I walked from the little brick market on Ralston Street at Tenth, northward. On the west side of Ralston, the other side of the street from the market, was a beautiful home – huge, much larger than any other homes on Ralston Street. In fact as I walked, the land that the home sat on appeared to be about three normal home lots. I learned later that it was!
Sticking my head through the brick gate and peeking around, I saw walkways everywhere, going in all directions, brick laid in a “parquet” pattern – criss-crossed, with a brick curb along the sidewalks that I guessed were about four feet wide. And it had a few lights mounted on the tops of posts. The yard was HUGE!
At the end of the main sidewalk was a porch, and a big fancy front door. It was wide, and had a lot of little glass panes in it. Over the door a round half-circle as wide as the door, set also in beveled glass. It was called an “applause” door trim. The home was two-story, brick painted white and to the left, which is to say the south, was another entry door. I could see in, and it looked like a big dining room inside. I could also see in the living room a grand, curved staircase and three large, intricate cut-glass chandeliers and a massive fireplace trimmed in marble.
I wondered who lived here. It looked like a place where a huge family could live, or could be an office. I roamed around like I had good sense, peeking in the windows of this newfound treasure in my new neighborhood. A lady’s voice – not a strong voice, but a pleasant one – said “Hi, little boy! Are you lost?”
Turning around I saw a lady who appeared to be older, like my grandmother. Nicely dressed and spry, she walked up to me and said, “My name is Luddy. Would you like to see my house?” Wow. Would I ever.
I was a’scared because my parents had told me as I wandered around my new neighborhood, never to go into anybody’s house, nor get into a car. But I thought, “What could go wrong here…?” I told Luddy my name was Karl and that my family had just moved in down the street, across from Whitaker Park. I got a tour of the house, and a couple cookies. And I met Luddy’s friend, named Hilda, a lady with a slight accent that I hadn’t heard before.
I didn’t know any of it in 1946, but in later life I’d learn much about Luddy, Hilda and the home at 1075 Ralston Street.
Luddy was born in 1865, which fascinated me in later life when my State of Nevada turned 150 years old: I had met a person who was born in Baltimore a year after we became a state, and was alive during the Civil War! Wow….! Her name was Ludovica Dimon. Her family had sailing ships, lots of them, the Dimon Navigation Company, sailing them with cargo and building them. In fact they owned the fastest clipper ship on the sea, the Sea Witch, which held the record hauling tea; and probably dope from Hong Kong to New York City harbor. A record that stands until today. Luddy was a real gay blade and believed that money was made round to roll, and married early, a jeweler and wasn’t married long. Then in the 20th century she married a doctor named John Graham. They didn’t live together very long but they had a lot of fun, living in Boston on the Social Register and sailing their yacht. They parted, but remained married until Dr. Graham passed away in 1919. Luddy moved west, and traveled a lot. She befriended Ragnhild Tonneson, a Swedish lady whom she met on a cruise from Europe on the steamship S. S. Majestic in 1924. They would remain friends for life.
Luddy and Hilda built a house in Palm Springs, a grand place that she later sold to Liberace as a young man. She liked Reno and had her lawyers find these three lots, tore down the houses on them and built a magnificent new home in 1927, the one that I was in. Did I mention that she married her chauffer who was a hell of a lot younger than she was, but that didn’t last long.
I found this all out in later years, but in the years shortly following the war I was always welcomed onto the grounds of the magnificent home. And I made myself welcome, because she always had some treats for me and the neighborhood boys and girls that I’d bring along. She was quite close to the University of Nevada, just a few blocks away down 11th Street, and made her home, and the park-like front yard available to the U for group parties and meetings. She did the same for some Reno clubs; the 20th Century Club for one. The home was always alive with people coming and going.
But, Luddy and Hilda wanted a smaller home, and had their lawyers buy three more lots on Bell Street, straight west across the alley behind the “Graham Mansion.” It’s also brick, now painted a darker brown, but it too is a neat house. The original home that she built on Ralston Street was sold when the Bell Street house was completed, to the Werner family, who had originally owned some of the lots it was built upon. They intended to turn it into an apartment house, but never got it together, and wound up renting it out as the “Jack & Jill Nursery” for a few years, until they sold it to Sigma Nu fraternity in 1951. It remained a fraternity house from then until a few months ago, when the Sigma Nu national fraternity terminated the Reno chapter.
“Aunt Luddy,” as her nephew in Philadelphia, whom I’ve spoken with a few times, called her, passed away in Reno at St. Mary’s Hospital in June of 1952. The University of Nevada, and many Reno residents, lost a great friend, who had over time become a Nevadan. And I knew her. That still fascinates me…
Her ashes were taken to Brooklyn for inurnment. Ragnhild Tonneson was well taken care of for the remainder of her life, and passed away in 1969 in Reno, at 85 years of age.
And that’s the story of my walk up to the corner of 11th and Ralston Streets in 1946. Now, I’m late to get home to 740 Ralston, but I’ve heard about this neighborhood called “Little Italy,” that the Graham Mansion abuts. I think I’ll just wander a block to the west and get home down Bell and Washington Streets, and see just why it’s called Little Italy.
C’mon back later in the week and we can walk it together!
Contact Breck at KFBreckenridge@live.com