough decisions, like whether we want to go to the doctor or pay rent, because we can’t afford both.
And when buildings, like those Ryland houses—sites of important memories for many locals—are demolished in the name of “progress,” a thin euphemism for profit, it hurts. It’s not just a demolition of property; it’s a destruction of memories.
There were hundreds, maybe thousands, of shows in those two houses. I only attended a few dozen over the years. I remember a mind-blowing set years ago by the Seattle band Akimbo, and another more recently by another Seattle band, Dreamdecay. But one that really stands out to me was one of the most sparsely attended. It was circa 2005 or ’06, maybe, a Fort Ryland show by the Reno garage punk band the Juvinals. I’d seen the band play before, but for whatever reason, they sounded perfect that night. There were probably less than 30 people in the audience, but we were all dancing—dancing in that serene, unselfconscious way that’s only possible when the music is great and the crowd is relaxed.
It’s a good memory. One that I want to see preserved, which is why I wrote it here—a small memorial to those demolished buildings. That part of what we try to do with journalism, preserve those moments in the first draft of history. Those houses, and the music communities around them, deserve more, but it’s a start.
Great article Brad.
Growing up and settling down in Riverside, CA, we had a place called Chestnut Manor and was the exact same thing in the 80’s. Now an office.
Get used to it. Its called change. All my concert venues are gone, too. My memories sustain me, even tho they are likely adulterated by time and… stuff.
So sad, I can’t wait until they have all of the apartments, condominiums, town houses and nobody to live in them because of the over building. Well at least somebody is making money off of it.
I’m glad to see you’re back at the News Review grinding your journalistic axe. These Pandemic Years have been a nightmarish timewarp for everybody—including the punks and yuppies—and the only solace I can even remotely find in this is that Mr. Dylan was right the whole time: the times they are a-continuing to change. I’ve witnessed what you’re talking about with Reno’s explosive growth; I graduated from UNR a mere 11 years ago and now I don’t recognize that campus at all. The stately brick buildings they moved from Elko are still there, but there are so many brand new buildings with modern facades that walking through campus is completely disorienting despite having literally lived on these grounds for way too many years. I traded those years of mild-to-moderate education for a bachelor’s degree and then traded that bachelor’s degree for 10 years of professional experience, and I’ve been fortunate enough to be a professional who can work and live in an urban landscape. I hate to be a bummer, but UNR’s top export might very well be yuppies. (Although I no longer consider myself ‘young’ by any stretch of the imagination, I guess that makes me an ouppie. Either way, Jello Biafra can still call me scum.)
How big is this yuppie part of town, Brad?
Town? The whole world’s like this.
The current business-friendly, bitcoin enthusiast mayor has plans to grow this “biggest little” city UP instead of OUT—redeveloping within the McCarran loop instead of paving over more playa in Spanish Springs to build single family homes. Right across the street from the grave of Fort Ryland are the City Center Apartments or ParcOne60 or whatever they’re calling this unaffordable affordable housing. I have to imagine the city is only going to build more of this. Ideally, this development will allow more people from all walks of life to live in the heart of an amazing city, provided you can pay the second-worst surging rents in the nation (RGJ May 19).
And you mention a couple of punk (née hardcore postpunk krautrock) bands from Seattle. Uh, have you seen Seattle? It’s 89% yuppies and 11% public transportation. Somehow in spite of all that yuppie scum sipping their free-trade aspartame americanos and reminiscing about old episodes of Frasier, there are a cache of awesome venues, brilliant bands and a thriving arts and culture scene up there in the Emerald City.
Sure, it is both easy and fun to shit on yuppies. Reno’s seen a staggering influx of big tech money and there are certainly way more youngins in town sucking on their boba straws, staring idly into their TikToks while autopiloting their Teslas than there were before we all went down for our 2020 Van Winkle. But hey, without the city demolishing a whole block in the name of profits and high-rise development, what will the punks have to be outraged about in their sparsely populated basement shows? How many blocks of “ugly” four-story apartment buildings will we have to walk past to get to the cozy brick house where your favorite local band is opening for the kick-ass out of towners? I am sorry that one of your favorite venues got torn down, but don’t speak too soon dear Brad, for the wheel’s still in spin. You cut the head off one punk, two more will grow.
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