Graffiti Haven “American Flats” Slated for Destruction in Nevada

The news of the impending destruction of a primary spot for graffiti fans in Nevada has saddened a number of artists who have spent long hours painting and socializing at the former site of the American Flat Mill in Virginia City. According to the Reno Gazette-Journal in late October the Bureau of Land Management has just awarded the contract “to dismantle, crush and bury what’s left of the massive mill.” As an abandoned industrial site for the last ninety years or so, it is catnip for graff writers and street artists. Even though it is one of Nevada’s most culturally fascinating relics anyone would admit that it can be hazardous because of its state of neglect, even if its an open secret that it is well trafficked by thrill seekers. For former Brooklyn-now-Reno Street Artist Erik Burke, the news signals the end of an era for him not only as an artist, but because he married his wife on the site. Today Erik provides an essay for BSA readers about his perspective on the loss of this site that holds many memories for tourists, artists, filmmakers, and countless others.

American Flats. Reno, Nevada. 2014 . Please help ID the artists on this photo. (photo © Meryl Burke)

by Erik Burke

Over the last week there has been increasing talk of the imminent demolition of The American Flat Mill. In case you are not familiar with this place, the CliffNotes version of the American Flat is that it was a gold, silver and low-grade ore processing plant that opened in 1922 and after a painstakingly brief period of boom it went bust in 1926. Since that time it has been a sightseeing and activity playground for countless visitors. Since local nostalgia is currently running a fever and countless people are sharing their experiences I feel compelled to share my unique bond with this skeletal ruin of Nevada’s formative mining days.


American Flats. Reno, Nevada. 2014. Please help ID the artists on this photo. (photo © Meryl Burke)

The American Flat will always hold a special place the relationship between my wife and I. It had been the destination of one of our first dates and in April of this year we were married there. The fact that we were able to share this experience with our closest friends and family was truly astonishing given the fact that our hallowed ground was on hollow ground.

The smell of sage and spray paint mingled with our Pastor’s words as we confided our eternal love for one another in a makeshift church, and while we forgave those who trespassed against us we too hoped the Sheriff would return the favor. It was in those time-slowing moments that we all could attest that there truly is beauty in ruins.


American Flats. Reno, Nevada. 2014 (photo © Meryl Burke)

During the prior week my closest friends and I spent whole days preparing for the ceremony by secretly removing fallen obstacles, assembling monumental towers of rusty barrels, creating mirrored mosaics, sweeping aisles through rubble, tie-wiring bouquets of brush and wild flowers. We also installed works by artist friends from Berlin, Tel-Aviv, Portland, Seattle, Minneapolis, and New Orleans.

Each morning we would arrive to a bit of un-curated vandalism that happened during the night and we would have to do damage control. When people say, ‘how would you like it if I tagged your house?’ I can now sympathize.


Arnz . Rogue. Yesir . Sunset. American Flats. Reno, Nevada. 2014 (photo © Meryl Burke)

By the day of the wedding we had completely transformed the place, and like so many current testimonies about the Flats, the site had also transformed us. Whether you perceive the ruins as a backdrop to your fashion shoot, canvas to your creative whim, or, as my wife and I did, center stage for exchanging your vows, I think The American Flat should be preserved for generations to come.

While some individuals and entities see the demise of the flats as a trash-strewn, rotting liability of juvenile vandalism, a far larger majority see it as an Americana gestalt. Sadly, Building Solutions Inc. out of Reno recently won the contract with a $1.3 million bid for an un-building solution and they will begin dismantling shortly.


American Flats. Reno, Nevada. 2014 (photo © Meryl Burke)

When the Reno Gazette Journal interviewed Dave Erbes, a BLM geologist working on the project, he said, “There is going to be more known about the site after it is gone than there ever was before. In a couple of months hopefully you will be able to go online and tour the whole thing.”

Sadly the difference between knowing and experiencing is quite significant. Future generations will never know the feeling of clinging to the sun-warmed iron stairs as pebbles of concrete ping their way into a darkened tunnel or the sight of dropping a cheap flashlight into a pool of cyanide and watching it illuminate.


American Flats. Reno, Nevada. 2014 (photo © Erik Burke)

Mark Twain said, “an honest politician is an oxymoron”, and he would be rolling in his grave at the thought of an online “experience”. It’s disheartening to live in a western society that chisels history off the totem pole and places a fence around the remainder all in the name of liability. While it seems that salvation of the mill is not in our cards perhaps this demolition will serve as a good kick in the ass for us to get out there and truly experience our diminishing back yard.

American Flats, we’ll miss you.


American Flats. Reno, Nevada. 2014 (photo © Erik Burke)


Author. American Flats. Reno, Nevada. 2014 (photo © Erik Burke)


Clairvoyance. American Flats. Reno, Nevada. 2014 (photo © Meryl Burke)


Dirt TBK . Overunder. American Flats. Reno, Nevada. 2014 (photo © Erik Burke)


ABC Art Attack. American Flats. Reno, Nevada. 2014 (photo © Erik Burke)


Various & Gould. American Flats. Reno, Nevada. 2014 (photo © Erik Burke)


Overunder. American Flats. Reno, Nevada. 2014 (photo © Meryl Burke)


Overunder. American Flats. Reno, Nevada. 2014 (photo © Meryl Burke)


IRGH . The Reader. American Flats. Reno, Nevada. 2014 (photo © Erik Burke)


Klone. American Flats. Reno, Nevada. 2014 (photo © Erik Burke)


Joins CBS. American Flats. Reno, Nevada. 2014 (photo © Erik Burke)


Overunder . Klone . Joins CBS. American Flats. Reno, Nevada. 2014 (photo © Erik Burke)


Mike Fitzimmons. American Flats. Reno, Nevada. 2014 (photo © Erik Burke)


American Flats. Reno, Nevada. 2014 (photo © Erik Burke)


Erik and Meryl’s wedding ceremony at American Flats. Reno, Nevada. 2014 (photo © Lindsey Pisani)


Please help ID artists whose names we didn’t know in this article. Thank you.




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