Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Reno hotel burns

Very sad story, about a fire in a historic hotel in downtown Reno that killed at least 6 people. Not only are the deaths very, very sad, but so is the gutting of a landmark. The Mizpah wasn't on the sight-seer's to-see list, nor was it a cherished landmark in a city that earns its living from the newer, flashier casinos, but it had a quiet dignity that can only be found in those grand old buildings just a few blocks off neon-lit Virginia Street.

I love Reno and its old buildings, partly because they are generally so unloved. Here in Boulder, old downtown is celebrated and has been gentrified. The old buildings are occupied and still very much alive in the heart of downtown, overlooking the parade of street performers, vagrants and vagabonds, shoppers, restaurant diners and tourists. Everything is generally clean and happy.

But Reno's historic buildings have been pushed aside from the hub of activity, sometimes physically (several historic buildings have been moved, several times) and sometimes metaphorically. As newcomers stream into town, different areas become hotspots for new activity and building, and the town's collective history quickly dims in the memories of the shrinking percentage of natives. Most of the historic buildings are now in less than great areas of town, occupied by tiny businesses and the less-than wealthy. They are the kinds of places you don't want to linger after dark, they are haunted by their own pasts and by people with their own haunted pasts. They are unnoticed, unremarkable, merely average... until you look up. Most of them might be plain brick or stone at street level, but at roofline, their Art Deco roots show in the ornate tiles and other detailing. It's this hidden surprise in plain sight I love so dearly. That so many can pass by them day after day and never notice what a gem sits glowing under that slight film of grime.

My own personal temple is the Art Deco post office next to the river, the "main" post office for the city, though no longer truly the hub. I can go in there and feel my soul relax in its vaulted ceilings and gorgeous "silver" detailing present everywhere. Even the tall tables for sorting mail were designed to live in this building, echoing the "futuristic" style of the 1930s seen in the window casings, the service windows, the mailboxes themselves. At one point, there was some talk of tearing it down to accommodate the flood plan, but if such a thing ever comes to pass, I will chain myself to its glorious walls before I ever let them tear down such a beauty. And yet no one says anything about its architecture, its decoration... no one even talks about it at all! If I ever mention to anyone how beautiful it is, the most I'll get is an odd glance and possibly a remark about the length of the lines there.

But if everyone loved it, I would not feel so passionately about my "secret" bit of beauty.

**Edit: Someone else loves my post office too! See some pictures of it here and read about its history here.

Also, I was looking for pictures of the Mizpah to show you, and came across this:

This is funny because this is a different Mizpah hotel located in Tonopah, NV, one which looks nothing at all like Reno, let alone the actual Mizpah (pre-fire):

Those silly Canadians...

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