by NATASHA VITALE
Old buildings are often the subject of sight-seeing, tours and landmarks to boast about in travel guides. More often than not, they reflect what used to be and offer a picture of the past. The old Morris Hotel in Reno, Nev. has become something else entirely: A place for artists and Burners to call home, and promote both art and community.
The old Morris Hotel doesn’t stand out when you drive down Fourth Street. In fact, if you don’t know its significance, you will likely miss it entirely. The exterior makes it look like a simple brick building which wouldn’t be recognizable as a hotel if it weren’t for the large “vacancy” sign on the front. The new bus station a street over and the homeless shelter behind the hotel certainly grab more attention and bury the history of the hotel under an unsavory reputation as the “bad” area of town. However, when the door opens to the Morris Burning Man Hotel, you enter a new era of Reno – a strange combination of what it used to be and a promise of what it will become.
The idea of the Morris Burning Man Hotel is that it is a place for people and artists to stay or live in year round, sort of keep the Burning Man culture and community alive when the festival isn’t happening. The man behind the idea is Jungle Jim (real name Jim Gibson), a former CEO of a microchip company who finally went to Burning Man for the first time when he retired.
“I never intended to do this, but I fell in love with the Burner community,” Gibson said.
It’s still a work in progress, as rooms are being painted, and some even still being built which is easy to tell as there is a sort of comforting wood and paint smell as you walk around the building, apart from the sounds of nailing, drilling and walking. Despite not being completely finished and ready for the public, there are already artists living in the building and a great sense of community from the tight knit group working on the building.
Among the people who work and live in the hotel is a man named Alon Bar, who also goes by Vision. He has long black curly hair and is originally from Israel. He left his business in to come to Reno to start the Black Box Film Festival. He originally considered going to San Francisco, but was advised by a friend to check out Reno instead. He met Jim two years ago and became dedicated to the project of rejuvenating the hotel after Gibson bought it.
“He became involved with the project after he realized how special it was and gave up his life and other projects to dedicate his time to this,” Gibson said.
Vision explains that each of the rooms for guests or live-in artists has its own theme. One of the few rooms that has been completed is the desert themed room. The walls depict a scene of the desert, including a painting of horses above the bed. To complete it, there’s a tiny stand with books on it, one being “Desert Solitaire” by Ed Abbey.
The main lobby looks like it’s be pulled from a movie set depicting a 1950’s living room during Christmas time. There are arm chairs centered around a portable heater and more chairs across the room around a coffee table with a beautiful Christmas tree in the corner. There’s also a coat drive bin for the community service event on Sunday and the place is to set up a table and give coats out to people who need it.
The whole place gives you a sense of being at home, which is the point of the hotel, rather than just a place to crash while you’re in Reno. It’s not a tourist spot, it’s a place where you can become part of a family for a short time, or long one, but you can’t stay without giving some of yourself, whether it be art or just the interactions and friendships you create. It is the first hotel of its kind, in Reno and possibly anywhere else.
Despite a first glance that looks unpromising, the hotel proves to be an isolated gem of Burn culture that tends to disappear from Reno at the end of the Black Rock Desert festival.
“It’s an amazing experiment,” Gibson said. “It’s so important that the people who help build this are the first ones who have first right to come and play.”