Jon Farren doesn’t play an instrument. He’s not a singer, and he doesn’t write music. But for the past decade he’s been a quiet part of one of Boise’s most unique music destinations — a nuclear fallout shelter-turned-rehearsal venue.
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“It was conceived out of fear of nuclear war and has become a place for making music,” says Farren, who bought the building from the Boise School District at a 2003 auction for an undisclosed amount.
Farren purchased it as offices for his Farren Engineering. He never anticipated turning the two-story, 14,000-square-foot shelter into a rehearsal venue. It was actually local musicians who suggested using it for music around 2005, Farren recalls.
“We advertised storage space for rent in the building, and we had a couple of bands call asking if they could practice in the storage rooms. I said, ‘Sure, go ahead,’ ” he says. “Then word spread, and another band called, and another. I thought, ‘Hey, let’s just do that.’ ”
The Boise Bomb Shelter features 30 rooms for rent, each with one or two tenants who pay between $200 and $350 per month, depending on the size of the room. Farren also keeps a large office for himself.
Drummer Brennan Butler’s band, Infernal Coil, rents a space. Originally from Georgia, Butler says the shelter’s prices are a steal compared to in big-city locations. (The Boise Hive, another popular rehearsal space, rents by the hour, from $6 to $15 depending on the size.)
“In other cities, the practice spaces are similar (in size), but the cost is way higher,” Butler says.
Farren said that’s in part because he’s not offering “class-A space” — instead, the shelter is essentially converted storage space with some additional perks and quirky charm.
“You could never build a new space and charge what I charge,” says Farren, who spent thousands to upgrade the facility from “a concrete box” into a functional building.
From the moment you walk through the iron front doors, painted royal blue, you’re greeted by peals of music. Each time Butler beats his drums from his top-floor practice room, the thuds resonate through the O-shaped hallway, down two flights of steps and into the farthest corners of the bomb shelter. Each note can be felt in your chest.
Because the noise bounces off the concrete means the shelter isn’t an ideal space to record, but if you can handle the cacophony, you can stay as long as you’d like, Farren says.
That’s part of the appeal: The musicians who rent there don’t want to leave. Butler’s band has had a space for three years. Some of the original tenants still rehearse there. That has created a waiting list.
“If they’re dedicated musicians — and most of these guys are — they stick around,” Farren said. (Vacancies do happen — about two or three a year — and Farren calls down the list.)
“It’s hard to find a spot that has a room big enough for (a band). And they just crank up their amps, so they need a place where the neighbors aren’t going to be upset,” Farren says.
The shelter’s 10-inch thick concrete walls help cut the noise. Its location just off of Bogus Basin Road is ideal for North Enders like Butler, who often bikes to rehearsal.
“It’s probably one of the better places to practice in Boise,” Butler adds.
As businesses go, running the Bomb Shelter is easy work. Farren is the sole employee of Boise Bomb Shelter, LLC, and thanks to keycode entry locks on each room and security cameras, he doesn’t need to do much besides keep the building comfortable. (Heating and cooling run about $300 per month.)
Farren now embraces his role as a musical entrepreneur. He bought an building at 10 S. Latah St. that offers six spaces.
“These guys treat the building good. There’s no trouble. They’re all just good people. They write songs and record CDs, give me copies of CDs,” Farren says.
Giving musicians a place to make noise and store their equipment ... helps them do their thing.
Jon Farren, owner of Boise Bomb Shelter
Butler called Farren “a better landlord than most,” adding that Farren lets musicians go beyond audio creativity and can decorate their spaces inside and out. The members of Infernal Coil painted its practice room red. A walk through the shelter is a tour of doors boasting everything from signs warning of plague-ridden animals to a painting of rapper Pitbull.
Still, echoes remain of the dorm-style space originally intended to house 1,000 people in the event of a nuclear event.
“We have friends that come in from out of town and they’ll say, ‘We want to see the bomb shelter,’ ” Butler said. “It’s got a cool place in the history of Boise that we should hold on to. It’s a gem.”
Farren said in the 14 years he’s had the building, he’s had several offers from potential buyers, but they were not quite the right price. (However, Farren listed the shelter for sale on Zillow for nearly $1.7 million after speaking with the Statesman.)
Farren said he’s happy to provide something unique for Boise’s musicians.
“These guys are passionate. I always tell people, ‘You think people who work hard and are career-driven are passionate? That’s nothing compared to these musicians,’ ” Farren said. “They don’t care about anything except music. That’s beyond passion.”