The theme for the Reno CORE 2013 project is “The Good, The Bad, and The Naughty.” What captures Reno more in the popular imagination than a wedding chapel, courthouse, and brothel? Reno was the home of quickie marriages and divorces, and legalized brothels in the United States.
When the Comstock Lode had played out at the end of the 19th century, Nevada needed new sources of income. For more than half of the 20th century, Reno was Nevada’s sin city and the divorce capital of the world. Journalists and gossip columnists called it the “Great Divide,” a destination for divorce seekers who wanted to take “the cure,” and get “Reno-vated.”
In 1931, the Nevada legislature passed the most lenient divorce law in the country. This bold move carried the Silver State through the Depression with more than 30,000 divorces granted at the Washoe County Courthouse. It also created a market for quickie marriages, which spawned a slew of wedding chapels a short distance from the courthouse. Our effigy pays homage to that history. (Adapted from http://www.onlinenevada.org/reno:_twentieth_century_divorce_capital.)
The first third of the Reno effigy is a Wedding Chapel. Participants will have real and “playa weddings” performed at the period-looking chapel. We plan to schedule participants who can perform Nevada wedding ceremonies and others to perform ceremonies for participants who want to be bonded for the duration of the event.
The second third of the effigy is the courthouse. A “judge” will preside over playa divorces, and perhaps other disputes as they come before the court. During the Reno divorce and wedding heydays, which lasted until the late 1950s, women were known to throw their wedding bands from a bridge into the Truckee River after leaving the Washoe Courthouse. Thus, with having a period courthouse, complete with a judge’s bench and judge, a participant could get playa-divorced and then playa-married in one location.
The final third of the effigy will be a tacky, 1950’s-era brothel reception area. Brothels remain an icon of people’s perception of Nevada. In 1971, the legislature prohibited brothels in counties above a certain population threshold. The two areas this applied to were Reno and Las Vegas, but as luck I would have it, Reno is one freeway exit from the next county, where brothels are allowed. Our design includes a dance pole for participants’ use, along with a shadow-box area for participants to project whatever activities they want their audience to believe.
We plan to reach out to local artists to create “people” (mostly made of metal) to sit in the courthouse benches, the chapel pews, and the brothel chairs.