Longtime locals, newcomers, tourists break bread and celebrate the return of the Chamberlain Building

Chinati Foundation Board of Trustees Sam Hamilton (left), Lee Cohn, Mack Fowler and Anthony Meier take part in a dinner Saturday evening hosted by the Chinati Foundation to celebrate the opening of the John Chamberlain Building on Highland Avenue. Staff photo by Maisie Crow.

MARFA — The city was treated on Saturday to the welcome sight of Highland Avenue filled with dining tables and live music, as a mixture of locals and visitors converged on the thoroughfare to celebrate the return of a Marfa landmark: the John Chamberlain Building, which prior to that weekend had been closed for a year-long restoration project.

The Chinati Foundation’s tradition of hosting a dinner in the closed-off street, generally coinciding with the foundation’s Chinati Weekend, was revived for the special occasion, which followed the grand-reopening of the restored structure. The building was open to the public beginning at 10 a.m. that morning until 5 p.m., shortly before the dinner kicked off.

The community gathering was a welcome opportunity to mingle and enjoy the sunshine — especially welcome after weathering a prolonged pandemic, said one local. “I think it’s wonderful that they’re doing this,” beamed Mona Garcia, owner of Marfa’s Building 98. “This is the coming out party after a horrible COVID, for two years.”

The crowd lined up for a meal provided by Walter Burke Catering out of Sante Fe, then flocked to the tables lined up down the street; others took a seat directly in front of the evening’s entertainment, Alpine-based band the Swifts. 

Visitors to Marfa, who had not known about the event before arriving, were deeply appreciative of the hospitality. “I think it’s really cool this event is put on,” said Scott Hullum of Austin. “We’re from Austin, so we’re used to big city life. We were like, ‘Is this actually free?’”

The event was free, and open to all. Chinati Director Jenny Moore had previously told The Big Bend Sentinel that she hoped visitors who happened to be in town would gravitate to the activity on Highland Avenue — and gravitate they did. Hullum said he and his travel partner, Lindsey Sweet, had never been to Marfa before, so it was quite the small town welcome.

“It’s great to see the community come together,” said Hullum.

A table full of recent Marfa transplants, having made the move from Austin, said the gathering felt special and community-oriented. “It’s nice that Chinati is doing things for the community,” said Jake Prichard. His wife, April, chimed in, noting it was a departure from their more recent hometown: “You can’t bring the entire community of Austin together,” she said. “It’s really nice to feel there’s a sense of community.”