Ghosts of Carson is a series that looks at the empty and unused buildings of Carson City.
The City Center Motel has sat near the center of Carson City for decades. When it was built, it was one of the largest hotels in town. It’s been overshadowed in that regard, first by the Ormsby House and then by the Hamptons and Marriotts that have been built in the last couple of decades. But it’s still an imposing structure in downtown. And until a couple of years ago it had an unbroken record of operation. But now it sits empty, its future uncertain.
The City Center Motel was built in 1966, the same year the old Arlington Hotel a few blocks away was torn down. In a way it was a passing of the torch, from the old west to the new and modern. With 4 stories, 89 rooms, and a large parking lot, the motel catered to automobile travelers. It may have been architecturally plain and boxy, but it tried to stand out with a large eye-catching sign, and modern amenities like an elevator and color TVs.
The motel was located at the corner of Carson and Washington Streets. Just 2 decades earlier, train whistles echoed around this neighborhood, as the Virginia and Truckee Railroad ran down Washington Street until 1950. At that time, this corner was home to Carson City’s Safeway supermarket. That was a common fixture in the background of many railfans’ photos from the time.
In 1972 the Ormsby House was built at the opposite end of downtown, which took attention away from the City Center as the newest and glitziest hotel in town. But there was room for competition. The City Center remained as a lower budget option for travelers, affiliating with nationwide brands like Best Western and Friendship Inns.
At some point the hotel came under the control of the Carson Nugget Casino, and was used as their “on-site” hotel. Despite being three blocks away, they advertised the hotel heavily as their recommended place to stay while gambling. Shuttle service connected the hotel to the casino.
The arrangement worked well for both the hotel and casino. Business was steady as the town grew around it. Decades passed. By the 21st century the hotel was starting to feel a little run down. So the Nugget undertook a renovation of the property. In 2012 the building was painted, rooms were refreshed and upgraded. And the name was changed from the City Center Motel to the City Center Hotel. A symbolic change that tried to cast off the bad reputation of the word “motel” and disassociate the property from some of the other truly dilapidated motels around town. The photos below show the progression of the hotel’s sign during the 2010s, culminating in a complete name change to the Carson Tahoe Hotel.
But the name change didn’t quite accomplish what it set out to do. The Yelp reviews started out promising in the first years after the remodel, but slowly more and more negative reviews began to creep in. Guests complained of dirty rooms, strange smells, and said that the property still looked dated despite the remodel. Beginning around 2020 all the reviews become 1- or 2-stars. The hotel was starting to gain the same reputation as those other dilapidated motels that it had changed its name to get away from.
The surprise news came in March of 2022. That’s when newspapers ran a piece saying that the hotel had new owners. After all these decades, the Nugget was no longer in control of the City Center/Carson Tahoe Hotel. The new owners were very positive about their plans to remodel the hotel and rebrand it under a national franchise. They gave themselves an ambitious schedule of just 1 or 2 months to have it all done and have the refreshed hotel open. But they admitted that “material and labor shortages may affect the opening timeline.”
I guess that warning was prophetic. It is now December of 2023, 21 months after that announcement. And I don’t think a single thing has been done to it during that time. The hotel closed its doors soon after the announcement, so they could start the remodel. But I haven’t noticed any signs of progress. Most of the furniture has been removed, but there is a surprising amount of trash in the rooms I peeked into. And no other indication of any kind of work being done, inside or out. It’s looking like the remodel is definitely postponed, if not cancelled all together.
So that’s where our story ends, and where we find ourselves today. The City Center has always been an institution in downtown Carson. It never seemed like the fanciest hotel, but it did always feel like it was a reasonable budget option. But now it is heading for its third year of closure, with no reprieve in sight. It’s not a property I ever wanted to see added to the list of Carson City’s Ghosts. I guess time will tell if it stays there, or if it can come back to life.
We’ll finish off by taking a tour of how the property looks today.