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.